Thursday, August 27, 2009


What a party! The ICAN Puppy Shower for these nine growing bundles of fur and energy was fantastic. Over 125 people attended and the vast majority of them made financial contributions to support the puppies. Each attendee was invited to make a donation in honor of the puppy of their choice. Each pup had its own photo display and donation box (with a racing theme, of course, in honor of their benefactor Tony Stewart!). It was fun to watch our guests go over to the puppy pen, play with the pups, decide which was their "favorite", then walk to the donation box and insert a contribution to support that dog.

The pups were in a pen the entire night EXCEPT when they were being cuddled by our guests or having their photo taken by ICAN's friend Carl Frye (Need a great photographer? In other words, the puppies weren't in their pen that much!
Total funds donated that night were $6691.00, and we are so appreciative of everyone's generosity. How do those contributions help? Let me share that health care for the nine pups for their first year of life will total around $6750 (preventative care, vaccines, spay/neuter, for example). The puppies food cost for their first year of training could be covered by the donations raised at the shower. With ICAN having 50+ dogs in its training program, you can see why donation such as this are significant to our success at training and placing skilled service dogs with children and adults with disabilities.

Of special interest to people was the display with a photo showing each puppy and a letter written by that pup's handler at Plainfield Correctional Facility (PCF). Underneath the handlers letters on display, were photos of ICAN clients and dogs we have placed together. I can't tell you how many guests stopped at that large display of letters and read each letter word by word. I also can't tell you how many positive comments we received from these guests expressing how moved they were by the handler's words and how dedicated each handler sounded. Several guests elected to write the handlers a return note of encouragement and thanks on the poster board we had out for that very reason.

By the end of the night, we had nine EXHAUSTED puppies on our hands. These photos tell you just how hard those nine pups worked at the puppy shower!

Thanks to everyone who attended the shower to share in the joy of these nine puppies, and special thanks to those who made a donation to help the pups in their 2 years of training. Want to make a donation yourself in honor of one of these puppies? Visit and click on Sponsor A Dog. You'll find photos of each of the nine pups there and you can pick which one you want to sponsor. In return for your donation you receive a sponsorship certificate and a photo of you puppy! Thanks in advance.

PUPdate from Plainfield Correctional Facility

It's hard to believe the pups have been at the Plainfield Correctional Facility (PCF) for over 2 weeks now. And what a learning curve it's been for all of us involved with these pups. First of all, the relationship between ICAN and PCF is in its infancy so that means lots of time spent working out details and training schedules. And, we are thrilled to report that this facility has been fabulous to work with and they've embraced the pups and the ICAN program wholeheartedly. Thank you to everyone at PCF!

Second, the handlers training the dogs at Plainfield are new to dog training so their learning curve was significant. And, we are pleased to say, they each met the challenge with determination, hard work, gentleness, and dedication. They have thrown themselves into the ICAN program and into training these pups with a verve and a passion, and we are so appreciative for what they are doing. And let me tell you - THESE PUPS WERE A TAD CHALLENGING!
What do we mean by that? Imagine you are a dog handler new to dog training -- and the first pups you are given to train display two traits: 1) they aren't food motivated, and 2) all they want to do is play with their puppy siblings. Dogs that are food motivated are easier to train because they will display certain behaviors knowing a reward is coming their way -- food or a treat. Alas, these little guys didn't seem swayed by any of the treats the handlers and ICAN staff tried, leading to some frustration and some feelings of "What am I doing wrong?" Of course, the handlers were doing nothing wrong. The pups just weren't responsive to food like most ICAN dogs in training. Hmmm...what to do!?

The answer? Miniature MARSHMALLOWS. Yes, finally we hit on the treat that seemed to get the puppies attention...the beloved marshmallow. Now, the pups are responding to the handlers requests for behaviors, such as giving eye contact and and sitting. As for the nonstop sibling play, this was addressed by separating the pups into smaller groups during training time. Often people wonder if service dogs ever get to play - trust me, the ICAN pups and other ICAN service dogs are always given their play time. Who could take play time away from a dog for any reason?! When they play, we smile and laugh.

In addition to the original 8 handlers inside PCF who were hired by ICAN, we've added a 9th handler and several babysitters who look after the puppies' needs when their primary handler is busy with schoolwork or their job at PCF. In the next few weeks, we plan to host some of the Tony Stewart Foundation staff at the prison so they can see how their support is unleashing abilities and changing lives.

August 20th ICAN took the pups from the prison for a few hours to attend their Puppy Shower. Our next blog will be about that, but suffice it to say, it was a blast and the puppies were a huge hit with the 125+ people who attended the party. What a great socialization opportunity for the pups. While the pups were the main attraction for shower guests, there was a close second that really captured people's hearts and interest -- what the handlers shared with us in writing about their first few weeks with the puppies. Our guests were genuinely moved to read what the PCF handlers shared about the pups they are training. Of all the comments we received that night, the majority were people thanking us for sharing the handlers insights and thoughts. Again, ICAN thanks the handlers at PCF for helping our supporters and volunteers understand how these pups are avenues for joy, learning, service, and future opportunities.

