Austin Dog Alliance is the first organization to provide dog-assisted vocational training for students at the Texas School for the Deaf. The course is funded by the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.
For the past four months, students attending the Texas School for the Deaf have been learning job skills from some unlikely instructors - a group of specially trained therapy dogs. The unique vocational training program, funded by the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), is being coordinated and taught in association with the nonprofit Austin Dog Alliance.
According to the non-profit Dallas Hearing Foundation, 42% of deaf adults aged 18-44 are unemployed. The Austin Dog Alliance hopes to improve the odds for its students by teaching those skills that can help them pursue careers in animal-related fields.
"Dogs are the best instructors," says Carolyn Honish, Austin Dog Alliance program coordinator and a certified instructor for the deaf. "Through the use of therapy dogs, students are learning how to read a dog's body language, handle dogs safely and humanely and care for dogs in a kennel or shelter setting."
The 15-week class, the only vocational course of its kind in the U.S., allows each student to work one on one with both therapy dogs and untrained dogs, learning canine care, dog handling, basic obedience training and basic grooming skills. In the final three weeks, the students will put their skills to work at the Austin Humane Society, caring for shelter dogs, maintaining and cleaning kennels and teaching the dogs basic obedience commands.
Upon completing the course, students will earn their dog-handling certifications, giving them options for employment in dog-care related facilities such as shelters, kennels or vet offices, and DARS covers the vocational adjustment training costs for each student. The program's goal is to offer students the option to continue their education as a vet tech assistant or a dog groomer, and TSD is already planning to offer the course again.
"We are extremely thankful to the Austin Dog Alliance and DARS for partnering with TSD to provide a customized dog handling class for our students interested in careers related to animal care," says Dr. Susan Greene, Career and Transition Department supervisor with the Texas School for the Deaf. "Since the course is presented in American Sign Language, students are able to easily and fully engage in the classroom and hands-on instruction."
"We have a lot of students at TSD who want to work with animals," says Preston King, Transition Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for DARS. "But kids without experience don't get interviews. Getting experience and a real certification will give them a boost in the job market."
"We are probably the only organization in the nation offering this type of learning," says Honish. "And the students are absolutely loving the course. We hope that, as more people become aware that this training is available, we can improve the career opportunities for more young adults."
About Austin Dog Alliance
Located in Cedar Park, Texas, Austin Dog Alliance, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, provides group social-skill development programs for children with autism spectrum disorder that incorporate the use of canine-assisted therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis techniques. The Austin Dog Alliance also provides handler-dog teams to local hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, as well as schools and libraries through its Bow Wow Reading Dog program.
Austin Dog Alliance was created to provide an accepting and supportive environment where dogs and humans can improve health and wellbeing. The Alliance offers a variety of after-school and summer camp programs at its seven-acre wooded facility, as well as human-dog training classes for beginners and advanced dog owners. The organization depends on donations to sustain and grow its community outreach programs such as autism enrichment, dog therapy services, rescue and youth programs. For more information, visit http://austindogalliance.org.
Executive Director, Austin Dog Alliance
1321 West New Hope Drive
Cedar Park, Texas 78613