Z Changing Lives

  • By Debi Krakar
  • 19 Nov, 2015
YZZ -  Great Pyrenees, age 6.

Debbie Sparks observed the benefits of animal-assisted therapy long before
becoming a pet therapy volunteer herself. Working as a nurse, for years Debbie
saw hospital patients and staff light up when therapy dogs visited the facility. At the
time, her own dogs weren't candidates for therapy work, but her interest in
animal-assisted therapy was piqued, and a seed was planted.

Fast forward a number of years ... eventually and inevitably, Debbie's beloved dogs
passed on. A short two weeks later, Debbie and her husband, Eric, visited a local
shelter "to pet dogs and pass out some hugs only" she recalls.

Little did she know, on that visit she would meet her future partner in therapy work,
a handsome white male Great Pyrenees that had been picked up as a stray in
Bastrop. His records said he was terrible at walking on a leash and being a stray his
beautiful Great Pyrenees signature long white hair needed a good deal of grooming.
Debbie wasn't sure she was ready for a new dog so soon, but she and her husband
decided to complete an application for the Great Pyrenees, knowing other adopters
had already submitted an application as well. Although they weren't first in line, fate
stepped in, and the dog became available. After seeing the dog's sweet personality
and calm demeanor, Debbie's reluctance melted away.

She realized this dog might be the perfect dog to share with others. It was settled -
YYZ, or "Z" for short, joined the family in 2008. Shortly thereafter, Debbie began
researching training requirements for therapy dogs. She regularly worked with Z on
her own, and later enrolled in a pet therapy training class. In September 2009,
Debbie and Z passed the Delta evaluation and began volunteering as a pet therapy
team in the Austin area.

It was clear Debbie had found her perfect partner and Z had found his calling one
day when they visited a young boy, recovering from brain surgery, in the ICU. The
hospital therapist and the boy's family had been encouraging him for a week to
make an effort to get out of the hospital bed and try some physical movement. The
boy had refused to try anything.

That all changed the day Debbie and Z visited. Seeing Z, the boy smiled ear-to-ear
and asked them to come in. The therapist and the boy's father, seizing the
opportunity, told the boy that, if he wanted to see the dog, he needed to try to get
out of bed and walk to the dog.

As Debbie and Z stood in the doorway, the boy threw back the covers. With
determination, he made it out of bed and walked, with slow and shaky steps, over to
the dog, smiling every single step of the way. His father then demonstrated how to
scratch Z under his ears. The boy was having difficulty, as a result of the surgery,
moving one hand, but was able to scratch Z with his functional hand. His father then
upped the ante, telling his son he could make Z really happy if he used both hands.
With effort, the boy managed to use both hands and scratch Z around the ears. The
happy look on Z's face encouraged the boy to continue.

Z was actually a vehicle for physical therapy that day - to the boy, though, it was
just a chance to play with a dog. Debbie remembers how the father thanked them
and said "The magic of dogs - Z got him to do what we've been trying to get him to
do all week!"

Today, Z continues to deliver his special brand of magic at libraries, assisted-living
communities, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and schools. Debbie has, indeed,
found the perfect partner.
Written by Nancy McIntire on behalf of Austin Dog Alliance
Submitted by Jen Machajewski on behalf of Austin Dog Alliance

The Alliance Blog

By Debi Krakar 02 Feb, 2017

By Lane Ingram, LPC

By Debi Krakar 27 Jun, 2016
Our new kennels (more like private suites!) are open. Which means it's time to get down to business!