What next for the puppies? Starting this week, the pups will go on their first furlough. This means an ICAN volunteer will remove the pup from prison for several days and work with the pup outside of the prison environment. This way the pups are exposed to people and things they might not see, hear, and smell while inside PCF. Furloughs also give the handlers a chance to rest up, take a break, and reflect on what's been learned to date and what they might learn next.

Check back in a couple days to see photos of the Puppy Shower and photos!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pups Arrive at Prison!

Before sharing details about the puppies' move to prison, ICAN sends a big thank you to Jamie for all the time and effort and love she gave the pups for the past 7 1/2 weeks! What a great start in life they had with you, Jamie. Thank you for EVERYTHING!

What an eventful day Tuesday, August 4th, was for everyone! The nine TSF pups were loaded in two large dog crates in the early morning hours and driven away from the only home they'd known. An hour later they arrived at their new home for the next 2 months - the Plainfield Correctional Facility, a medium security men's prison. The weather was ominous - dark skies, winds, impending rain and lots of it predicted - as supplies and the pups in crates were unloaded from the van and taken inside.

ICAN staff and prison staff took the pups to a school room and then to a large and lovely courtyard off of the room....the crates opened, and puppies tumbled out and then flew everywhere about the greenspace! After a few moments with pees and poos completed, the pups began to sniff around and explore the new landscape. The prison staff couldn't stop smiling; they are so happy to have us there.

Suprintendent Knight, the superintendent shared, “I’ve seen some of the hardest individuals turn into the biggest babies, rolling around and playing with the dogs,” she said. “It truly transforms them because they have to care for something else,

be responsible, and put their needs aside. Animals have a very calming effect on the population. They can be who they want to be around the animals and not have to put up any walls or pretenses.”

When the raindrops started a few moments later, 8 of the 9 pups hustled back into the school room.....except for Ms. Dora who was more interested in the grass, and the rain, and the thunder, and the pavement, and the "this" and the "that". Finally, we got her inside to her displeasure. She got over this displeasure by tackling Dega and chewing on his head. She's a wild one.

Enter eight handlers from the prison's substance abuse unit - the pups new trainers. All ages. Seven of the eight men are new to the ICAN program; John, however, was a babysitter for an ICAN dog about 4 years ago when he was housed at the Branchville Correctional Facility. (He later shared that it tore him up when the dog he babysat named Daisey left the facility for good.) The nine pups were released and ran toward the men who all were tentative about how to react...Should they pet the dogs? Could they pick them up? In a place where you ask for permission to do everything, it tugged on your heart to watch them try to figure out what was the appropriate and correct response to these nine furry, bouncing dogs. But they were all smiling.

Sam was the first handler to take the plunge of making himself comfy with the pups and this set the tone for the others. John then sat with Charlotte and played gently with her and shared that he was a welder but that he might go into dog training when he was released. Brandon scooped up Dora and shared that he originally had not been assigned Dora. But when he heard her name, he had to have her. At the time of his arrest, he had a dog named Dora at home who he adored. After his incarceration, his dog Dora stopped eating and passed away, he believes, from a broken heart at his absence.

The first lesson for these handlers....pee and poo cleanup. No time to learn like the present! Case Work Manager Joyce Lingle at the correctional facility had baked and decorated a cake in the shape of a dog. After the cake was gone and the pups' rousing 40-minute-playtime was up, each pup dropped to the floor (or climbed up on the very cool metal outcropping along the base of the windows) and fell asleep soundly. With the pups at rest, I chatted with several of the handlers and shared a little with them about Tony Stewart Foundation support and the kindness we have been shown by the foundation. They said they'd love to invite the foundation in to show what the pups are learning.

Nearly 2 hours into the arrival, ICAN trainers gathered the group to talk about how to proceed with introducing the pups to the facility, other inmates, and so on. All of the men were kind and respectful to all of us and to all of the puppies. Rest assured, the pups are in good hands and are off to a great start in their lives of service work.

Here are the Plainfield Handlers names and Pup Assignments:

Brandon/ Dora

Kris/ Riley

Jeff/ Hunter

John/ Bella

Jason/ Racer

Casey/ Dega

Sam/ Lilly

O'Neill/ Charlotte

John and Casey are both responsible for Bristol

Sunday, August 9, 2009

They're Off

The pups are off on their latest adventure. ICAN collected the gang Tuesday AM and checked them into Plainfield Correctional Facility. See an article from the local newspaper at
The pups are doing well in their new home, although some of the handlers are losing a bit of sleep caring for their new, and sometimes vocally demanding, charges. The pups will also have time out in the community with furlough volunteers, visits to a church daycare for time with children, and many other new experiences.

