Puppy love: Carmel couple helps service dogs deliver Valentines to benefit ICAN

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It seems fitting that Suzanne and Mark Robinson got involved with the Indiana Canine Assistant Network.

The Carmel couple is on the Puppy Love Valentines committee and will deliver Valentines with ICAN service dogs for the third consecutive year. The Robinsons were impacted by the program long before knowing the organization’s name. Suzanne’s late mother had a rare condition that caused her muscles to atrophy, and she needed help to support herself. Her late father had Parkinson’s disease.

“When she lost muscle in her legs and thighs she couldn’t get out of a chair without someone to help her or a table to lean on,” Suzanne said. “Someone knew there were service animals who don’t graduate and are really well-trained but can’t be placed in a program like ICAN, so my parents ended up adopting a black Labrador named Ranger about 15 years ago. He was big boy. He was trained to brace his body. She would call him and he would stiffen his body so she could use him like a table so she could get out of her chair. He could get lights on. He would get mail for them. He was a loyal pet. The only reason he didn’t graduate is because he barked at cars. We didn’t know the name of the organization since my sister arranged it.”

About 10 years later, Suzanne met ICAN founder Sally Irvin at a different fundraiser. After speaking with Irvin about her parents’ dog, Irvin realized that she had trained Ranger as a puppy. Once the dogs are older, they receive training by offenders at Pendleton Correctional Facility for men and the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis.

“She had puppy pictures of Ranger she sent, and we framed them and sent them to our parents,” Suzanne said. “The woman invited us to (the service dog) graduation at the prison, and once you go there, you are hooked. The inmate handlers talk about training. One woman said no living being has expressed love for her until she trained this dog. It’s very emotional. The inmate handlers talk about how they did something to cause pain to someone and they can’t take away that pain, but they can help take pain away for someone else.”

Valentines’ gift boxes are delivered by volunteers and an ICAN service dog, primarily Labradors or golden retrievers, or a puppy in training. Orders for 2019 were accepted through Feb. 8. Boxes cost $55 and contain, among other items, cookies, candies, chocolates, a Valentine’s card, ICAN greeting cards, dog treats and a bracelet made by female prison inmates.

The cost to train a dog for the two-year ICAN program is $26,000, which is paid through donations, grants and fundraisers.

“It’s so much fun to take the dogs into the place and see how emotional the recipients get when they get a gift box from their spouse,” Mark said.

Suzanne said it’s a win-win for everyone.

“It’s so much better than getting a dozen roses,” she said. “You’re in the office and someone comes up with a sweet dog or puppy. For a volunteer, it’s one of the best days of the year because you get to make someone happy all day and you get to spend time with a sweet, brilliant dog.”

The Robinsons applied their marketing, communications and media relations experience to help ICAN as well. Mark is a senior manager of editorial content for the IndyCar Series, and Suzanne is communications director for Crowe.

Crowe has sponsored an ICAN puppy, which the company named Freddy in memory of late founder Fred Crowe.

For more, visit icandog.org.

Racing roots

Prior to his IndyCar job, Mark Robinson worked several years in public relations for Firestone’s racing program. Suzanne has worked at the Indianapolis 500 as part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media staff or in public relations for a racing team.

That love was shared by their oldest son, Mitch, a 2013 Guerin Catholic and 2017 Ball State graduate, who serves as public relations manager for Tickford Racing in the Supercars series in Australia.

Younger son, Cooper, a 2015 Guerin Catholic graduate, is a senior basketball manager for Purdue’s basketball team. So, the Robinsons, who have been married 31 years, attend several Purdue games a year. Both sons grew up Purdue fans, as it is Mark’s alma mater.

As youngsters, Mitch and Cooper did TV interviews displaying their racing knowledge.

Suzanne, a Franklin College graduate, has an affinity for Franklin’s The Historic Aircraft Theatre. The couple sponsored the screening of “Pillow Talk” in January. In 2020, the Robinsons will sponsor “Space Jam” and “Lover Come Back.”

“In the past, they’ve shown an Elvis (Presley) movie in January, and I’ve dressed up as Elvis for it,” Mark said. “We figured if Elvis wasn’t on the schedule we had to sponsor ‘Pillow Talk.’”

Suzanne also served on the Franklin College Alumni Council.

“We’re empty nesters now so we are blessed to have a little more discretionary time,” Suzanne said. “At Crowe, our CEO issued a challenge to volunteer 75,000 hours (as a firm) to honor our 75th anniversary. That was the little push I needed and ended up volunteering more than 100 hours for ICAN last year.”

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