Our Blog

August 5, 2014

Cheryl and Tony’s Story

A letter from Cheryl Polarek about ICAN and her experience with her service dog, Tony.  Tony is a Facility Placement.

Cheryl & Tony (Photo by Ed Stewart)

Dear ICAN Friend,

I am thankful for this opportunity to let you all know what ICAN means to me, my family and my profession.  I am a prosecutor who has devoted my career to the children who are our future.  I prosecute sex crimes and violent crimes in Porter County ~ some of the most personal and horrific crimes there are.  It was December of 2010 and I was struggling to find a way to make the criminal justice system easier for the children involved, for children who had no say in what happens next for them.  I came across a brochure for a conference entitled "Canine Companions – Working for Victims in Indiana."  It advertised itself as an informative, lively, hands-on presentation about how the use of professionally trained facility service dogs, trained by inmates at Indiana's correctional facilities, are assisting victims and witnesses during the investigation and prosecution of crimes.  This was exactly what I had been looking for.  I was certain that a dog would provide a sense of security and comfort to children during these stressful proceedings.  I knew that I had to attend the conference and attend I did.  Within days, I had returned to my office and made an application to ICAN for our own "Courthouse Dog." 

Thankfully, my application was accepted and I was placed on the waiting list for an ICAN service dog.  Fast forward to early 2013… I was ecstatic to learn that my wait was possibly over.  We were getting closer, but there were still steps to take, tests to pass.

Cheryl working with Tony at Team Training

It was April 12, 2013 when my life was forever changed.  I entered the Indiana Women's Prison prepared to see if I was a "match" for the service dog they had me paired with.  I remember seeing these beautiful yellow Labradors and Golden Retrievers walking in.  I was very excited to see "my dog."  It seemed as though I was the last one in the room with no dog when they looked at me and said "Tony" was on his way.  My shoulders dropped and my excitement faded.  I thought "Tony" ?!  That doesn't sound very grand or sophisticated enough to be a Courthouse Dog.  And then I met him.  Tony was perfect.  It was difficult at first to determine just what his breed was because he was incredibly unique.  He had the color of a yellow lab, but with short hair, and a long curly tail.  He was strangely beautiful.  The handlers at ICAN told me that there was something very special about Tony and that he was a favorite of all.  Never was a statement so true.  Tony has such a loving and gentle nature and can't seem to get close enough to the people around him.  He is naturally drawn to children and they are drawn to him.     

He comes to work every day and makes the criminal justice system more bearable for the most vulnerable of people. Children come to my office and are forced to talk about the most unspeakable things.  Yet when they leave, they are excited to return, if only to see and play with Tony again. Now the courthouse and the prosecutor's office isn't such a bad place.  Not for them and not for the people who work here.  Tony has made it a better place all around.  We are so lucky to have him.  And for that, I could never thank ICAN enough…

Very truly yours,

Cheryl M. Polarek

Tony & Clare at a presentation with Monroe County CASA