A bad shelter experience inspired this woman to help bring dogs and people together.

Debi Krakar had a golden retriever named Riley who wanted to give love to everyone she met.

Riley was so loving, in fact, that Krakar couldn’t keep her sweetness all to herself. In 2006, she decided to get her pup certified as a therapy dog; the process involved training to give affection and comfort in places such as hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.

Whenever Krakar’s kids had friends over, the children immediately gravitated toward Riley, so once she was certified, Krakar focused primarily on taking her to schools. Riley taught students how to interact safely with dogs and, in the process, helped even the most timid kids learn social skills.


Photo courtesy of Debi Krakar.

“[She] had a true gift for knowing when to lay down and be still — for the elderly or for a scared child — and when to be her happy, bouncy self,” Krakar says.

The students adored Riley. Anyone who looked into her big, dark eyes couldn’t help but smile.

After witnessing how Riley could brighten up a classroom, Krakar wanted everyone to have the chance to enjoy their own canine companion.

She had already been volunteering with a German Shepherd rescue organization that found homes for homeless dogs, and she loved helping match rescue dogs with their forever families.

However, getting dogs adopted was harder than she had ever expected. Many rescue organizations have strict rules for potential pet parents. In fact, Krakar had experienced firsthand how their requirements could sometimes rule out responsible families.

Back in 2003, she had applied to foster dogs for a golden retriever rescue group, but they told her she wasn’t a good fit. “They said my house was too clean and they didn’t think I could handle the fur,” she says, laughing. “But I cleaned it because [they] were coming over — that’s what my mama taught me!”

A child reads to a therapy dog named Bacchus. Photo by The Dog Alliance.

When she watched Riley in the classroom, Krakar thought back to that discouraging experience. She became determined to help responsible families adopt the dogs they deserve. So she began taking dog training classes to learn more about what makes a stellar dog owner.

“I just immersed myself in everything dog and learned what I could,” she says.

Slowly but surely, she developed a business plan for an organization that would run therapeutic dog-related programs including training classes, an education center, and promoting youth literacy by having children read to dogs.

With help from volunteers, Krakar transformed her plan into reality and officially opened The Dog Alliance in Austin, Texas, in late 2006.

The Dog Alliance teaches owners how to train their dogs, which helps create stable homes for the dogs themselves. The idea is that people are more likely to keep their dogs if they know how to deal with common problems like misbehavior.

Owners and dogs can also sign up as therapy dog teams to spread joy to people in hospitals, workplaces, and schools, just like Krakar and Riley once did. The organization currently has about 175 teams visiting people at over 300 sites where the dogs help relieve stress with their wagging tails and cuddly personalities.

Buzz the therapy dog at work. Photo by The Dog Alliance.

However, despite the program’s success, the Dog Alliance was still missing something: a service dog program for veterans. People would often ask Krakar if her team trained service dogs for veterans with PTSD or other disabilities. Even though she saw the need for it, she didn’t think the organization was ready for such a complicated project at first.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” she explains.

While the training process is similar to that of therapy dogs, service dog training is different. Therapy animals are still considered pets, whereas service dogs are working dogs who have to learn to perform tasks like waking their handler from nightmares or retrieving medication.

However, many of The Dog Alliance staff members and volunteers were passionate about the idea of working with veterans. They knew from the veterans in their lives that service dogs can help heal trauma. Plus, their therapy dogs already had a calming effect on elderly and disabled residents in veterans homes.

So in 2016, after much consideration, Krakar decided to start Hounds for Heroes, a program that provides veterans with service dogs for free.

Staff Sgt. Patrick Stockwell with his service dog, Jenny. Image via The Dog Alliance.

The Dog Alliance trainers select and train shelter dogs for the program, and many of their trainees become successful service dogs.

However, some of the dogs aren’t quite right for the task. Service dogs for veterans don’t just need specific training — they need to have the right temperament and a clean bill of health.

Some of that criteria is simply impossible to determine in a shelter dog. For example, since shelter dogs don’t come with complete family trees, Krakar’s team can’t screen for genetic health problems. For a dog that’s helping its handler with mobility issues, a genetic issue like weak hips might make it hard for the dog to work later in life.

With that in mind, The Dog Alliance started its very own breeding program to produce dogs with the ideal mental and physical traits for veterans. They’ve actually just had their first litter of eight adorable pups.

Roxy with her puppies, the first litter from The Dog Alliance breeding program. Photo by Emily McCall Photography, used with permission.

The puppies were born in March 2018 and are already preparing for service dog life with socialization, obedience classes, and exposure to a variety of settings. They’ll be ready to go home with their handlers when they're 14 to 18 months old.

Krakar looks forward to the day when the puppies are thriving in loving homes and giving veterans the help they need to heal.

“[A service animal] gives veterans hope,” says Krakar. “They feel like theyre not out there all by themselves. Theyre sharing [their lives] with someone.”

That sense of hope motivates her to keep expanding The Dog Alliance to reach more people in need.

Debi Krakar with two service dog puppies. Photo by Emily McCall Photography, used with permission.

When she first volunteered with Riley, she didn’t expect to end up creating her own nonprofit. She didn’t even have the experience for such an endeavor. But that didn’t stop her from changing lives, both human and canine.

While Riley passed away in February 2016 from cancer, she inspired an incredible group of dogs and trainers. She even helped Krakar come out of her shell and make friends within a community of dog lovers — a gift that continues to give to this day.

“She taught me how soothing a dog could be to those under stress,” says Krakar. “All of us at The Dog Alliance strive to be as nonjudgmental and accepting as Riley.”

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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