Monday, August 30, 2010


It is Monday.  Kai is in the next room, happily sleeping on the wood floor.  Our mudroom door is about ready for it's final coat of chalkboard paint.  I just finished leftover kale and white bean soup with a side of sourdough bread.  I have a fresh mug of coffee steaming next to my laptop.

I've been writing for at least 30 minutes each day for the last few days after lunch.  Luckily for me, Kai crashed out.  If he doesn't nap, which he really shouldn't be doing right now, then I institute the "Quiet Playtime-Time". For the most part, that works. 

Tonight I go to the second of seven classes for a program called ICAN.  ICAN stands for Indiana Canine Assistance Network.  This link explains the mission of the program:  ICAN pairs dogs with inmates in prison and people with disabilities together.  The prison inmates train the dogs to be service dogs.  Once the training is complete, the trainers then train the person getting the service dog, usually a person with a disability, on to how to use the dog. 

Last semester for my policy class, we took a tour of the Indiana Women's Prison and met a group of the women trainers and their dogs.  Some of them shared their stories about how they ended up in prison.  Others talked about the training and the dogs.  Before that trip, I had never been inside a prison. The women were well spoken, polite, unassuming and up front with our class.  The creation of this program inspired me.  The women shared with us that only the very best behaved inmates are given the dog-training positions.  I do not remember the numbers exactly, but it was something like 250 women applied for 10 dog training positions.

I decided to inquire about volunteering for this program a few weeks ago.  This summer, we told Elizabeth we would get a dog.  Since I haven't quite landed a job that works with our crazy schedule yet, I didn't really want to shell out a lot of money for a dog.  Our tour guide, Tammy told us that if you volunteer with ICAN, you can take the dogs on "furrlough" for two or three weeks.  The dogs cannot get all of their trainining in the prison. They need to get out in shopping centers, grocerry stores, ride in cars, go up and down stairs, elevators, etc.  They also need to be around a variety of people, older people, kids, and other pets. 

The volunteer helps to train and work the dogs in these areas.  It turns out, in order to volunteer you need to attended a training session of seven classes for 2 hours in the evenings.  I decided to try it.  Last week I went to my first class.  We learned about how they train the dogs, all positive and clicker based.  We met a few of the current dogs-in-training.  We also practiced some of the tenents of clicker training.  It is really a pretty big responsibility to take one of these dogs for a few weeks.  I felt a little nervous about messing one of them up!  I see now why you need to go to all of these training sessions.

Once these dogs have completed their training, it will have cost an average of $17,000 to get them there.  The people who receive the dogs only have to pay $950 for them. 

I have already learned so much. I am not embarrassed to say that I am applying some of what I am learning from the ICAN classes to how I treat my kids at home. Basically, it comes down to rewarding the positive a lot, ignoring most of the negative, not expecting too much too soon, and allowing the dog sufficient time to be a dog and do dog things.  It means staying calm, keeping your body relaxed and trying to have a sense of humor when things do not go quite as planned.  Replace the word "dog" with "child" and you have the key to parenting. 

One of our sessions will include a trip back to the Indiana Women's Prison to be trained by the inmates that have the dogs there.  Other session has us taking a trip to a shopping mall with the dogs to teach us how to train in public settings.  I feel like I am going to learn so much from this experience.   I'm looking forward to tonight's class.