Our History

In December 2001, Dr. Sally Irvin founded Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN) because of her belief that service dogs can be catalysts for positive change in peoples’ lives. Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, ICAN primarily serves residents of Indiana, with occasional client placements outside of the state.

The initial home of the ICAN program began at The Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility, where incarcerated adolescents interacted with the dogs-in-training. Today, the robust program has evolved to engage the abilities of adults incarcerated in Indiana correctional facilities to conduct intensive training to prepare the dogs for service work.

On Valentine’s Day 2002, ICAN delivered three puppies to the Rockville Correctional Facility. Eager inmate handlers awaited their new pupils, Casey and Bud, both golden retrievers, and Nora, a petite Labrador. With an annual budget of $4,987.00, a core group of 12 very dedicated volunteers began to build ICAN’s foundation! By the following year, ICAN expanded into two other correctional facilities and tripled our budget and number of dogs.

Back then, ICAN had two “A’s”; we were Indiana Canine Assistant and Adolescent Network. Our original efforts focused on at-risk adolescents, those incarcerated, and those with disabilities. We quickly realized that though teens could effectively teach young dogs, their bigger need was to experience the unconditional love and healing that a puppy could give. So, we changed course and simplified our name and focus. We became ICAN with one “A”; with a focus on adult inmates training the service dogs, and children with disabilities receiving placement priority.

In 2004, we partnered our first dogs: Bud assisting a child with Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy, and Duke and Asha with school physical therapists focused on children with severe disabilities. Our grants began to be funded, which allowed us to hire paid staff. When we saw a growing need for service dogs for children with autism, we embraced the challenge and developed a specialized training curriculum. Over 22 children with autism have been partnered with a service dog, creating a bridge to their family and friends.

In 2008 another need emerged: People with Type 1 Diabetes were seeking a dog that could “help them help themselves.” When they were unaware of their dropping blood sugar levels, they became susceptible to falling down, and possible medical crisis. We studied how to train dogs to sense the chemical change that occurs with a critical drop in blood sugar, teaching them to alert their owner with a nudge to the arm.

Now in our 17th year, our budget has grown and so has the number of dogs in training and clients we serve.  Successfully placing more than 200 service dogs, ICAN has approximately 55 dogs in training at three correctional facilities, a team of seven full-time employees, and more than 100 volunteers. ICAN has unleashed many abilities and changed many lives, yet we have much more to accomplish to reduce the waiting time for applicants. ICAN is the only service dog organization in Indiana that is accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and places dogs within Indiana.

To learn more about ICAN’s Vision-based Strategic Plan please visit 2019-2021 Strategic Plan.

Photo by Liz Kaye