These past few weeks, our staff has spent many hours evaluating shelter dogs to find the select few who have the right temperament required to be a service dog. Once brought into the Hounds for Heroes kennels, they meet with several different trainers daily and their progress is tracked. The goal is to perfect basic manners before earning the coveted vest, which allows them public assess to train in a variety of environments.
    By Debi Krakar 22 Jun, 2016
    Pavement and sidewalks can become very hot during the Texas summer and in extreme cases can burn a dog's paws. To determine whether the pavement is too hot to trot, follow this simple test:
    • Place the back of your hand on the pavement for seven seconds. If you can't hold it there without it hurting, it's too hot for your dog's paws.
    By Debi Krakar 16 May, 2016

    Hi everybody! It’s Tucker and guess what, I’m no longer a service dog in training. I’m now a full-fledged, 100% service dog. That’s the very exciting news I was talking about in my previous post. I have been super busy being the best helper ever to my forever person, so it’s taken me a while to have time to write this last blog, but I didn’t want to leave all my peeps hanging!

    Last month, mom and Debi set up a time for me to meet my potential forever person. We were all a little nervous about how the meeting would go. After all, it meant I was going to be meeting the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with -- pretty heavy stuff. Well, turns out that there was absolutely no reason for nerves. The minute I saw my forever dad, it was love at first sight for both of us. It was like my foster mom had left the room. I immediately only had eyes for my new dad. Mom and Debi laughed the attachment was so obvious.

    That didn’t mean we were home free, though. Mom and a team of service dog trainers worked with my new dad to teach him all of the commands that I'd spent the last several months perfecting. Of course, I did spectacularly!

    After this, my mom and I said goodbye and I got to go to my potential permanent home. Mom cried a little and hugged and kissed me, but she actually did pretty good. She said it was because she knew I was going to go to a new home where I would make a big difference in my new dad’s life.

    By Debi Krakar 04 Apr, 2016

    I’m back! It’s me, Tucker, continuing my saga of becoming a Service Dog. Sorry it’s been a while since I wrote, but man, have I been busy. Today, I’ll tell you about some of my new adventures out in the real world.

    I’d been to Costco and done so well that mom decided it was time to take me grocery shopping at HEB. So that I wouldn’t be too intimidated at first, we made our first trip early in the morning. I was a little distracted, but every time I started to lose focus, mom asked me to “Watch Me” and I immediately made eye contact with her. We didn’t stay too long and mom only picked up a few items, but I was a good boy and did a down stay at the checkout and waited for her to pay for our selections.

    Over the next few weeks, we made several more trips to the grocery store during busier times of the day. Now, I’m able to go with mom while she does all of her shopping for the week, even going on the weekend. Mom says that’s even hard for her to do!

    By Debi Krakar 09 Feb, 2016

    Hello Everybody! It’s Tucker the Service Dog in training again. I’ve been really excited to tell you about a big adventure I had in my journey to becoming a Service Dog.   First, let me tell you, Mom and I have been blowing and going since I got my new vest. We’ve been to Target, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Specs, Bicycle Sports Shop and a whole lot of other places. For the most part, I’m a perfect little angel, although, I’m still working on ignoring other dogs.

    One of the big milestones in my training came a few weeks ago. I went to Costco. Well, anyone that has ever been to Costco knows it’s a busy place. They have lots of cool stuff and THEY HAVE PEOPLE FOOD! Well, this was my first experience going somewhere that had a bunch of people food. Mom, Susan and I walked all around the store with a big basket past lots of different food. The hardest part of the whole experience was walking down the meat aisle. I thought I was in doggie heaven. I really wanted to look at all the different meat, but Mom kept asking me to sit and watch her, so I made it down the aisle with no mishaps.

    Another thing I got to practice was settling. When Mom and Susan would stop to talk to people about me, it was my job to lay down and wait patiently until they got finished talking. I like doing this since I can chill out and listen to all the nice things people say about me. A lot of times, people have stories to tell about their dogs or service dogs they’ve known. That part is cool, too.

    By Debi Krakar 25 Jan, 2016
    Rocco and handler Guille visit OT Connection, an occupational therapy clinic in Pflugerville, every Tuesday.

