Three months ago, Santa Clara Police Officer Cesar Rodriguez was working his regular overnight shift. A four-year veteran of the Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD), Rodriguez was patrolling the streets with his new partner, a two-year-old Belgian Malinois named Maxx.
It was a big night for the pair. Maxx, who, unlike most police dogs was previously a family pet in Texas, had proven himself worthy of police dog work but hadn’t yet proven himself as a member of Santa Clara’s finest. It didn’t take long before Maxx’s abilities were put to the test.
That night, SCPD officers stopped a man accused of committing a felony. The man ran and since it was dark, the officers had no idea where he was, but it didn’t take long for Maxx to locate and seize his target.
“He was hidden in a bush,” Rodriguez said. “It was almost scary because we were right next to him and we didn’t even know. Had it not been for Maxx, we would have never been able to locate him … [It was our] first night [patrolling]. I’m still learning what to do. He’s still learning what to do. And to find someone like that who’s passive and not moving, is very difficult for a dog to do.”
Maxx isn’t only the newest dog to Santa Clara’s police force; he’s also one of a handful of new dogs recently acquired through grants from the Sean M. Walsh K9 Memorial Foundation. The foundation, started by Cheryl Walsh after her son, Sean, was killed in action on Nov. 16, 2011, helps purchase, train and equip police departments with K9 units.
“When I was applying for the [SCPD] K9 unit, I wanted to get familiar with what it was about and what it stood for,” said Rodriguez. “One of the biggest things I was told is the Sean’s K9s Memorial Foundation. It gives some meaning to the unit to know that we have that history with Sean and it’s what he wanted to do. I feel like I’m living his dream and I get a little emotional talking about it.”
It was Sean Walsh’s desire to serve the Santa Clara community as a K9 handler. He was a cadet with the City and joined the California National Guard as a Military Police Soldier to further his dream. Because of Walsh’s desire to work for and affiliate with Santa Clara’s department, the foundation had previously pledged to fulfill any grant requested by the department, but in recent years it became further entwined in SCPD’s fabric.
“We recently designated Cheryl as our official K9 partner,” said Police Chief Pat Nikolai at the foundation’s annual luau fundraiser held Aug. 13. “It was one of the first things I did as police chief and, actually, I was very proud to do that…Sean was our cadet, so this organization is close to our heart. We knew that Sean was going to be part of our department. He was going to have a career with us, and to have Cheryl still be part of our family is priceless.”
“So, anytime we can support her, whether it be the luau or [memorial] workout [held Nov. 16 to coincide with Walsh’s death] – anything we can do, we want to do,” continued Nikolai. “She’s the first one to call when one of our officers or dogs gets injured. She’s the first one to make sure everyone is OK.”
While Santa Clara has multiple retired and current canine officers obtained – in part – through grants written by the foundation, the foundation serves departments beyond Santa Clara. Since its inception, Sean’s K9s has written grants, ranging between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on the department’s need, to purchase 35 canines for police forces throughout California and beyond.
The foundation’s annual luau, held every year on the second Saturday in August to coincide with Sean Walsh’s birthday, remains the organization’s largest fundraising effort. This year was the first time the event had been held in person in two years and marked the 10 year anniversary of the foundation’s first dog, SCPD’s Argo.
“We missed two milestones during the pandemic,” said Cheryl Walsh. “If we would have been able to have it in person, our 2020 luau would have fallen on Seanʻs 30th birthday. Last year was the 10th anniversary of Seanʻs death…This year marked 10 years from our first K9, which was Argo to the Santa Clara Police Department. Thirty-five dogs in 10 years, with additional grants for equipment or training. That is an average of 4-5 grants a year, which equates to $40-50k on average.”
Walsh said donations have been down and Sean’s K9s is behind about $20,000 from where it usually is at this time of the year, but it remains committed to fulfilling its promises to departments who have had grants approved.
To learn more, visit www.seansK9s.org.