At first glance, Slim looks and behaves like any other good-natured dog. He eagerly accepts shows of affection, has an affinity for chew toys, and plays fetch like a pro. But unlike most dogs, he sports a shiny police badge and chases down homicide suspects.
Slim is an 8-year-old German Shepherd—one of eight working dogs assigned to the Madison Police Department’s K-9 Unit. He’s technically a service dog, but he’s also a dog overflowing with personality. “Slim is a gentleman. He has a sense of humor. He’s a smart, charming, kind-hearted, social dog,” says officer Carren Corcoran, a 27-year veteran with the force, who has been Slim’s human partner since 2010.
The Subject of Adoration
Slim’s easy-going spirit aligns with the department’s focus on community outreach. Corcoran admits that not everyone is comfortable with approaching a cop, but they will almost always respond favorably to her when she’s with Slim.
His popularity even extends to drive-through attendants. While on a break several years ago, Corcoran stopped at a coffee shop to place her order, with Slim in the back seat of the squad car. After handing Corcoran her cup of coffee, the barista took one look at Slim, fell in love, and offered him a cup filled with whip cream.
Ever since eagerly lapping it up through the squad car window bars that evening, Corcoran says he’s been hooked. “Now whenever we go through any drive-through, he stares at the barista and gets excited. If he doesn’t get his whip cream he throws a tantrum,” she jokes.
Slim’s Special Abilities at Work
When Slim is not busy winning the public’s heart, he’s doing police work. As a dual-purpose dog, he detects drugs and helps track missing people, including those who don’t necessarily want to be found.
On a steamy July evening in 2012, around the same time tens of thousands of people were enjoying an Independence Day fireworks finale at a city park, officers were responding to a nearby homicide scene.
Corcoran and Slim had been on-call that evening, when fellow officers informed her the suspect’s flip-flops were found at the crime scene. She took a piece of sterile gauze, placed it on the shoes for 10 minutes to pick up the suspect’s scent, then let Slim take a good sniff.
Shortly after Slim was off, leading Carren and other officers on a journey that would last about three hours and four miles. He led the team to a residence where the suspect had previously been that evening, and who turned himself in to police later that day.
Slim stayed the course and found the bad guy. His success can be chalked up to police training, and the canine’s powerful sense of smell. Even after years of seeing Slim in action, Corcoran is still in awe of his powerful tracking abilities.
An Inseparable Team
Even when they’re not working together six days a week, the pair is inseparable. Corcoran takes Slim on vacations, and after his prostrate surgery, she took two and a half weeks vacation just to hang out with him until he healed. “I owe it to this dog,” she says.
Their bond developed quickly and Slim has a way of letting people know that Corcoran is more than just his handler. At a community event, two years into their partnership, one guest casually asked Corcoran if she would ever assign Slim to another handler. At that point, Slim jumped into Corcoran’s lap. It’s as if he understood what the woman was implying, and apparently didn’t like what he heard.
Corcoran says some in law enforcement opt to put their dogs in kennels at the end of a work day, but she’d never dream of it. “I think it’s bad for their souls,” she says. Instead, Slim goes home with Corcoran—where the pair shares their home with two other dogs, Moxie, a German Shepherd / Labrador mix, and Bitty, a German Shepherd. And at night Slim sleeps in Corcoran’s bedroom.
Slim’s extended family consists of about 100 police officers at the city’s west district, where he’s learned to game the system. Corcoran jokes that once Slim enters the station, he visits five of the district’s detectives, who love to sneak him food. She says if something ever happened to her, there would be at least 100 officers waiting in line to adopt Slim. “It takes a whole department to raise Slim, and a whole department to spoil him.”
Protecting the Protector
Despite being treated as well as any spoiled pooch, Corcoran feels twinges of guilt. “We chose a job in law enforcement, but the dogs didn’t.” She compensates by being protective of Slim.
Corcoran won’t send him into situations that make her uncomfortable. She says it’s up to her discretion to turn down official requests that she believes would put Slim in danger. She makes sure Slim has all the proper safety equipment and training to do his job safely and effectively at all times.
Whether he’s cuddling with her watching television or chasing down criminals on the streets, Corcoran remains committed to Slim’s wellbeing. “My dogs are my life,” she says.
Paula Fitzsimmons is a freelance writer and researcher specializing in animal health and welfare, green topics, and science. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.