An average day for an Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN) service dog in training begins in a place that might seem unlikely for such a heartwarming story—a prison.
Meet ICAN Pilot, a 15-month-old black Labrador retriever in training to be a service dog. Pilot is sponsored by Honda of Fishers, who named him after the Honda Pilot.
Pilot and many other ICAN dogs like him are part of a unique program where incarcerated individuals train service dogs with the skills they will need to eventually be paired with a Hoosier adult, child, or veteran living with a disability.
Pilot’s day starts at Pendleton Correctional Facility, where his incarcerated handler, Thomas, is responsible for training, feeding, and grooming him. This partnership is about more than just taking care of a dog; it’s a chance for the handler to develop empathy, communication skills, a sense of responsibility, and much more.
Over two years, Pilot’s handler will teach him all the skills he will need to provide independence to his future client. This includes tasks like opening doors, providing balance, or retrieving necessary items.
Every six weeks, Pilot leaves the prison facility to work with one of ICAN’s furlough volunteers for three weeks at a time. In the outside world, Pilot encounters unpredictable challenges that are difficult to replicate inside prison.
When the volunteer picks him up from the correctional facility, Pilot comes out with his food and a harness, leash, vest, and collar. He also comes out with a handwritten report from his handler so that the volunteer knows precisely what cues to work on.
During his current furlough, Pilot is working on confidently putting his head through his harness and vest and ignoring other dogs when it’s time to work.
Pilot spends each day with the volunteer, working on his skills in various places. He goes to restaurants, shopping centers, grocery stores, and even on public transportation.
Although the volunteer works on cues daily, Pilot’s training extends beyond the basics. With his furlough volunteer, he learns to adapt to various situations and lifestyles because, as a service dog, he will need to be comfortable navigating busy streets, staying calm in crowded public spaces, and handling different distractions.
Pilot leaves plenty of time for rest and breaks throughout the day, too. Like a pet dog, Pilot takes naps to recharge and plays with his favorite toys to burn off energy.
As Pilot continues his training, he is making strides toward eventually providing independence to his future client with the help of ICAN’s dedicated volunteers and incarcerated handlers.
If you’d like to support our service dogs in training like Pilot, consider a gift to ICAN. Your donation will help us unleash even more abilities for Hoosiers in need.