A Handler’s Perspective
by Dennis B., ICAN Handler at Pendleton Correctional Facility
(This letter was written by Dennis, who trained Oakley. Oakley was placed with Linda to provide assistance in mobility. It was read to our guests at ICAN's Graduation in June, 2016)
Hello to all and to all a great big welcome.
My name is Dennis and I have been incarcerated for thirty years. I am currently in the ICAN program as a handler at PCF/Indiana Reformatory, a maximum security facility. I’ve been a part of ICAN now since September 12, 2013 and this is the first program that has given me a chance to give back to the community outside these walls.
When I first came into ICAN, we had three Golden Retrievers (Jamie, Alpine and Clare) and four Golden/Lab mixed puppies (Patsy, Franklin, Osiris & Stewart). The four puppies were passed around to a different handler each day. This was confusing to all. The handlers had no idea what each dog was learning and the dog had no idea what the new handler wanted. We learned quickly that this did not work well for the puppies or the handlers.
After four weeks of this, Patsy was assigned to me and the real learning began for both the puppy and the new handler. I had read all the books ICAN gave us but there was nothing like the hands on experience. I was so green that I was not able to deal with Patsy’s jumping up on people, her mouthing their arms or the separation anxiety that she developed. For this Patsy was released. She had great skills but her anxiety and the behaviors that stemmed from the anxiety disqualified her as an assistance dog. She now lives in Arizona with her sponsor and I hear they are all very happy. ☺
I mention my beginnings and Patsy only to give you a reference when it comes to this beautiful, awesome, amazing creature known to all as Oakley “The Love Bug”. ☺
Oakley never had the anxiety issues Patsy had. I made sure to give her to another handler each day for at least twenty minutes to work with her, walk her, or just play with her. This prevented the separation anxiety. I also made sure to place Oakley in a controlled position before allowing anyone to pet her. I reinforced this at all times, as I learned from Patsy how important this behavior was and what the consequences were if I was not consistent.
Oakley was a fast learner and passed her level one evaluation soon after turning six months. When I had to give her up to the handlers at IWP I had worked with Oakley for about sixteen months and she was well into learning her level three cues. A first for me, but she made it easy. It is always a delight to watch the light come on in a dog’s eyes when they figure out what it is the handler wants. The tail starts wagging and the energy level picks up and you can just tell how happy they are that they figured it out.☺ It can be frustrating the first few lessons, but when they get it “Man is it fun to see.”
There are many, many, many moments that Oakley brought a smile to my face and made my day, but none that compares to knowing she is graduating and will now belong to someone new who she will be able to provide a more enhanced life and greater independence.
In closing, to Oakley’s new friend, I hope Oakley brings you great joy and serves you well. I also hope you come to love her as much as I do. She is truly an AWESOME DOG. She can be a great tool for you but also a best friend. My wish for you is a great life, new adventures and experiences all with our Oakley “The Love Bug”.
To the rest of tonight's clients, may Justice, Renn, Tuck, Oliver, and Roscoe bring you the same joys they have given to all of us handlers, and to everyone involved in the ICAN program.