Twenty-four dogs, all trained by inmates as a part of the ICAN program in Indianapolis went around and delivered special Valentine’s Day gifts to people all throughout the city. ICAN is an Indianapolis-based service dog organization that aims at not just training dogs but rehabilitating people in the process.
The dogs are all being trained to help people with a number of disabilities, ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to autism spectrum disorder. There are three prisons in the area that have all started taking place in the program. The dogs all went out yesterday delivering gifts along with one of the ICAN staff or a volunteer.
“The first reaction we get is they think their husband, or whoever gave the Valentine, actually gave them the puppy,” said Denise “Dino” Sierp. Sierp is the director of development and outreach for ICAN. “Then everybody in the office starts coming out and everybody gets excited. Some people get on the floor with the dogs and they roll around. It’s pure joy.”
ICAN began working with inmates at three local prisons on Valentine’s Day in 2002. The idea came from Dr. Sally Irvin, the founder of ICAN. They now about around 50 dogs that are in constant training with the inmates.
“She saw that it rehabilitated the inmates and provided them with loyalty and trust, which is huge,” Sierp said. “They find freedom in training the dogs within the prison’s four walls. It started with a dozen volunteers and first worked with kids at juvenile detention facilities. Because of the turnover, they started to then go into maximum security prisons because the inmates are there longer and it provides more stability for the dogs.”
Andrew Cole is with ICAN, and he oversees the training program that is taking place at Pendleton Correctional Facility. Pendleton is a maximum security prison in Pendleton, Indiana.
“What we challenge everybody here on is that the easiest and most positive way to turn something around is to give back,” said Cole. “This is selflessness on the ultimate level. To know that these dogs, after all your hard work, that these dogs are going to help somebody for the rest of that dog’s life, it’s an amazing thing.”