written by Katie Schoenberg, Ph.D.
(Katie is an ICAN Furlough Volunteer. She is the Senior Advisor, Product Development Portfolio & Program Manager for Elanco Animal Health. We are grateful to Elanco for allowing their employees to participate in ICAN’s Furlough Program.)
I can still remember my first introduction to the Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN). It was through an Elanco Global Day of Service, and even though I was surrounded by a bunch of energetic puppies, it was the story being told that truly captured my attention.
A current ICAN director was telling his own fascinating story, and I was gripped. He himself had been behind bars when ICAN gave him the skills to train assistance dogs – dogs that would soon be out there supporting children and adults with disabilities.
He works with the 56 handlers in the prison system who are given full-time responsibility, 24/7 to teach dogs the skills they need to become successful service dogs.
As he spoke about the skills he’d developed to begin a new life on his release, I started to add up the number of other lives that could be enriched by the little puppies bounding across the floor around me. I knew immediately that I wanted to do and know more.
My husband and I decided to become furlough volunteers, which means we have an ICAN dog with us for three weeks at a time to help them practice the skills inmates in the Indiana prison system have taught them.
These dogs do everything with us to help them get used to life with the people they will ultimately support: school picks-ups, visiting restaurants, movie theatres and parks, joining us on trips to the dentist and the hairdresser, and even coming to work.
We’re so grateful that Elanco has allowed these service dogs-in-training to come into our workplace. As I roam through the halls to my next meeting or walk through the crowded cafeteria at lunchtime, I often think about the dog tagging along with me and their eventual forever-partner.
I’d like to think that by exposing a dog to all the smells and people and noises, I’m doing my part to make a future experience with someone else just a little easier.
The biggest compliment an ICAN furlougher can get is when a dog is quietly sitting under the table during a meeting, and someone exclaims: “I didn’t know there was a dog in here!”
Elanco’s support of ICAN and other service and therapy dog organizations is a prime example of how we live the human-animal bond every day. We take our role in the promotion of companionship very seriously, and if we do our job right, we’ll enable these animals to live longer, healthier and happier lives.