Cheryl Timmons grew up in a household with collies, but she always wanted a German shepherd.
“They are such a gorgeous animal,” she says. “You look into their eyes and they look right into your soul. There’s just such a connection, so I’ve always wanted a German shepherd.”
It wasn’t until February 2013, however, until Timmons, a retired schoolteacher, got her first German shepherd.
Baxter, who is almost 11, now is a therapy dog for the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force working with juvenile victims.
Late last year, the CW Network honored Baxter as one of the Top 10 service dogs in the U.S. after stories about Baxter ran in the Los Angeles Times and on KTLA 5 Morning News.
But Timmons isn’t just known for Baxter.
She also is known as a volunteer who, for the past 20 years, raises money to purchase K9s and cover medical bills and burials for retired APD canines through Friends of the Anaheim Police K9s, a non-profit she co-established in 2000 with the late Tim Olcott, a fellow volunteer.
When a K9 retires, it’s up to the dog’s owner – in this case, a police officer — to cover medical bills and the cost of putting the dog down and related expenses. That can add up to a lot of money. That’s where Friends of the Anaheim Police K9s comes in.
Since becoming a 501(c)(3) corporation in 2000, the all-volunteer, non-profit has purchased five K9s for the Anaheim PD (cost per dog ranges from $10,000 to $15,000) and has covered or assisted with medical expenses for scores of other retired APD K9s.
One of those dogs, Bruno, became known internationally after he took a bullet to the jaw and chest in 2014, saving the life of his handler, RJ Young, and the lives of other PD officers on a dangerous call.
Before he died in May 2016 from complications after gastrointestinal surgery related to his wounds, Bruno racked up $20,000 in medical expenses paid for by Friends of the Anaheim Police K9s.
“These guys (APD K9 handlers), especially at the end, I don’t ever want them to see that bill,” Timmons says.
In addition to purchasing new K9s and paying medical bills for retired ones, Friends of the Anaheim Police K9s also enhances the image of APD police officers by attending community events and selling K9 memorabilia.
“Police departments have such poor images now, so we try when we go out to really make a positive image,” Timmons says.
CATS AND A COLLIE
Timmons, who grew up in Arcadia, did not have law enforcement officers in her family, but she always had a respect for the military. Her late brother ended up becoming a Navy pilot, and a nephew – his son – is a pilot in the Montana Air Guard.
Her father owned a chain of grocery stores in Pasadena.
At home, there were cats and a collie.
“I grew up with a love of animals,” Timmons says. “And I always loved service dogs. They are so amazing, their intelligence and what they do.”
Timmons, who moved to Orange County in the 1980s and currently lives in Yorba Linda, raised and showed collies when she was married.
She worked as a reservation sales trainer at Continental Airlines before becoming a teacher. She taught the sixth grade at three different schools in Anaheim before retiring in 2012.
Timmons first got involved at the APD in 1995 as a volunteer participant in the agency’s PACE (Public Awareness Through Citizen Education) program.
“There was a K9 demo, and I saw such a passion between these dogs and their handlers and the strong bond they had,” Timmons recalls.
“When I first started coming out and volunteering at the APD after I graduated from PACE,” she continues, “Tim (Olcott) and I both had this huge desire, thinking, ‘Man, something’s got to be done.’ Here are these officers with these dogs and they end up having medical issues. How do they pay for the bills?
“I looked at these young men and they’ve all got families, they’ve got kids, and I thought, ‘The dog gets sick. What does that guy do now? Does he mortgage his house?’”
Timmons and Olcott began attending weekly K9 training sessions. In a law enforcement culture that demand trust, both of them slowly eased their way into the group of K9 handlers, recalls Brian McElhaney, who retired as a lieutenant from the APD in 2018 after 28 years at the agency.
McElhaney was an APD K9 officer from 1996 to 2000. His canine partner was Baron, and the two were one of the first teams Timmons worked with.
“I used to sit and brush Baron,” Timmons says, “and once I babysat him when Brian and his wife went to Hawaii.”
Says McElhaney: “I give (Timmons and Olcott) credit for gently breaking into our group. They were good at showing up (at K9 training) and not forcing their way in.”
Timmons always would bring cookies and muffins for the officers. When some officers asked for healthier snacks, she would bring fruits and vegetables.
“After a while,” McElhaney says of Timmons, “she was just part of the group.”
Friends of the Anaheim Police K9s has grown into a non-profit with a five-member board of directors, including one APD officer, Brian Bonczkiewicz. His K9 partner is Ivan.
The APD’s K9 unit also includes Brett Klevos (Leo), Anthony McGlade (Titan), Brandon Mullins (Rebel), Mike Dohmann (Toro), and Ryan Schmidt (Kylo).
In 2015, Friends of the Anaheim Police K9s was instrumental in raising money for a K9 police memorial outside the East Anaheim PD substation in Anaheim Hills.
Timmons still attends weekly training sessions for the APD’s K9 team.
She has no surviving immediate relatives, and never had children. But she’s found a family at the APD. Officers regularly invite her to Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings, and she has attended several weddings and other events.
“I never thought I would become such an integral part of this department,” Timmons says. “I’ve never been a mother, but I’m a mother to these guys.”