Leading a dog along a plank

A unique employment program sends graduates “to the dogs” with great success

S+CORE!, Students + Canines equals Opportunities for Rewarding Employment, is a program that assists in the employment process and placement of special needs adults who struggle in finding a job. A love of animals is the link that connects candidates to canine-related employment.

“Approximately 80 percent of folks in the S+CORE! program are directed to us from the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) after being identified by DARS for their love of animals,” says Debi Krakar, S+CORE! director.

Training starts only after it is determined that a candidate is a good fit for the program. “We meet our students where they are individually and invest in them according to their needs,” Debi says. “We find out if they really want to work with dogs and if they really can work with dogs. For instance, students may change their mind about working with animals after cleaning up after them, or they just might not have the physical capability to do so. Once they’ve qualified, we pour our heart and soul into making sure our students are successful in training.”

Bulldog with its tongue flopping out

Students undergo a total of 86 hours of technical and social skills training that prepare them for employment in shelters, kennels, veterinarian offices, and grooming facilities. Technical training includes hands-on experiences with dogs of different shapes, sizes, and behaviors so that students know what to expect in the actual work environment. “For example, the size and disposition of a Lab are very different from that of a poodle, and students need to be prepared for those differences,” Debi explains. Training becomes more challenging as students are introduced to dogs with varying types of behavior. Students begin the session with highly-trained therapy dogs, then move on to well-mannered client dogs before transitioning to the more challenging shelter dogs. At the end of the course, students have gained life skills that will serve them well in their quest for employment working with dogs.

Acting professionally on the job, showing up and being on time to work, and providing excellent customer service is the focus of the social skills training. Students also receive instruction on enthusiasm, teamwork, attitude and problem solving, appropriate clothing, hygiene, and more. Does the program stop there? “Not at all! The S+CORE! program extends beyond training,” Debi says. “Graduation is simple—a certificate, hand shake or hug, and some cupcakes. The real graduation event is starting the job search.”

Leading dog through obstacle course

Program coordinators assist with job search and placement, which helped Nick, a S+CORE! training graduate, land his first job. A program assistant helped Nick format and spell-check his resume, gather reference information, construct a cover letter, and comb through online applications. The assistant also conducted a mock interview with Nick before driving him to the real thing. Nick interviewed with Dr. Sandell at Hill Country Veterinary Hospital, where he got a job as a kennel technician.

“It’s very rewarding to watch them succeed! We are as excited for them as we would be for our own children,” says Debi. “Because of our level of involvement, we are usually the first ones they call to say they got the job.”

After Nick had been working for Hill Country for several weeks, Dr. Sandell was surprised to learn that Nick had gone through the S+CORE! program. “Nick interviewed and was selected on his own, just like any other candidate,” says Dr. Sandell.

Nick cuddles, cares for, cleans up, weighs, and restrains animals as part of his job. His coworkers say he is kind, gentle, and thoughtful. “Nick is an extremely conscientious and focused young man. He makes notes to ensure that he knows exactly what he needs to do, but most importantly he loves our animals,” says Dr. Sandell. An assistant agrees and adds, “It’s so sweet to walk to the back and hear him talking to the pets when he thinks no one is around. This is the perfect job for Nick. He totally loves dogs and cats.”

Dog Alliance Vision Statement:

By harnessing the unconditional love of dogs, youth and adults, regardless of ability, will discover their unique talents, gain the acceptance they deserve and find meaningful employment. Learn more about the program at austindogalliance.org.

I can’t tell you the number of parents who have called to say they have tried everything and this is the first time their child actually looks forward to learning and working.

—Debi Krakar

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