Every time ICAN volunteer Jeff Harrison walks into his office at the Hamilton Southeastern Schools Administration Building, he remembers the nine ICAN dogs he has helped train since becoming a furlougher in 2022.
What jogs his memory? That would be nine Hamilton Southeastern Schools ID badges, one for each of his former dogs, that he proudly displays on a whiteboard.
And in true educator fashion, Jeff, a former teacher who now works as the Director of Educational Technologies at Hamilton Southeastern Schools, has the badges organized in order from his first dog—Reba—to his most recent—Kenya.
“Every person—whether they have two legs or four—has to have a badge when they walk into one of our schools,” said Jeff. “So, within two days of getting a new furlough dog, I have an ID made for him or her, and I always keep it as a memento.”
Over the last nine months, Jeff’s ICAN dogs have accompanied him to elementary, middle, and high schools so that he can have his dogs experience busy environments with children of all ages.
And while those visits are critical for the dogs’ development, Jeff believes the school visits are equally as impactful for the students. That’s because he uses these visits as opportunities to teach kids about ICAN and service dogs.
“I like to explain to them why a service dog wears a vest and to instill in them that they must ask to pet a service dog before doing so.”
Recently, he witnessed the fruits of his labor at an elementary school when students were getting off the buses to start their day.
Jeff stood with ICAN Rosie in the hallway as the kids walked toward their classrooms, and he was pleasantly surprised to see that not a single student petted her without asking.
“I thanked each of them who did ask and politely said she was working right now, and they smiled and walked on.”
A few months ago, he took ICAN Kenya to an elementary school and read to students with her on Read Across America Day—a day meant to nourish a child’s creativity and curiosity and inspire a passion for lifelong learning.
He chose two books—”Tuesday Tucks Me In” and “Rescue & Jessica”—two children’s books that highlight service dogs.
Research shows that the presence of a calm and attentive dog helps children read aloud and reduces their stress while improving their concentration.
“The dog’s presence alone excites the students and makes them want to read,” Jeff said.
Another testing ground Jeff likes to expose his dogs to is the school cafeteria.
“So many dogs are food motivated, so I try to find as many opportunities as possible to expose my furlough dogs to food-related experiences,” he said.
With the enticing aroma of food in the air and the possibility of crumbs dropped on the ground, he has his dogs practice positive sniffing and the “leave it” cue during lunchtime at the school cafe.
Last Thanksgiving and Christmas, he even put ICAN Billy and ICAN Christian to the ultimate test by having the two service dogs in training sit and stay behind him as he served a holiday lunch to children at school.
Currently, Jeff and his family are furloughing their tenth ICAN dog— Max. After he returns to Pendleton Correctional Facility, he and his family plan to welcome a new ICAN dog into their hearts.
But before then, Jeff will add Max’s badge to his collection of canine IDs in his office, just like he has with every other ICAN dog he has been a part of.
“It can be hard to return the dogs after we train him,” Jeff admitted. “You do become attached, but I know what we are doing is making a difference and that the dog is loved by many—such as the handlers, other volunteers, and prison guards. Knowing that and understanding the dog is destined for bigger things makes it all worthwhile.”
You too can make a difference in the lives of Hoosiers like Jeff by training a dog for someone in need. If you’d like to help unleash possibilities, contact ICAN Volunteer and Education Manager Julie Mathias at email@example.com.