A young man’s dream has posthumously become somewhat of a reality for Sean Walsh through the efforts of his mother, Cheryl Walsh, and the Sean M. Walsh K9 Memorial Foundation, which she founded upon her only child’s death on Nov. 16, 2011.
At just 21, Army National Guard Military Police Soldier Sean Walsh was killed in a mortar attack at his unit’s base along the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan’s Khowst province. Prior to that fateful day in November, Walsh planned a career in law enforcement, specifically as a K9 handler for the Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD, and believed his military service would be the experience and competitive edge he needed to get hired.
Before enlisting, Walsh began his pathway to becoming a police officer by signing up as a Santa Clara Police Department Explorer. At that time, the SCPD Explorer program was under Officer Bill Davis, and after Walsh’s death, Davis told the Los Angeles Times Walsh “had that drive, that intelligence. He was making all the right moves, all the right decisions to someday become a police officer, whether it was in Santa Clara or somewhere else.”
Although Walsh was unable to fulfill his career aspirations, Sean’s K9s has afforded nearly two dozen police officers the opportunity to pursue their ambitions through grants for the purchase of equipment and training for police K9 officers.
Raising money through community donations, business partners and fundraising events — like the foundation’s annual luau held the second Saturday in August to coincide with Walsh’s Aug. 8 birthday — Sean’s K9s has written grants for 23 four-legged officers across the country, and because of Walsh’s desire to work for SCPD, Cheryl Walsh made a commitment to the City of Santa Clara to find the funds to write grants to purchase K9 officers whenever one was needed.
“One of his goals was not only to be a Santa Clara police officer, but specifically a K9 handler,” said SCPD Police Chief Mike Sellers. “So, Cheryl started the foundation and always had a special tie to the Santa Clara Police Department. Her goal was to always have all of Sean’s dogs working the Santa Clara streets.”
Since its founding in 2012, Sean’s K9s has provided SCPD with the funding for five police dogs, including its newest K9 officer, Ozzy, handled by SCPD Officer Josh Higgins.
Higgins, a 10-year veteran of the force who knew the foundation’s namesake, said Ozzy has been instrumental in searching for and apprehending suspects since his German Shepard partner began patrolling last November. Like many SCPD K9 officers and their handlers, Ozzy and Higgins will soon attend explosive device training so they can work events at Levi’s Stadium in the future.
In less than six years, the Sean M. Walsh K9 Memorial Foundation has written over $250,000 in grants and provided an annual $1,000 scholarship to a police explorer to assist them in their educational journey.
In addition to Ozzy, the Sean’s K9’s Aug. 11 luau introduced Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department’s Kaz (handled by Officer Katrina Freeman) and St. Helena Police Department’s Barrett (handled by Officer Steven Coultrup), as well as announced the foundation’s next three grants to the San Rafael and San Leandro police departments and Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department for a new K9 to patrol the jails.
The event also announced the retirement of the second dog purchased through a Sean’s K9s grant, San Rafael Police Department’s Faro (handled by Sergeant Christian Diaz).
The need for police K9s continues to be high and locally, Sellers said his department hopes to add another police dog in the next six to eight months.
“We’ve been very, very fortunate and have had a lot of success with our K9s,” said Sellers. “We very much appreciate [Sean’s K9s] and we’re involved with the foundation. The foundation continues to grow and have a lot more support. A lot of dogs have been granted out to a lot of agencies because of this foundation and Sean continues to live on in all of our hearts and lives.”
Visit www.seansk9s.org to learn more about the Sean M. Walsh K9 Memorial Foundation.