Early last year, Santa Clara County Sheriff Department Sergeant Jeremy Jones was working a shift with his K9 partner, Raider. The pair was dispatched on a call to assist with the apprehension of a kidnapping suspect. Following a pursuit along Highway 17, the car came to a stop approximately 4 feet in front of a ditch, and a standoff began.
Deputies, thinking the car was disabled, approached the vehicle and Raider became the department’s first line of defense. As he entered through the passenger door, the suspect started the car and launched it — along with himself and Raider — into the ditch. As a result, Raider suffered a dislocated hip, but working through his injury, apprehended the suspect. What could have been the “end of watch” for Jones and other officers dispatched, became another day of patrol for the pair, and this isn’t an uncommon story.
K9 officers serve a vital role in police departments. In a city like Santa Clara, K9s, including Raider, are often seen sniffing bags and roaming the corridors of Levi’s Stadium, searching for narcotics and explosives. But budget cuts and spending shortages have made cash-strapped departments nationwide shut down or curtail their K9 units, creating a safety risk for both officers and the general public.
Additional funding is often needed to keep K9s on patrol and the Sean M. Walsh Foundation has made it its mission to assist with grants for the purchase of police K9s, as well as equipment and training.
The foundation began days after Sean Walsh was killed in combat in Afghanistan on Nov. 16, 2011. While grieving the loss of her only child, Walsh’s mother, Cheryl, founded the non-profit to honor her son’s desire to become a K9 handler and wrote the foundation’s first grant to the Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) for the purchase of now-retired Argo within six months of Walsh’s death.
“When Sean died it was very devastating for everybody,” said SCPD Chief Mike Sellers. “I still remember going out to Moffet when he arrived, and we had a service for him. It was very emotional during that time period. Shortly thereafter, she created the foundation and funded a dog. It was pretty spectacular.”
Everybody in our department knows who Sean was,” continued Sellers. “We have officers doing special workouts for him — they recognize the fallen officers from SCPD and Sean is involved in that. That’s special … The foundation has purchased five dogs [for SCPD], and with Sean being an explorer of ours, there’s always been that connection and passion. Cheryl has always made it very clear that if we need a dog, she will find a way.”
Finding funding to assist the Sheriff’s Department is another one of the foundation’s priorities and Raider was the first K9 purchased for the county in 2015. At 10 months old when sworn in, Raider serves as a dual purpose — apprehension and explosive detection — member of the Sheriff’s Department. His job, however, is more than keeping Jones and the community safe, it’s serving as an ambassador for the department.
Raider, and K9 Niner — handled by SCCSD Sergeant Tyrone Monroe — participate in a program combating bullying in local schools, visit children in hospitals and attend the annual Santa Paws event, which provides Christmas dinner and gifts to children of low income areas and children who have a parent currently incarcerated in Santa Clara County jails where the foundation has two K9s, including Springer Spaniel Ollie, working.
Ollie, a single purpose narcotics K9, has been on the job less than a year and is already making an impact.
“[Ollie] has made a tremendous impact in the jail,” said handler Deputy Q. Tran. “K9 Ollie has intercepted numerous narcotics being sent through the mail. He has alerted to cards soaked in all types of narcotics [and the] majority of the cards contain methamphetamine. His searches have also led to narcotics, narcotic paraphernalia, illegal cellular charging devices and even weapons being removed from the facility, keeping staff and inmates safe.”
Adding a K9 to any department runs approximately $10,000, which doesn’t include the cost of specialized gear and handler training. Since its founding, Sean’s K9s has written a total of 35 grants — 28 for the purchase of police K9s and seven for equipment and training. Although five K9s have retired, 23 remain patrolling the streets and the foundation has impacted departments, large and small, across the country.
“We rarely say no,” said Cheryl Walsh, noting that all grants are capped at $10,000 and based on need. “[Sean’s K9s] is bigger than Sean; it’s about the dogs. It’s about bringing the dogs into the community. Sean is always behind the dog. He’s the driving reason we started this and through talking about the dogs and foundation, it helps bring a positive to the loss.”
Funding for the 100 percent volunteer-run Sean’s K9s comes entirely from donations, most of which are raised through the foundation’s annual luau. Held each year on the second Saturday in August to coincide with Walsh’s birthday, the luau includes music, food, entertainment and a meet and greet with many of the foundation’s K9s, including Raider and Ollie.
This year, it will be on Saturday, Aug. 10 at 3 p.m. at the Santa Clara Elks Lodge, 1680 Martin Ave. Tickets, $65, are available at seansk9s.org/luau or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (408) 813-2382.