Here’s a belated Valentine’s Day story that will melt your heart — or at the very least, make you smile. And God knows we can all use some good news these days.
With a little help from their friends, some service dogs in training delivered Valentine’s Day gifts to businesses throughout Indianapolis yesterday. Their mission was part of a fundraiser called Puppy Love Valentine 2017, with proceeds benefiting the Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN).
As Denise Sierp, ICAN’s director of outreach and development told Good Morning America (GMA), “The first reaction we get is they think their husband, or whoever gave the Valentine, actually gave them the puppy. Then everybody in the office starts coming out and everybody gets excited.”
In some cases, people are so thrilled that they drop what they’re doing and take time to play with the dogs, Sierp said. Sometimes they even “get on the floor with the dogs and they roll around,” when that happens it is “pure joy,” she added.
A gift that keeps on giving
In addition to getting a chance to play with some truly awesome and adorable dogs, recipients get gift bags containing “cookies, artwork designed by dogs, a heart-shaped candle holder, handmade scarf and greeting cards featuring the ICAN service dogs.”
The prison inmates in the ICAN program who are responsible for training the service dogs also make a lot of the items in the gift bags, GMA reported.
According to Sierp, ICAN’s founder, Dr. Sally Irvin, started the program because she thought it could benefit everyone involved. And it has.
“She saw that it rehabilitated the inmates and provided them with loyalty and trust, which is huge,” Sierp told GMA. “They find freedom in training the dogs within the prison’s four walls.”
Since its humble beginnings 15 years ago, the ICAN program that gives inmates a second chance by allowing them to train the service dogs, has expanded considerably. According to GMA, it now has approximately 50 dogs “in training on a continual basis at the three local prisons, including a women’s prison.”
The easiest and most positive way to turn something around is to give to give back. — Andrew Cole, assistant superintendent of reentry at Pendleton Correctional Facility
As the person in charge of ICAN’s service dog program at a maximum security prison, Andrew Cole has witnessed just how much the program means to the inmates there.
“What we challenge everybody here on is that the easiest and most positive way to turn something around is to give back,” Cole told GMA. “This is selflessness on the ultimate level.”
There is a great deal of pride and satisfaction in knowing that each trained at the facility will have a positive impact on someone’s life for years to come, Cole added. And at no time is that more evident than at the ICAN “graduation” programs held when the dogs have completed their training.
“It’s an amazing experience to witness and the handlers take pride in that,” Cole said. “We’ve seen handlers who get attached to the dogs but at the same time when the dog leaves they know the dog is going to help somebody lead their life easier for the rest of their life.”