KNK9 PROGRAM HISTORY
In 2005, while working for Williamson County Juvenile Services (WCJS), KNK9 Program Director Donna Wasielewski put together the first proposal for a dog training therapy program. WCJS was nationally known for its innovative services, and she was given the go ahead to make it happen! Former Juvenile Services employee Denise Askea had previously worked on a proposal to bring a dog program to the WCJS, and she was an integral part of designing the original proposal for KNK9 to be offered to youth on probation. Starting a new program partnering multiple independent agencies was a challenge, and after various logistical details with the shelters prevented the program from starting at the last minute during planned summer sessions in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and after it was determined that the residential treatment program would be a better fit for the program than probation, finally, in 2008, the program completed its first pilot session.
Before starting the program, Donna attended a 1 week conference at Project POOCH about how to start a dog training therapy program. Project POOCH is a nationally known organization featured on Animal Planet that paired incarcerated Oregon youth with homeless dogs. POOCH 101 taught Donna, “Start small, but start!” so in July of 2008, Kids-N-K9s kicked off its pilot session with 4 cadets from the Williamson County Juvenile Services Academy “boot camp”and 4 dogs from the Williamson County Regional Animal shelter for a 3 week program consisting of 2 hour classes 4 days a week. The program was such a success that in August, the next session was 6 kids and 6 dogs for 3 weeks! Many people came together to make these pilot sessions such a huge success, and Lisa Caughlin, owner of Canine Academy dog training center in Cedar Park, generously donated her time, t-shirts, and other keepsakes for the kids to help make these two pilot sessions really special and wonderful case manager Anita Anderson was a huge support in ensuring the cadets had a consistent, dedicated, and involved staff member present during the sessions.
The KNK9 pilot sessions were so well-received that in December 2008, Donna was moved to a position that allowed her to dedicate more time to KNK9 to make it a program that could be offered year-round. In July 2009, the next level of KNK9 kicked off, expanding to a 6 week program. The 2 hour program, offered 4 days a week, was designed to combine working with and caring for the dogs with processing time to discuss how what they were learning related back to their lives and how that learning could be applied. Many volunteers contributed to the success of this program, from volunteering weekly to help the youth train the dogs to making videos to help the dogs get adopted.
Though the program was mostly offered at the animal shelter to youth in the Academy, over the years, KNK9 expanded to include a variety of services:
TRIAD Residential Treatment Program – The dogs were brought to Juvenile Services to work with youth who were in a secure program where they were not allowed to leave the facility. This 4 week program focused on the same goals as the regular KNK9 program, but was delivered right to WCJS!
Specialized Sex Offender Program – A 4 week program was offered to a group of 4 youth on probation for sexual misconduct. This program focused on healthy relationships, boundaries, respect, and communication skills.
K9 Lite – This popular “ala carte” program was offered to the youth who could not leave the facility. Originally designed to bring some happiness to the kids on holidays where they could not be home with their families, this program expanded to many school holidays and national holidays throughout the year. Shelter dogs were brought for a one-time 1.5-2 hour program to visit with the kids where they could run and play, relax and get some cuddle time, or just walk and visit with staff and each other.
Team KNK9 – In 2015, KNK9 again made a big change in offering a class where the youth worked together in teams of 2 kids to 1 dog. This allowed the youth to work on interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, partnership, and leadership skills with people in addition to all the other benefits of working with the dog. This program was a huge success and paved the way for this important change in future sessions.
Assisting Other Start-Up Programs - Donna consulted with several start-up programs to help get their programs running, including the Canine Leadership Program in Fort Bend County and Project YAPP in Austin.
Internships – Donna supervised Rachel Masters, a social work intern at the University of Texas in Austin, for her Master’s Degree. Rachel went on to get her LCSW and founded her own version of a K9 therapy program while a case manager at Bluebonnet Trails MHMR.
Speaking Engagements – Donna has spoken about KNK9 at numerous professional events individually and with Rachel Masters as a co-presenter. Some of these events include the Texas Probation Association, Strengthening Youth and Families, Texas Behavioral Health Institute, and the OSTI-CON (Out of School Time Initiative) conferences in addition to numerous presentations to students in a Master’s level social work alternative therapies class at the University of Texas Austin.
In September, 2015, Donna started partnering with WCJS as an independent contractor to provide KNK9 services to the youth in two of their residential treatment programs. The sessions were 18 hours spread in 90 minute blocks over 3-4 weeks and were very successful per both youth and staff alike!
In 2016, Donna expanded KNK9 to provide services for the Round Rock Independent School district's disciplinary alternative school. Click HERE for more information about this program.