There’s a new member of the Santa Rosa Police Department, and he works for treats. Diesel, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, arrived this month to begin training with his partner, Officer Michael Paetzold.
The story of how Diesel got to Santa Rosa, however, began some 14 years ago in San Jose where a skateboard-loving 10-year-old boy wanted to take home the German shepherd he saw at the pound. Young Sean Walsh got what he wanted, said Cheryl Walsh, his mother, when they took home the nearly 2-year-old dog and named her Lena.
Pet ownership sparked a bigger dream for Sean Walsh — the kind of boy who would stand up for bullied classmates, according to his mother — and that was to be a police officer, a K-9 police officer to be exact.
His dream led him to stints as an Explorer cadet for police departments, including in Santa Clara, where Walsh became well-known and popular. At age 18, signed up for the National Guard, where he enrolled as a military policeman.
That was in 2008 in the midst of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, at a time when a good portion of American troops were reservists. Walsh signed up with the understanding he would likely be sent overseas, but he went with a sense of excitement his mother remembers even now.
“He loved being a soldier,” Cheryl Walsh said. “It wasn’t that he wasn’t afraid, but he had a really strong desire to help people and he felt he was doing that over there.”
He planned to use his experience in the military to become a police officer when his tour was over, she said. He even asked her to send him the California state penal code so he could memorize it, which, his fellow soldiers told her, he pretty much did. But 10 days before he was scheduled to come home, Walsh was killed in a rocket attack by insurgents.
The loss was unfathomable for Cheryl Walsh, who had raised her only son on her own, the two so close that they would finish each other’s sentences. But almost immediately after his death in November 2011, she struck on a way to give her son a fitting memorial.
“We have to buy a dog,” she told her partner, Rolando Wehbe, on the way back from meeting Walsh’s casket in Dover, Del., where the bodies of servicemen killed overseas are first flown before eventually being turned over to their families.
She didn’t mean to replace Lena, who is still part of the family, but to buy a police dog for a department that needed one. At her son’s funeral, she found plenty of people who wanted to donate. She also found a department in need. Members of the Santa Clara police force showed up to pay tribute to Walsh and told his mom they were in fact looking to purchase a new dog.
That’s how the Sean M. Walsh K-9 Memorial Foundation was born.
“We started asking for donations before his funeral,” said Cheryl Walsh, 55, a pharmaceutical saleswoman. “We were a fund at first before eventually becoming a nonprofit. It all happened so fast.”
The foundation raises and donates funds to police departments to purchase police dogs — where and what kind of dog is up to the individual departments.