If you ask Judy, she will tell you that ICAN has transformed her life since becoming a volunteer almost 10 years ago. Because of this and so many other wonderful reasons, Mike and Judy Harrington presented ICAN with a $1.5M transformational gift.
“We have been witnesses to ICAN’s mission for several years now and believe in what we are doing to create possibilities for people,” says Judy.
It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child, which is a great comparison to training and placing a service dog. The ICAN training process—from birth to placement—takes about two years. And thanks to donors and volunteers like Judy, we’re able to place around 25 service dogs a year.
Below, Judy tells us about her experience as a volunteer with ICAN.
“I began volunteering for ICAN so I could pet and love on puppies, but my eyes were quickly opened to a large number of other and bigger assets this program provides.
“Volunteering has given me deep life-long friendships through a dynamic volunteer training program. We have regular continuing education and learn from professional trainers, inmates, and each other. I’ve gained skills that reinforce the training my pups get from their inmate handlers. One of the rewarding benefits of volunteering has been watching inmate handlers grow in skill, develop self-confidence, and find a purpose in life.
“Another priceless benefit of volunteering is witnessing the magic of an ICAN dog bonding with his client. One of the most impactful journeys I can remember is when I was able to see an ICAN service dog work to become a balance assistance dog and help his client walk across the stage at graduation. These partners even went on to open a new business together. When the client needed surgery that forced him to relearn to walk, his service dog was right by his side. It’s these powerful stories that keep me awestruck and passionate about unleashing possibilities for so many more people.
“Throughout my years, I often encounter people that reach out to pet a service dog in training without thinking because they are curious and drawn to adorable puppies. This is a big no-no in terms of service dog etiquette. However, I don’t mind when this happens because it gives me an organic opportunity to educate people about service dogs. It’s important for everyone to understand how to properly interact with a service dog because doing so removes obstacles for the clients when navigating in public.
“When this happens, I’ve learned to communicate this message gently as it is never my intention to embarrass anyone. My goal is to simply bring awareness regarding appropriate behavior around service dogs.
“To do this, I often ask the person if they’d like to help me train the dog and the answer is always, ‘YES!’ I’ll then explain that I am teaching the dog to always pay attention to me as if I were the dog’s ‘forever’ person. This is an extremely important lesson because if the dog moves into training to become a diabetic alert dog, he would always need to stay focused on me so he will not miss a high or low blood sugar.
“I’ll then ask the pup for a sit and to make eye contact with me. Next, I’ll ask the person to please pet my puppy. However, if he breaks the sit, I’ll ask them to please stop petting. The dog is then rewarded with food or praise from me for staying in the sit. By asking for assistance with training, this potentially awkward moment turns into a teachable moment for both the dog and the puppy-loving person.
“Having service-dogs-in-training in my home has allowed my children and husband to be part of the process and watch as the pups learn.
“I have ‘listened’ to many pups along the way by watching their behavior because this tells us if training is fun or has become a chore. The dogs that graduate as service dogs truly love what they do. However, sometimes public access work isn’t what suits them best, and we help transition these dogs into other working roles, like becoming facility dogs or working with police detectives. Other times they become very well-trained pets.
No matter what the dog chooses, it is a deeply rewarding experience to train these pups.”
We are so thankful to have such a passionate volunteer in Judy, and we love to hear how much she enjoys working with ICAN. Her and Mike’s unprecedented donation will help expand our ability to place service dogs within Indiana, and together we will continue to unleash possibilities for those we serve!
To learn more about volunteer or support opportunities, please contact 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.