by Shirl – Puppy Love Year Round and Dog Art Coordinator
Shirl assisting the handlers during dog art day at IWP and PCF
I was introduced to ICAN four years ago when I was a volunteer tutor at the Indiana Women's Prison. As I walked across the campus that first day, I encountered DOGS and they, as well as the women "attached" to them, were heading in the same direction I was! My first thought was that there must be some sort of doggie day care program at IWP, but when I stopped one of the women to inquire about all the dogs, she told me she was a handler for ICAN and was on her way to training class.
Shirl giving out instructions to the handlers for dog art day at Indiana Women's Prison (IWP)
Over the next few months, I'd arrive early for tutoring, just so I could talk to the handlers, pet the dogs, and observe the interaction between the women and their dogs. A prison staff member knew of my fascination, and encouraged me to attend the upcoming graduation, but cautioned me that it would be a very emotional experience. She was right! I started boo-hooing before the ceremony even started, just watching the procession of dogs and handlers entering the gym. I was so moved and touched by what I saw that night, when I got home I wrote a check and filled out an application to be an ICAN volunteer.
Some of the many masterpieces that Shirl has organized for ICAN
Over the years, I've baked cookies and done craft projects with the handlers, served lunches at team training, delivered Valentines, and organized a dog art project. With the introduction of Puppy Love Year Round, I became the volunteer coordinator, delivering gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, and even a prom invitation. Every ICAN activity in which I've participated has been rewarding and emotional on so many levels.
Shirl, 2nd person from the left side, helping serve lunches at Team Training
I now teach in the college program at IWP, and have had several handlers as well as their dogs in my classes. A particularly moving experience for me occurred recently, when I arrived well before class. Thinking I was the only person in the building at 7:15AM, I was surprised to see a handler and her dog. Neither of them had spotted me, so I stopped in my tracks to watch. She was teaching her dog to press the button on the water fountain. Her love and devotion were obvious, as she quietly encouraged, rewarded, and re-directed her dog to perform the task at hand. This went on for several minutes. She then bent down, hugged her dog, and moved on down the hallway, never realizing I'd been watching her.
Do you think she is trying to tell us something?
Through my ICAN-related activities and teaching at IWP, I've gotten to know many of the handlers. As they've told me, ICAN is a way for them to give back, make things right, a second change, and a do-over.
ICAN gives their lives purpose, knowing that one day the dogs they have trained will be helping people. For me, volunteering with ICAN has been an opportunity to be a part of a truly incredible organization.
Shirl shopping for supplies (and trying to dodge the camera) for ICAN's Valentine's bake-off day!
Shirl is very camera shy and quite known for resisting photographs, so sometimes it makes it very challenging for our photographer, Liz Kaye, to catch her in the moment. However, we do manage to get some good ones of her in action. In addition to coordinating Puppy Love Year Round, Shirl also handles the ''Dog Art Project'' for ICAN. Not only does she donate the cost all of the paints and canvasses, but she also organizes the art project at three different prisons! With ''Shirl the Pearl'' there is ''No Stone Left Unturned!''