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Pups, Prisons, and Progress: How ICAN Changes Lives

Pups, Prisons, and Progress: How ICAN Changes Lives

By Kristin Hart

Step into the DKP headquarters in Zionsville and you’ll be quickly greeted by our amazing humans (like Janet at the front desk). You’ll also likely receive a friendly greeting from a DKP pup or two. From proudly-displayed dog photos to pooches napping in tufted beds next to our desks, dogs are an important part of the DKP culture. And while we love our pooches, we also love making a positive impact in our community. So what if we combined our two passions into one amazing venture?

Well, that’s just what we did as we teamed up with the Indiana Canine Assistance Network (ICAN).

What is ICAN?

Located less than a mile from the DKP office, ICAN is a nonprofit providing service dogs to disabled adults and children. With the help of these amazing animals, physically and mentally challenged individuals gain more freedom, a fuller life, and for some, even unexpected and miraculous outcomes.

But dog recipients aren’t the only ones who experience positive life change as a result of ICAN’s incredible work. Every dog in the ICAN program is trained by a man or woman serving time in an Indiana prison. As a handler, inmates learn crucial life skills such as compassion, confidence, and responsibility that help them successfully reintegrate into life outside of prison. Finding the right candidate to be a handler is of the utmost importance. Before being accepted into the program, every inmate is thoroughly screened and evaluated to ensure they will be a good fit as a caring trainer.

How ICAN Trains Service Dogs

Once an ICAN puppy is three weeks old, both mama and pups are transferred to the Indiana Women’s prison where training begins. In these early stages, handlers focus on proper nutrition, exercise, neuromuscular development, and cultivating an eagerness to learn. As the puppies grow, they’re also assigned to a volunteer who lives outside the prison so they can be properly socialized out and about. Periodically throughout the course of their training, the dogs will stay with a furlough volunteer who will take them to the grocery store, church, park, mall, and coffee shops to gain vital social skills (and I’m sure have a little fun along the way).

At four months old, puppies are transferred to one of Pendleton’s men’s prisons. Here the dogs learn basic skills like loose leash walking and commands like “sit,” “down,” “under,” “tug,” and “drop.” When dogs are about 18 months old, they generally go back to the Indiana Women’s Prison and learn advanced skills like opening doors, providing balance, operating lights, alerting of low blood sugar, retrieving dropped items, and much more.

DKP’s History with ICAN

Since 2015, DKP has partnered with ICAN to sponsor three dogs in the program. Our first dog, Pierson, was trained by Heather at the Women’s Prison for two years. Pierson graduated in June of 2017 and now serves as a facility assistance dog for Westfield High School’s special needs class. There he provides support for kids with Down syndrome, low and high spectrum autism, other disabilities, and mobility challenges.

Frankie, our second sponsored ICAN dog, is currently under the care of his handler, Don, at the Pendleton Correctional Facility. He’s scheduled to graduate from training soon and will be placed with a family in May 2021. We’re so excited for his new adventure!

Beyond sponsorship, we’ve also had the pleasure at DKP of helping ICAN raise funds. In 2019, Denise hosted ICAN’s annual Wine & Wags, an evening event filled with heartfelt stories from handlers serving time, released handlers, service dog recipients, and other community members.

Meet Reba, Our Current ICAN Pup

We are thrilled to announce sponsorship of our third dog, Reba (you might be thinking McEntire, but we were thinking “reimbursement”—as in the way we help clients tackle insurance coverage concerns). Reba is currently being cared for by Jonathon at the men’s prison. In a letter written to Denise and the DKP team, Jonathon writes, “Reba is a breath of fresh air and a cute and cuddly bundle of joy.”

We couldn’t agree more. When visiting our office, she’s very curious and inquisitive, sniffing every nook and cranny and saying hello to all.

Jonathon also writes, “ICAN has been a great experience for me.” He continues, “I am surrounded by people that care about their job [training dogs] and are trying to change to become better people. For myself, ICAN gives me a purpose every day. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing in us and sponsoring Reba.”

For our big-hearted DKP staff, combining our love of dogs with community service was a no-brainer, and we couldn’t be happier about our partnership with ICAN. As the sponsored puppies grow up, we relish every letter we receive sharing updates about the dogs and those whose lives have been changed by them. We’ve even been surprised with a painting by a handler at the Indiana Women’s Prison who took inspiration from the DKP geode logo (and got a little painting help from her ICAN dog, too!). Today, it’s proudly displayed in our office if you want to pop by and see it!

Stay tuned for future updates about Reba and her handlers. In the meantime, check out ICAN for yourself and see how you too can support this amazing (and adorable!) cause.

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