Last week, the University of Connecticut Police Department (UCPD) announced the arrival of a second facility dog, a black lab/golden retriever mix named Carson, who will primarily serve the regional campuses with handler Officer J.B. O’Reilly in an effort to expand the department’s community outreach efforts.
Carson is joining the yellow lab/golden retriever mix Tildy, who has been on campus with Officer Justin Cheney since 2018. Both pups were trained as registered support animals at Canine Companions for Independence in Medford, New York.
Prior to graduating from CCI, Carson was born in California and raised on the Longwood University campus in Farmville, Virginia. While at LU, Carson was raised by members of the Service-Dog Training and Education Program (STEP), a program at the university devoted to educating, advocating and caring for service dogs.
His handler, Officer O’Reilly, has been an officer at UConn for two years and was originally drawn to campus because of the department’s outreach unit. He immediately noticed the impact Tildy had on students and how much easier it was for them to approach law enforcement on campus when Tildy was present.
“When Justin would come up [from Avery Point, where Tildy was stationed for a few months in 2019], I realized how much easier the outreach work was when we had Tildy with us,” O’Reilly said. “Students come flocking from everywhere to come talk to us when they see the dog.”
It was then that Deputy Chief Magdalena Silver put in an additional application to CCI for another facility dog for the department. Officer O’Reilly interviewed and was accepted for the canine handler position months later. O’Reilly completed his two-week training at CCI in January and was then able to bring Carson home.
“Carson’s main focus is going to be at the regional campuses,” O’Reilly said. “Any outreach services we provide in Storrs, we want to make sure we can do the equal, if not better programming, at the regional campus. The focus of the police department is one UConn.”
Through his outreach efforts, O’Reilly said he spoke to several students who expressed their despair and frustration with the abrupt and uncomfortable circumstances the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon them. He said it is his hope for Carson to be able to quell those negative feelings.
“Especially during the pandemic, we talk to kids who keep saying they feel lonely and isolated,” O’Reilly said. “Even if he [Carson] can just bring a little bit of joy and happiness to the students, that’s really what we want to do.”
Carson, like his unofficial big sister Tildy, will eventually be doing work in victim services at the university. Carson will play an integral role in being present in helping students go through justice system proceedings such as victim statements, identifications and so on.
“That [process of reporting] can be incredibly challenging. A lot of times, crimes are underreported because victims are afraid of the police process,” O’Reilly said. “We want to make sure we provide any avenue to make it easier for people to go through the process.”
Carson and Tildy are also both beginning the process of working with the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, a nonprofit organization which makes facility dogs available to victims in courtroom proceedings so the victims feel empowered and safe throughout the judicial process. For now, Carson will continue to acclimate to UConn and learn the ropes of his new duties.
“If anyone ever sees us [Carson and O’Reilly] on campus, please come up to us and say hi,” O’Reilly said. “We are here to brighten the students’ day. We build our community partnerships through the dogs.”