Turning tragedy into triumph, Cheryl Walsh took the traumatic loss of her son, Sean, who died serving in Afghanistan as part of the California Army National Guard, and turned it into something positive. It was while she was planning the funeral for her only child when Walsh decided to devote her life to honoring his dream of becoming a police K-9 handler by creating a non-profit that provides grants to departments for police dogs, training or equipment.
Since its inception in December 2011, the Sean M. Walsh K-9 Foundation has aided in the purchase of 15 canines and provided grants for equipment or training to five departments. On Aug. 12, Walsh continued her mission by holding the Third Annual Sean’s K-9s Luau Fundraiser at the Santa Clara Elks Lodge.
The event, which has quadrupled in size over the past three years (from 100 guests to 400 attendees), featured four dogs—Miki, Faro, Raider and Remo—purchased through foundation grants.
Cotati Police Department K-9 Handler Brian Deaton received a grant two years ago for his partner, Remo, after reaching out to Walsh for help.
“I called the number and thought I was going to talk to a computer,” he said, “but Cheryl answered and I had a nice, genuine conversation with her. She asked that I send her an email and it wasn’t but a couple of weeks later that she said, ‘congratulations, you’ve been selected to get a dog’…We were fortunate to get the dog. Who knows if we would have been able to get a canine without Cheryl and Sean’s K-9’s gesture.”
Likewise, Jason Gilles, an officer for the Reedley Police Department and the handler of Miki, is thankful for the work of the foundation.
“It’s such a great foundation and she does great things for law enforcement and communities around the United States,” he said. “I’ve been out here [at this event] two years in a row and I absolutely love it … Without organizations like this to help support the smaller agencies and other agencies who need help, we wouldn’t be able to pay the upfront costs.”
Both officers love having their dogs as partners and are committed to “buying” Remo and Miki from their cities when the dogs retire.
“My plan is to have him with me until the end of his days,” said Gilles. “He’s too good of a friend not to have him with me … He’s an extremely good partner to have. I couldn’t be happier with him.”
Santa Clara Police Chief Mike Sellers attended to show his support and appreciation for the four canines the Santa Clara Police Department has been able to purchase through from the foundation.
“The relationship that I’ve created with Cheryl and the foundation has been tremendous,” he said. “Having been able to put four dogs on the street that have been paid for by this program is tremendous and we couldn’t do it without her support.” Sellers also said the foundation has written a grant for a fifth canine and the department will likely use it later this year.
Mayor Lisa Gillmor, who arrived with Councilmember Debi Davis, agreed with Sellers, saying the City will be forever grateful to Walsh and the foundation.
“It means a lot to Santa Clara,” she said. “She is an amazing woman with such inner strength and I can’t even imagine where she gets it and how deep she has to dig to do this for the community. It’s heartwarming.”
The event is held annually in early August. For more information, visit www.seansK9s.com.