    "Having Rocco come to our clinic is the highlight of many of our clients weeks," explains Katie Duke, Clinical Director and Owner of OT Connection. "His owner Guille has had great ideas of how to incorporate him into our Speech, Occupational, and Physical Therapy sessions that highlight his 'tricks!' They walk him, brush him, dress him up in costumes, command him to do tricks, have tennis ball races, and so much more. The activities target fine motor skills, bilateral coordination, expressive language, motor planning, eye-hand coordination, and self-care/dressing skills. Having Rocco involved in our sessions motivates many of our little ones to participate in activities that weren’t able to be elicited before."

    Guille, Rocco's owner,  adopted Rocco 7 years ago. They soon realized that he had a naturally calm temperament, and she and her husband decided to involve him in the Austin Dog Alliance Pet Therapy Program.

    "Throughout the training process," Guille explained, "he responded very well to all of the tests, including simulations of loud, crowded environments. When people approached him, he would remain at ease."

    The team visits O.T. Connection on Tuesdays and Provident Crossings every other Thursday.

    "I remember that at the beginning I didn't quite understand how much dogs could help, but very soon I realized that even with just their presence, the therapy dogs provide a feeling of peace that I could actually feel myself. I love being part of this program -- it is a joy to see that Rocco can make a child or an elderly individual smile and make them feel so relaxed.

    We are both learning every week how we can help them more, how we can make them happier, and how we can make a difference every single time we are there... and we are really enjoying it!"

    By Debi Krakar 18 Jan, 2016
    What goes into training a Hound for a Hero
    Written by: Neitha Engert, Volunteer Coordinator and Service Dog Trainer
    By Debi Krakar 15 Jan, 2016

    Hi to everyone that’s been reading my blog. For those of you that haven’t been, my name is Tucker and I’m a service dog in training with Austin Dog Alliance’s Hounds for Heroes program.

    Last time I told you about all my hard work in my Dog Manners 2 class. We continued to work on polite behavior like letting a person walk up and waiting patiently by my mom’s side until she told me it was okay to go say hi to them. That is totally tough for me since I really like people, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.

    Another funny thing we worked on was playing like we were shopping in a store. I had to do a down stay while mom pretended to try on some funny clothes and a hat. Boy, did I want to get up and laugh at her, but I controlled myself and remained in my stay until she told me free (that’s my release word that tells me it’s okay to get up)!

    After 4 of my Dog Manners 2 classes, I was doing so well that all the ladies who are trainers for Austin Dog Alliance decided I was ready for the next HUGE step in my becoming a service dog. I was going to have to take a test! The test is called the Canine Good Citizen test (also known as the CGC test). I was kind of apprehensive but everyone assured me that I could do it, so I was willing to give it a shot. The CGC test has 10 parts. Several of the parts demonstrate my obedience prowess. Well, I could ace those, no problem. The other items tested my ability to focus on my mom which was a little harder, but I still did pretty good. Finally, my mom had to leave me with a lady I didn’t know and walk out of my site for 3 MINUTES. That seemed like an eternity, and I did cry (just a little), but I did it.

    Guess what, I PASSED. My reward for passing this test was an awesome surprise. I got my very own vest to wear that says “Service Dog in Training”. My mom was pleased as punch that I passed. Getting my vest meant that I could start going to places that normally don’t allow dogs -- can you imagine such a thing?

    By Debi Krakar 07 Jan, 2016

    Our pet therapy teams are out in the community every day of the week helping children learn, visiting hospitals and nursing homes along with a wide array of other services. They really are a heroic group of people and dogs.

    But in addition to the routine requests we receive, we also receive requests that are outside the norm, for example:

    “Do you have a team that speaks Spanish? The dog needs to speak Spanish too.” (Yes, we do!)

    “Could you help us make a public service announcement? We need a dog who can open a box, jump in and close it behind him.” (Yes, we can!)

    We receive many requests for media appearances and calls from all over the United States inquiring about our programs. But recently we received a request from a professor with UT and MIT, Dr. Bradley Knox, who is developing an interactive, animatronic dog to -- hopefully -- help children learn.

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