A Walker County Sheriff's Deputy is home safe with his family tonight because of his dog. Walker County K-9 Tanja was laid to rest Friday. She was killed in the line of duty one week ago while responding to a call about a suspected felon who was armed in Menlo, Georgia.
It was clear today at the memorial service that the community of first responders lost a beloved member of their family. The only thing that got most of the people through the service was knowing the dog's life was sacrificed to save a human who's also a husband and father.
Every morning, Julie Brown would watch, as not one, but two of her family members put on their police badges for work. Her husband, Donnie, and her pet, Tanja. On Friday, June 13th, only one of them came home alive.
Friday, as a family, the Browns said their final goodbyes to Tanja. Among them were officers from near and far, fellow K-9s, and those who personally worked with Tanja to train her for duty alongside Deputy Donnie Brown. "It's a partner to one, a family to many, and it's a friend to knew them. If you met K-9 Tanja, you loved her instantly," said Holly Cripps, the President of "We Ride to Provide."
The story behind Deputy Brown and Tanja is an unusual one. Brown was already part of a K-9 unit, but as a team it just wasn't working out. And then, along came Tanja. The bond was instant. "It was a match made in heaven. really, from the first time they met, you could see the sparkle in his eye and the dog looking at him like, let's go daddy. Let's start this journey, and let's really be something special," said AJ Vargas, the Director of Operations for Custom K-9 Unlimited.
Their journey was short. Tanja was only on official duty for about 8 weeks. Before that, she had trained alongside Deputy Brown for about 6 weeks. The day the unit graduated, others knew it would be a strong team. "And in their graduation, we specifically said please let their end of watch come so they can go home to their families and we ask for that because we train for that," said Vargas.
"Tanya did her job and she saved a lot of people and we can never take that away from her," said Cripps.
58-year-old Steven Lee Waldemer, the man who police say shot and killed Tanja, is officially charged with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, and destroying a police dog. Both are felonies. Those are in addition to his original charge of aggravated sexual battery.
Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson says he was cautious when it came to using taxpayer money to fund the memorial. We have confirmed that the only tax money used, was to pay for 2 medals awarded to Tanja: the purple heart and the medal of honor. Those were about $200. The funeral home and the crematory donated their services.
Sheriff Wilson also says the officers who attended the memorial, were not on-duty, and the county was fully staffed with emergency responders, during the ceremony.
[WATCH our entire raw footage from the funeral HERE
By Natalie Jenereski