Every litter has their own "personality", and this litter was confident, social, and vocally demanding. They demonstrated many traits that are desirable for assistance dog work: low to moderate energy level, low reactivity (to sound, novelty, motion), and a strong social attraction to people. But the pups also had their own individual personalities: Dega, Dora, and Charlotte were the most vocally demanding. Bristol and Hunter were mellow. Racer was the busy boy. Lilly was the soft, sweet cuddler. Riley was the clever girl. Bella was often off doing her own thing.

Slowly, I am putting the house back together. The puppy pen, puppy pools, and puppy supplies are back in the storage shed. All the puppy bedding and soft toys have been laundered. The plants around the back porch are starting to regrow after being puppy chew toys.

Wishing all the pups much success and know that they will bring lots of joy to the many people they will meet along the way, including the inmate handlers who will be their primary teachers. And the inmate handlers will learn from the pups key lessons in life such as love, empathy, responsibility, patience, teamwork, giving back, and a sense of accomplishment. Whether the pups become assistance dogs, therapy dogs, or beloved family pets, I trust that ICAN will guide them down the path to their forever homes.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A few close up pics

Enjoy more adorable puppy pics!

Dega on porch

Dega sleeping on footstool

Lilly looking into the pool

Dega on porch

Bristol sleeping on Dega

Bella on pillow

7 weeks old

Seven weeks old, and soon leaving to begin their training as ICAN assistance dogs. Most of the pups gained about 2 lbs last week and currently weigh in at 8.4 to 11 lbs. Bella and Lilly are the little pups; Hunter continues to be the big boy. The pups are currently eating 18 cups of puppy chow per day (2 c per puppy!) It has been a very busy couple of weeks, and no time to blog. Those of you watching puppy cam have probably noted that the pups are spending considerable time outside of the puppy pen; they are both loose in the house and out in the yard. There is also a moveable puppy pen out in the backyard (much easier clean up out there!). The pups have recently had two ICAN outings - a stint on Fox 59 morning news and the Tony Stewart Foundation naming ceremony. Last week they started going for individual mini-walks on leash, just down to my neighbor's house and back. They have learned the "four feet on the ground" rule and do lovely sits for attention. If you call "puppy, puppy, puppy", they all come running. I just got back in from being out in the backyard with the pups. Dega got the zoomies, was running donuts, and all of a sudden did a somersault, got right back up and was off again. Aunt Bridget (Bodhi's sister) is here for the weekend, so the pups have another adult dog to interact with. Cleo has long since returned to life sans puppies. Some of the pups have met the resident house cats and have learned to mind their manners around these dog-savvy felines. When not busy exploring the world, the pups are in their puppy pen, listening to NPR or sound effects tapes.

Cleo and pups

Grandma Yuma (Bodhi's dam) & Lilly

Aunt Bridget (Bodhi's sister) and pup

Pool fun

Lilly not so sure she wants to get wet

Lilly considering trying some agility

Dega sprawled out on the porch

Puppy Cam Turning Off Aug. 4

All good things must come to an end, as they say. And, that includes the puppy cam. But this blog will continue so you can follow the pups progress and photos!

On August 4th the puppy cam will be shut off. But why? It's time for the next phase of the puppies' lives - moving on to Plainfield Correctional Facility to begin their pup-start training. For the next month and a half to two months, the pups will be trained by offenders in the most basic of all skills (eye contact, toileting, sitting, etc.) as a way of preparing them for the more advanced service dog training they eventually will receive. Occasionally, a few folks worry about these pups going into prison but we assure you, there's no need.
Offenders who train for ICAN are carefully selected, and the puppies and ICAN dogs in training always seem to bring out the best in people - in all people.

What we observe at the prison are offenders who are eager and excited about the potential these pups hold for people with disabilities, who are proud of the fact that they are helping a child or adult in need. What we observe is how they soften and show such compassion toward and love for the dogs, in part because that's exactly what dogs offer humans back.

Onward! A puppy cam viewer recently asked, "Why so many toys and items in the puppy pen? It's hard to make out what's a stuffed animal and what's a real puppy! And also, why don't I see the pups in the pen as much?" Excellent questions.

We want a stimulating environment for the pups, so having toys to interact with and things to have to negotiate over and through helps with neuromuscular and mental development. New textures, sounds, movement, and such help the little pups become more open to things they will encounter in the
The pups lately have been sleeping around the periphery of the pen which is often out of camera range. And also, the pups are spending considerable time out of the pen - basically most of the time when someone is home and awake, and for the 2-4 hours that Nancy (pup sitter) is over there in the afternoon, they are out of the pen.
They are running around the house and yard, or just sleeping in the outdoor pen. It was fun this morning, since the back door could be left open, and the pups followed people around the kitchen and others hung out on the porch. Many were napping under the kitchen table or in the plants next to the porch. Two or three
of them often check out when the refrigerator or cabinets were opened, and there were a few
cabinet doors purposely banged shut to get them used to loud sounds. And, amazingly, very few toileting "accidents". Never a dull moment these days.