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New student organization to train service dogs, educate community

Wanting to play with anyone in the audience, the dogs barked and wagged their tails. Seniors Julie Mathias and Ashton Asbury stood in the front of the room and introduced ICAN at IU, their new student organization.

Fifty students gathered in the basement of Woodburn Hall on Oct. 19 for a new student organization's call-out meeting. Four service dogs in training were at the front of the room, including one graduated service dog. All were Labradors or Golden Retrievers. 

The Indiana Canine Assistance Network is the only accredited service dog training program in Indiana. Its volunteers help children and adults living with a disability by providing service dogs, which are assigned to help people throughout their day and recognized under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The group also works with incarcerated adults to train service dogs so that the people can be better-equipped to reintegrate into society, according to ICAN's website. 

Mathias and Asbury, both animal behavior majors, learned about the program after Project Director Sally Irvin spoke in one of their classes. After that, they knew they had to bring it to IU.

“ICAN provides awareness to service dogs, different types of dogs you can have and awareness to the disabled community,” Asbury said.

This education is a key focus for ICAN at IU.

“Some kids don’t know that you can’t touch a service dog because it’s working,” Mathias said.

In addition to education, the goals of ICAN at IU include volunteering and fundraising. In the near future, members will be able to volunteer and train service dogs.

Maggie Simxoc, a 2017 alumna, has trained about 10 service dogs for ICAN, including dogs at IU. She is currently training a dog named Benny and said she loves volunteering with ICAN.

“It combines my passion for helping people and working with dogs,” Simcox said.

At any time, ICAN can have 40 to 50 dogs in training. Each dog’s training takes about two years, beginning with a puppy trainer who potty trains and teaches basic commands for eight weeks. After that, the dog alternates between being with a volunteer for three weeks and in a correctional facility for six weeks. 

Shirley Stumptner, director of Disability Services for Students, emphasized the importance of this training.

“It’s not just a puppy you take home and decide you want to be a service dog,” Stumptner said.

Once the two-year training is complete, dogs will know about 40 commands and can graduate into many careers, including helping people with physical disabilities, PTSD, diabetes or autism.

“We graduate dogs in a number of profiles, and it just depends on the dog,” said Steve Ward, ICAN volunteer and puppy trainer.

One such alternative career is a facility dog. Tia Arthur works for Monroe County Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, and said her service dog Jordy helps children in family court. She said he can be playful with young kids or quiet and comforting for older kids. 

“If there’s subject matter that’s sensitive to them, they might look down at him or pet him,” Arthur said.

ICAN at IU plans to fulfill its fundraising goal by working at ICAN's 15th anniversary event at 6 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Biltwell Event Center in Indianapolis. 

Tickets for the event are $75, and guests will enjoy food, dancing and dogs. More information on the event can be found at

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