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October 17, 2012

‘If These Dogs Could Talk’ Tour Offers Unique Experience

Have you ever heard someone say that the only way they can really explain how something works is to show you how it works? That is exactly what the 'If These Dogs Could Talk' tour is all about.  Every month ICAN offers people who are interested in learning more about the program and its service dogs to visit the Indiana Women's Prison and meet the current dogs in training as well as the inmate handlers who train them.

The experience is nothing like you'd expect and is almost guaranteed to leave a strong impression on anyone who visits. I'd like to share with you my experience on the 'If These Dogs Could Talk' tour.

I first learned about ICAN almost nine years ago. I recently joined the Board of Directors and felt that it was important to fully immerse myself in the ICAN experience by taking a prison tour and meeting the handlers that work so hard to make this program successful. I was really excited to go on the tour based on comments from other people that I knew that had gone on previous tours. All of them raved about how amazing the dogs are and how they felt they had a better understanding of the program after taking the one hour tour. 

My tour included seven other people who were just as eager as I was to learn about the program. We were joined by nine inmate handlers, nine dogs in training-including two puppies, and Sally Irvin, the Executive Director of ICAN. Our group gathered in the chapel of the prison and was treated to lemonade slushies, perfect for the warm fall day that we were having. Sally invited us to place our chairs into a circle as we went around the room and introduced ourselves.

Our conversation quickly adopted the tone of a big family gathering as we sat around listening to the women tell stories about the dogs that they had trained, the service dog graduation ceremonies that made them proud, and the service dog placements that brought tears to their eyes. They talked about war veterans who were learning how to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder through the use of service dogs. A handler told us about one of the first dogs that she trained who is now assisting a client by helping to pull her wheelchair and giving her more freedom and independence than she would have thought possible.

These stories were so emotional and uplifting. Looking around the room, you could see the handler's faces beaming with pride as they talked about the satisfaction that they felt in training these dogs to do such important work. The handlers also talked about how thankful they were that a program like ICAN exists and gave them the chance to become the kind of person that they want to be and make a positive difference in someone's life.

The group was also treated to a presentation by several of the handlers who demonstrated a few of the tasks that the dogs were trained for such as helping to pull a person up from a seated position, picking up their leashes and giving them to the trainer, and offering balance assistance for a person who may have mobility issues. 

The tour finished after about an hour. The handlers all gave a heartfelt thanks to the tour group for visiting the facility and taking the time out of their day to learn more about the program. The dogs thanked all of the visitors as well with hearty tail wags and sloppy kisses!

If you've never had the opportunity or been able to take the time to go on an 'If These Dogs Could Talk' tour, I strongly recommend that you sign up. Tours occur almost every month. All interested people do need to submit their personal information approximately two weeks before the visit. Hope to see you soon!