The University of Connecticut Police Department recently added a dog to its Community Outreach Unit.
Tildy, a two-year-old yellow lab/golden retriever mix began working with the department a few weeks ago. Her handler, Officer Justin Cheney, attended a 10-day training in March to learn how to give the over 40 commands Tildy knows.
“It’s been great. it’s been a very positive contribution,” Cheney said. “She’s been adjusting pretty well. Having a lot of people around her is something that she is slowly and surely getting used to.”
Cheney said the facility pre-matched him with Tildy.
“They had a pretty good idea that she was going to be the dog that worked best in this kind of setting at UConn as well as be a good fit for me personally,” said Cheney, who also keeps Tildy at his home as his personal pet when they are not working.
Tildy is personable and well-behaved, traits that fit her role in the department, Cheney said.
“She loves to be around people, greet people, wag her tail,” Cheney said. “She’s very happy and she loves…meeting new people every day, so it was a perfect fit for us to have her.”
When Tildy was eight weeks old she went to a puppy raiser in Maryland for basic training, Cheney said. Then when she was a year and a half she went to Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit group that provides service dogs to people with disabilities or facilities like police departments or health care centers. She received training as a service dog and responds to commands for things like closing drawers or standing at a desk.
“She was bred for temperament and bred for her demeanor,” Cheney said. “She’s very lowkey and is pretty easygoing.”
Cheney said Tildy helps the department connect with the UConn community.
“The biggest thing she does for us is help us bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community,” Cheney said.
Cheney said it can be difficult for some people to feel comfortable approaching uniformed officers at their events. Having a dog can help put people at ease, Cheney said.
“For us it’s really so that we can start a conversation with people,” Cheney said. “When we do different events it’s just an easier way for people to approach us because we’re not always the most approachable people.”
Tildy also aids with victim assistance for anyone who is at the police station and could benefit from being able to interact with her.
“If someone has to be in the police station…for an extended period of time, it can be a lot. It can be very taxing,” Cheney said.
Last weekend, students and other members of the UConn community had the chance to meet Tildy when she was at the UCPD booth at Counseling and Mental Health Service’s Fresh Check Day. UCPD’s booth focused on knowing your limits for alcohol and other drugs, Cheney said.
Tildy will also be at the Study Break with the cops on the basement level of the Homer Babbidge Library Thursday April 26 and Friday April 27, as well as next week on Tuesday, May 1 and Wednesday, May 2, from 3 to 9 p.m.
UCPD also has three German shepherds in the patrol division. These dogs are trained to perform tasks including evidence retrieval, tracking and narcotics detection, Cheney said.
“They have a much different skill set compared to Tildy,” Cheney said.
Cheney said the department will continue to look at other ways in which they can possibly use Tildy, who should be able to continue working with them for the next eight to 10 years.
“It was a perfect fit for us to be able to put her in this line of work and help us out with our community outreach,” Cheney said. “It’s been a very positive addition so far and we’re looking forward to any new ways of getting her involved with the public…and see how far we’ll go.”