Be Part of the ICAN Story

"I have the best job in the world!" I often say when asked what I do for a living. Then when asked about ICAN and what we do - my heart stirs as I anticipate sharing how we put our mission into action and how we transform lives. A story I recently told was about Kristine, Michael and Audrey.

Jillian Ashton, Executive Director, ICAN

Kristine's son, Michael, was born with several medical complications including autism. Kristine said, ''I got this.'' She handled it, and she handled it well. By the time Michael was ten, his autism led to further medical obstacles, and his life was filled with doctor appointments, procedures, and therapies. Kristine had other children to care for, in addition to Michael, and she was exhausted and was convinced things were not going to improve; however, when Michael received an ICAN dog named Scout, everything changed.

Kristine, Scout & Michael

Hope arrived - even though Kristine never dreamed it would come with four legs and a tail! During their first outing a woman approached Michael with a huge smile and expressed how much she loved his dog. Kristine fought back the tears. Back then autism was not as well known or accepted; and this was the first time in over four years someone had given him positive social feedback. The woman saw Michael's wonderful, true self. In that moment, his assistance dog, Scout, restored hope.

 

Kristine & Bandit

Years later, Kristine received another blow when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. In her quest to accept her new normal of declining abilities, she did not realize she had once again given up on things getting better. Also, Michael had lost his assistance dog Scout to cancer and he was heartbroken with the loss of his companion. Given these unique circumstances, ICAN made the decision to place a dog who could serve both Michael and Kristine. This time hope arrived with Bandit - a lovable, gentle yellow Labrador Golden Retriever mix. Bandit helps Kristine stabilize when she walks, allowing her to participate in life and care for her six children.

In 2016, another hurdle hit Kristine's family when after 30 years of marriage, she and her husband made the painful decision to divorce. This change impacted the entire family, especially Audrey, Kristine's youngest daughter. Audrey, was having a difficult time with anxiety, depression and Asperger's syndrome. It was impacting her social interaction with her peers and family; making it difficult for Audrey to find her own voice. She saw the positive impact Bandit was having on her mother and brother and decided to become a volunteer for ICAN. Soon she found purpose as a puppy raiser and furlougher. It has become her passion; and she is currently puppy-raising Zoe. Audrey has found her own hope in a four-legged companion!
Kristine shared with me at one time, ''To lose hope over and over and then to have that hope restored by the power of a dog is an experience that words cannot even begin to describe. To see your child be accepted, to witness your child finding her voice, for your children to have the opportunity for a typical childhood all because of a dog is nothing short of magical. And as a mom, for me to be able to participate in those moments because of a dog, is more than I could ever, ever hope for.''

 

Audrey & Murphy

ICAN's stories of hope all begin with inmate handlers who train our dogs for service. Sometimes this is the part people are really shocked about when I tell them about my work. They can't believe we place puppies in maximum prisons to be trained. So I share the story about Stephanie who has spent the past two years training a dog who graduated this December. Since he was eight weeks old, Jackson was being prepared to become a mobility assistance dog for a young man living with Cerebral Palsy, and Stephanie has learned the value of self-worth and unconditional love.

 

ICAN Handler Stephanie with Jackson

''I heard doctors say that there's always one patient who changes their approach to practicing medicine.  Attorneys have a case or client that impacts them.  Teachers have a student that grabs their heart and brings out more passion to educate.  For me, it's been a dog - Jackson.  He's helped me to be a better mom, a better friend, a better employee, a better leader, a better teacher, a better citizen, a better person.  In all of my life I'll never be able to thank him enough for just being who he is and refusing to be anything else.  Jackson is my very best friend.  I love who I am in his eyes.  And now this is how I see myself. I am forever changed.  He is the epitome of perfect to me.''  

As a leader of an organization, I am often looking ahead, projecting and forecasting ICAN's future - where are we going and how we are going to get there. I am reminded to stay in the present, an invaluable attribute dogs teach us, and acknowledge hope is alive and we are transforming lives for the better.
It is important for us to keep telling their stories. To celebrate their success. To provide hope. 

You can help transform lives and hearts.  Become a part of the ICAN story.  Please DONATE TODAY. Give them hope, independence and the courage to embrace new possibilities. You will be amazed at what a four-legged friend can do!

Here's to unleashing abilities,


Jillian Ashton, CFRM
Executive Director

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