The Circle of Gratitude


by Jeff & Aimee, parents of Grace & Dezzie

Dezzie (Little Dezzie)

Dear ICAN,

Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for ICAN and all who make their program possible. Receiving our daughter’s first dog, Charlotte, was life-changing for our entire family. Among many blessings, our nonverbal daughter found her voice with the help of Charlotte. Fast forward some 8 years and we lost her precious helper and friend unexpectedly to cancer. It rocked our world.  We watched all of the miracles she brought with her fizzle out with her death. My once-thriving daughter “shut down” overnight. It was as if she was 3 years old all over again. This was a devastating blow. While my husband & I felt Grace would benefit from a successor dog, this time was different. We chose to get a service dog for her when we were blessed with Charlotte but now it would be up to Grace.


(Left to Right) In 2011, Grace, her mother, Aimee, and Charlotte; Handler Taila, Charlotte, Aimee, Grace, and her father Jeff.

“Mom, will you and dad find me another dog?  I’m so lonely without Charlotte.” Grace and I both cried through that conversation. It was hard. It’s funny how you feel like you are betraying the one you lost when are able to take the first step in moving forward in life. Despite the grief, we had the application in the mail that week. And we have not looked back since! Grace immediately perked up and snapped back to her old self. Her grades climbed and she began talking about things like checking out a job! There have been a few changes worthy of mention.

(Left to Right): Handler Sonya hands Dezzie over to Grace and her mother

First, Grace refuses to sleep without Dezzie. At all. They curl up with each other every night and go to sleep. I know there are people out there right now screaming about not allowing dogs on the furniture, but we sure they would come around if they saw Dezzie’s eyes just once! Second, Grace has certainly found her voice. She actually said something a bit snarky the other day and then looked at me and grinned, “Am I sassy now just like Dezzie?” The final thing that stands out to me is the amount of affection I see Grace giving Dez. I have never seen Grace this affectionate and attentive with a dog. Or anyone else for that matter. Ever. Admittedly, affection is often difficult for people on the spectrum, but this is something special. Some may say it is because Grace is older but I don’t think that is the case. Grace genuinely loves Dezzie and Dezzie genuinely loves Grace. I must admit, this quarantine has thrown all of us for a loop one way or another, but it has allowed us to see this beautiful relationship grow before our eyes.

Thank you to everyone at ICAN and at IWP who made this possible!

(Left to Right) 2019 December Graduation; Father Jeff, Grace, Dezzie, Mother Aimee and IWP Handler, Sonya

Now we really must go. I hear “Dezzie, nudge” and “Dezzie, sit” coming from the other room. Sounds like Grace is running Dezzie through her “commandments!”

-Jeff & Aimee

My Dearest Grace

by Sonya, Handler, Indiana Women’s Prison

(Five months after Charlotte passed away, ICAN was able to place Grace with Dezzie as a successor dog. During the graduation, the Passing of the Vest takes place where the handler officially hands the dog over to the client. The following letter was read by Dezzie’s handler, Sonya.)

ICAN Handler, Sonya – Indiana Women’s Prison


Good evening!
I had a long speech prepared for tonight but it got interrupted because I got an unexpected letter in the mail. The letter was addressed ‘’To Grace, From Charlotte – Ruff-Ruff!’’ So Grace, if you don’t mind, I would like to read to you tonight the letter that Charlotte, your past service dog wrote to you, okay?

My Dearest Grace,

Hi! it’s me Charlotte! Ruff-Ruff!

I wanted to write and tell you not to be sad about me being gone. I made sure to send you a special girl named Dezzie, who likes the whammies just like you! She will help you when you are sad. She will calm you when you are anxious, and she will even interrupt that cute little tippy-toe thing you like to do! Ruff!

Now I am aware that she is not as furry as me and you may have to use an extra blanket in the winter to keep warm because of it. But, she does walk really good and will keep you laughing with all that moaning and groaning she does when other people talk too much! Oh, and I do apologize for Dezzie’s loud grandpa snores, Grace, but she sure is cute isn’t she? What I am trying to say to you Grace is that I couldn’t leave you without knowing you would be well taken care of so I paw picked the best service dog just for you, my human sister.

Love furrrrrever, your girl dog, Charlotte

Grace and her mother, Aimee, await at the side of the stage as Sonya reads the letter.