ICAN companion dog helps 10-year-old gain independence


The first Monday of the month, we bring our furry friend Maizie to the studio.

She's a service dog in training at the Indiana Women's Prison for the Indiana Canine Assistance Network, or ICAN.

RELATED: Indiana inmates train ICAN service dogs

While Maize is still learning the ropes, other ICAN dogs are already in our hometowns making a big difference in the lives of their companions.

10-year-old Olivia Goldfarb and her ICAN companion Ally are best friends.

Olivia says there's only one word to describe their connection, "It's amazing! She has helped me a lot, and really changed our lives."

It's been a year and a half since Ally was partnered with Olivia, and Joan, Olivia's mom, says their bond was immediate.

"The first time they met we saw that spark and then in training it was just every day you saw this relationship growing, and you just like oh my gosh this is special," Joan said.

Olivia lives with a rare genetic disorder, progressive degenerative disorder of the cerebellum.

Before Ally, Olivia used a walker full time.

Now, with Ally's help, Olivia's independence is growing.

"Going out to dinner or shopping, you don't have to worry about her being right next to you, or is she going to fit through this door, is she going to be able to make it through the tables," Joan said. "Because she has Ally, she can weave through wherever she needs to be."

RELATED: Meet Maizie, an ICAN puppy training to be a service dog

In their year and a half partnership, the difference is visible," Joan said.

"I feel good that I have a friend beside me to help me walk," Olivia said said.

Ally has also helped her build strength.

"Ally has actually taught Olivia how to walk," Joan said. "She's given her the strength and how to use her muscles and her gait pattern as opposed to a walker where she just had to do that (motion) with her feet."

Walking isn't all the independence Ally brings Olivia. She helps her in other ways too.

Ally helps her get her shoes, picks up something that was dropped, and even turns on lights for Olivia.

"It was always 'Mom, Mom, Dad, Dad, I need help, I need this... Now it's ALLY!'" Joan said.

From basking in the sun, to Christmas fun, and even a little dress up, the two were meant to be.

Olivia can be herself thanks to her service dog.

The Goldfarbs are thankful for Ally and the inmate ICAN handler, who worked with the canine.

"She put her heart into providing our family with what we needed," Joan said. "It didn't end when training ended for us. We still remember her and she's very much in our hearts still."

Click here to learn more about ICAN.