Service dog non-profit changing lives, spreading Valentine’s Day love

Photo of dog delivering Valentine's Day treats. (WISH photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – There’s still time to send your love some puppy love this Valentine’s Day.

The order deadline for an Indiana non-profit’s dog-delivered gift boxes has been extended to Thursday night.

Puppies and service dogs will deliver hundreds of packages filled with baked goods, artwork, a special edition calendar and other gifts alongside volunteers at ICAN, the Indiana Canine Assistant Network.

The Valentine’s Day operation is in its seventh year and recently expanded to include Bloomington, said Dino Sierp, a spokesperson for ICAN.

“You can’t go wrong with a little bundle of love greeting you at your door or your office,” she told 24-Hour News 8. “Sometimes when a puppy walks in the door, [a recipient will say], ‘Oh, my husband got me a puppy for Valentine’s Day!'”

The pups can linger for a quick cuddle but, sadly, cannot stay; most are on track to undergo training and preparation for a career as a service dog.

ICAN is the only service dog organization in Indiana that is accredited by Assistance Dogs International (ADI) and aims to better lives on both ends of the leash.

Children and adults with disabilities can enjoy a new sense of independence with the help of a service dog, Sierp explained, while dogs selected for the program have an innate eagerness to be around people and can lead fulfilling lives doing work they enjoy.

At the core of ICAN’s mission is another group: inmates at correctional institutions. Service dogs are trained by “carefully screened” incarcerated adults who act as handlers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the organization.

Inmates teach the pups the skills they need to become successful service dogs and, in turn, often gain personal insight, emotional awareness and professional skills of their own. Recidivism rates among inmates who participate in ICAN’s training program are lower than rates for non-participants at the same correctional institutions, Sierp said.

“A lot of it has to do with trust,” she explained. “[Some inmates] are in there because they couldn’t trust anybody or nobody trusted them. But a dog has complete trust in a handler. So imagine what that feels like, to be trusted for the first time in your life… It makes you see yourself and your opportunities in life differently.”

ICAN will accept Valentine’s Day gift box orders online until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 8.