Retrieving might come naturally to a Labrador, but humans will have a crack at this task during Saturday’s fund-raiser for the Indiana Canine Assistant Network (formerly ICAAN).
The second annual ICAAN Find That! Scavenger Hunt will send teams of four on a mission to retrieve photographs or mementos as evidence of completed assignments. The cultural districts of downtown Indy will be the setting for this three-hour project, which includes a catered lunch, entertainment and cash prizes for the top two teams.
ICAN, which just changed its name to drop the second “A,” uses dogs as catalysts for positive change among two populations: offenders in Indiana prisons and people with disabilities. The non-profit organization teaches prisoners to train dogs for eventual placement as canine assistants to disabled children. Some adults with disabilities are also paired with ICAN dogs.
The in-prison training process lasts nearly two years and culminates in the offender teaching the recipient how to handle the dog. After two weeks of intensive hands-on practice side by side with their dog’s trainer, the family goes home with their service dog.
According to founder and Executive Director Sally Irvin, this service takes many forms, from assisting with mobility to the less quantifiable “grounding” of kids with autism. The results can be transformative.
For example, 12-year-old Michael, who has autism, had to go to the emergency room two months after his service dog Scout came home with him. The prior year a similar visit to the ER had sent him into a panic within 10 minutes. This time, Michael had Scout to serve as a buffer. After introducing the dog to the nurse, he went back to the exam room, where Scout lay across his lap to comfort and calm him. Irvin says, “They were there for four hours, with Michael carrying on conversations through the dog and willingly being examined.
“That type of connection really makes an incredible difference,” she says.
No less powerful is the connection between the dogs-in-training and their offender handlers, who are carefully screened prior to acceptance in the program. Incarceration typically has a deadening effect on personal accountability. But prisoners entrusted with 24-hour care of a canine trainee quickly find out what it means to be responsible.
Irvin says, “When you give them a living eight-week old puppy that they have to be totally responsible for — and many of them have never been parents — it’s a new awakening for them.” She and her staff also teach interpersonal skills and conflict resolution techniques, so the handlers learn life skills along with proficiency in dog training.
The cost to train and care for an ICAN dog is $11,000, which includes yearly recertification over the course of the dog’s life. Irvin notes that last year’s scavenger hunt raised $19,000, including $7,000 in voluntary pledges.
What: ICAAN Find That! Scavenger Hunt
Where: Indianapolis City Market
When: Saturday, April 28, 8:30 a.m. registration, 10 a.m. start time, 1 p.m. lunch
Registration: www.icaan.net or 317-250-6450
Cost: $40 per person; pledges encouraged but not required