Meet Tonka, Cedar Park Police Department’s newest victim services volunteer

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CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — In 2020, the Cedar Park Police Department’s victim services division worked with 381 survivors and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

As the division grows, they’re calling on special help from a four-legged friend.

Some call him the gentle giant, but Tonka, a Great Dane, is much more than that. He has the ability to calm and ease people who might be going through a stressful time. In fact for this therapy dog, comforting people and reducing stress is his job.

“You going to work?” asked Courtney Leigh as she escorted Tonka around the department.

Tonka and Leigh volunteer with CPPD’s victim services division and Tonka’s presence is enough to turn a frown upside down, Leigh said.

“You can see if it is an officer or a victim, you can see their temperament and behavior change in a matter of moments just by turning away from their screen or turning away and noticing him,” Leigh said.

Jessica Gonos is the victim services coordinator at CPPD. She says Tonka has been a welcome addition for everyone at the station.

“He is just inviting and that is a very welcoming feeling when you are scared,” Gonos said.

CPPD’s victim services division offers resources, emotional support and crisis intervention to survivors of violent crimes.

“Especially after the pandemic, we are seeing not only has the abuse or the violence continued and increased, but the severity has also increased,” Gonos said.

That’s where Tonka can make a big difference, especially for those who don’t open up as easily.

“One of the best things about animals is there is an ability to connect that sometimes we can’t do on a human level,” Gonos said.

Gonos says she has about 10 volunteers that help survivors, but she is always looking for more.

No experience is needed, but there is a background check and training is required. She says service dogs are also a welcome addition.

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