Imagine all the things you do in your day-to-day life, such as going to work, school, or the grocery store. I do all of these same daily activities, but by volunteering with ICAN, I have the opportunity to take a service dog in-training along with me.
As a furlough volunteer, I play a part in the dog’s training by practicing the things that their inmate handlers have taught them but in a new environment. You can imagine the ways in which prison is different from my life on a college campus or your life at home.
Not only does volunteering give us the ability to expose the dogs to new environments, reinforce appropriate behaviors, and educate the public on ICAN’s mission—it also provides a number of great personal benefits.
I began my journey with ICAN at the beginning of college where I did what many freshmen did – joined various clubs and went to events in the hope that I would find my niche. I most certainly found it through volunteering with ICAN. What started out as a group of strangers turned into a giant support system of people that shared the same passion and gave each other advice as we all learned everything there was to know about handling the service dogs-in-training.
Along with furthering the dog’s training, a big part of being a furlough volunteer is to educate the public not only on ICAN’s mission but also on service dog etiquette. As unfortunate as it is, poor service dog etiquette definitely doesn’t disappear once the dog is graduated and placed with their client.
It is really important to me as a volunteer that I educate the people in my community about the “rights” and “wrongs” of interacting with a service dog so that the next time they see a service dog team, they know how to be respectful.
The number one question I get asked from people in the community is: How do you avoid getting attached to the dog? My answer is always the same: You don’t.
For me, it will never be easy to say goodbye to the dog I’ve spent 24/7 with over the past three weeks. Three weeks may not seem like a significant amount of time, but it’s just enough to learn all of the dog’s mannerisms and quirks and for them to wiggle themselves right into your heart. And that’s the point! The bond I create with each dog is invaluable to their training outside of prison.
On top of playing a part in working through behaviors such as barking or jumping while a dog is still in training, it’s so special to see my efforts as a volunteer come full-circle when the dog graduates. Behind the funny, inappropriate, and silly behaviors of each ICAN service dog-in-training, I see the possibility of my work eventually providing an individual with a disability more independence in their life.
On one hand, I am working as a volunteer to teach the dog how to apply their skills in new environments. On the other hand, however, each dog teaches me something as well. At the end of the day, the three weeks I spend working with each dog is just a small part of their two-year training process, but the impact that each and every furlough has had on me is so unique and long-lasting, and this is my favorite part of being a volunteer!
Are you ready to help us change lives? Learn more about volunteering with ICAN. Email us!
ICAN trains and places assistance dogs with individuals in Indiana who have disabilities and provides foundational life skills to inmates through their experience as trainers. To learn more, visit our website and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.