Our Blog

August 19, 2013

ICAN to Help Veterans

ICAN is in the process of finalizing a program with the VA Hospital in Indianapolis to provide “Pet Therapy” using ICAN’s qualified dogs and ICAN furlough volunteers.

“I’ve been working with the VA Hospital for almost a year to develop a volunteer opportunity for ICAN furlough volunteers and ICAN dogs in training, which will assist our veterans in need,” says Sally Irwin, Director of Programs. “What initially started out as volunteering on the inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation unit until has morphed a bit. We are providing animal assisted interventions on these units.” 

Animal assisted intervention sessions are different from typical pet therapy. As an example, Sally reports that she was involved in intervention sessions, working alongside an occupational therapist as the therapist worked with her patients. The therapist outlined the goals each patient was working on and what the patient needed to achieve in a specific session.

Sally’s challenge was to figure out how to incorporate ICAN’s service dog (Senna) in a way that would help the patient reach or exceed the treatment goals. Following are two examples in which Sally and Senna were involved that show how these sessions are instrumental in helping veterans re-learn and improve their skills.

Patient #1 had total left sided paralysis and was working on relearning how to look to her left and use her left arm. Senna was incorporated in a calm “fetch” game in which the patient had to throw the ball with her left arm and Senna had to return the toy to her left side. This exercise took about 30 minutes.

Patient #2 had a traumatic brain injury and was relearning speech and sequencing. The patient was given three behaviors that he could ask Senna to do (sit, down, shake). The patient was then asked to sequence the behaviors and provide verbal praise.

Sally is in the process of organizing a series of learning sessions which will provide the skills for ICAN volunteers to work with VA therapists, veterans and ICAN’s dogs. This will undoubtedly be an enriching and exciting program.  When referring to her experience at the VA Hospital, Sally said it best, “I had he most amazing time working with Senna and the patients…it made my week!!!”

To learn more, please contact Sally at sally@icandog.org.