January 29, 2019

The German shepherd will retire to Gilbert with his handler after two years of service, due to a medical issue

The phrase "dog day afternoon" took on new meaning Tuesday at Arizona State University when members of the Tempe and ASU police departments and communities convened at Old Main on the Tempe campus to pay tribute to ASU PD patrol and explosive-detection K-9 Tillman, who was retiring after two years of service due to elbow dysplasia in his front leg.

“(Dogs) make our lives so much richer with their unconditional love for us,” said ASU PD Chief of Police Michael Thompson, before bestowing on both Tillman and his human handler, ASU police officer Colton Adams, plaques signifying their contributions and sacrifices to the ASU community.

“Dogs that serve in special assignments are even more fascinating to me,” Thompson continued. “I’m amazed at all they’re able to do. … And they do all of this and expect nothing in return but love and maybe a snack.”

Tillman began working for ASU PD in November 2016 as a dual-purpose dog with the mission of protection and detection.

A typical day on the job for Tillman could range from wowing Girl Scouts with his seeking abilities at the Polytechnic campus to searching a building on the Tempe campus for would-be intruders. And no Sun Devil Football game ever commenced on his watch without a thorough inspection of the stadium.

two policemen shaking hands, holding plaques on a stage with a police dog sitting in between them

ASU Police Officer Colton Adams (left) accepted a plaque for himself and one for K-9 Tillman from ASU PD Chief of Police Michael Thompson at Tuesday's ceremony. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Perhaps thankfully, Adams said, Tillman never did encounter any real explosives or bad guys, though.

When Tillman wasn’t working, he was lapping up attention from Adams, his wife and their three kids at their home in Gilbert.

“He’s always been a really good dog about knowing the difference between being at work and being at home,” Adams said. “When he gets home, he knows that at home, he’s a family dog.”

The almost 4-year-old pup will continue to live with Adams and his family in his retirement. And despite his elbow dysplasia, Adams expects Tillman will have no problem living life to the fullest.

“Now he’s going to probably drive my wife crazy on days I’m working,” Adams said. “He’s still a pretty active dog. He’s still pretty young, too. He’s just going to be at home, playing with the kids and going on walks and enjoying his retired life.”

table topped with photos of a dog and bags of dog treats

Photos of K-9 Tillman and bags of dog treats festooned the tables at his retirement ceremony. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Tillman’s retirement was a bit unexpected, as most police dogs work for about five years on average. But there is already discussion about hiring a new K-9 to take over for Tillman and join the department’s two other working dogs: Zeke, a dual-purpose protection and detection German shepherd like Tillman, and Dutch, an emotional support black Lab.

This was Adams’ first foray into police dog-handling, something he found to be truly rewarding.

“I’ve always grown up with dogs and animals, and I’ve always had a pretty good bond with animals, but the bond with Tillman is way different than I’ve had with any other dog before,” he said. “I spend more time with him than I do my own family. I mean, we trust these dogs with so much. We trust them with our lives and they trust us with their lives and it’s kind of this give-and-take of mutual trust.”

At the ceremony Tuesday, Tillman greeted human friends from the police department with a playful pounce and smile of recognition as they passed through the entrance to Carson Ballroom, where photos of the dashing dog in uniform and bags of doggy treats awaited attendees. All of which makes it fair to say, police dog Tillman really had his day.

Top photo: ASU police officer Colton Adams and his K-9 Tillman. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now