I’ve been sitting here staring at this computer screen for 47 minutes. Trying to find a good place to start. Trying to figure out how to seamlessly explain what I have witnessed my friends and their families go through over this past year. But as hard as I try, I cannot find the words that accurately reflect what they have been put through. Because quite frankly, there is no good place to start when it comes to the devastation, heartbreak and courage I have seen.

You see, when the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office decided to punish and fire good men, it wasn’t just the men or dogs that were directly impacted. The families, friends, and communities became victims of the SO’s thoughtless actions as well. So, I want to give a small glance into the world they have been living in. Not the one we see portrayed on social media or the news, rather actual reality. In an effort to protect the identities of the families, I will speak in broad terms.

Being a law enforcement officer is stressful enough without having extra and unnecessary expectations put on you by your leadership. It is even further a detriment, some might say dangerous, to have your deputies walking around worried about being fired or reprimanded at the whim of their admin. In all fairness these men are all experienced law enforcement officers and war veterans, so saying they are tough and resilient would be an understatement. But as tough as they are, they are human. The constant stress starts to build and impacts even the strongest.

Just because someone can carry the load, doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy.

I found it disconcerting, to say the least, knowing my friends were going to work at a profession where the focus is what keeps you alive. Focus is taken away from them by the people who were supposed to be protecting them. It’s funny, I was (and still am) nervous every time the phone rings at an off-hour. My mind automatically jumps into fear mode and my stomach turns. Now take my fear and uncertainty and multiple 100 times, and then you might have a slight understanding of what the families experienced and are experiencing still.

I remember the days the dogs were taken from the guys. I remember the strength and professionalism they displayed in the face of cruelty. I remember thinking how are they keeping it together so well. How are they not screaming in anger or drowning in tears of disappointment? These men just had their dream jobs stripped from them and their partners taken away. While I knew they were hurting they remained calm.

But as each of them had to tell their families the dogs would never be coming home again the strength started to crack and real emotions started to spill out. The devastation of the children was and continues to be the hardest part to process. While all of the men had explained to their children the difference between their K9 and a pet, over time the lines blur and they bond with these dogs. These are the dogs that keep their daddies safe at work. As parents, you do your best to explain the reality of certain things to your children, but in the end, they are children and their grasp on reality is sometimes jaded by their naivetés.

I remember their sadness and crying like it was yesterday. If I close my eyes I can see their faces and hear their words. They would fluctuate between anger, bargaining, confusion and complete sadness. No matter what their parents would tell them, the pain didn’t and hasn’t gone away. In late July I remember reading a journal entry that was shared with me. One of the deputy’s children had written six pages in their journal the previous night. The child wrote about how they felt as if they had somehow failed the dog that was taken and how they were so sorry. I couldn’t get past the first page, as the tears streaming down my face were ruining the journal pages.

When the dogs were first taken I remember the fear the children had. One child asked their Mom who was going to take care of Daddy at work now.

The child asked with fear in their eyes if Daddy was going to get hurt by a bad guy since he didn’t have his dog.

I want you to put yourself in that mother’s place and tell me you didn’t just lose a piece of your heart hearing that.

And it just keeps going for these children. The older children have pictures of their former dogs as their screensaver on their phones and computers. One of their children refuses to let their parents pick up the Kongs (dog toys) that were left in the yard by the dog. They said when their dog comes home they want to make sure he knows where to find his treasured Kongs. I remember the night one of the children sent a text to their Dad. The words they wrote are ingrained deep into my soul. They wanted to know why the SO would take their dog away. Why didn’t the SO know the dog was their best friend and the only thing that could make them smile. This child even offered to give up other important things if they could just please have their best friend back.

Some of you will say the parents need to address these issues and instill a dose of reality into these children. So, I ask you, what is the most humane way to do this to these children? Some of these children have already had to deal with horrific things in their lives before any of this. These are not adults that can compartmentalize their feelings or use reason to help heal their hearts.  Most cannot even talk about it and when they do the conversation usually ends in tears or anger.

You see this is just as hard for the adults involved. To date, none of the deputies have been provided a formal reason as to why they were fired or demoted. While there are plenty of “reasons” flying around on social media, the fact of the matter remains that the punishments handed out to the Williamson County K9 unit deputies were not equal among its members and did not follow any sort of formal procedure. There were no investigations and decisions were made based on emotional responses. How can a parent possibly explain what is going on to their distraught child when they are still confused and frustrated by the lack explanation they received?

While all want to speak out and share their stories, they cannot for multiple reasons. I pray that one day all of the deputies that have been hurt by the SO will be given the opportunity to share their individual stories. I also pray those still employed by the SO remain strong and know people do care. I need people to understand the things going on at the SO are not the faults of the deputies. This is a leadership (or lack thereof) issue. You should strongly support the brave men and women of the SO who have chosen to protect your community even though all of this is going on.

Please understand this is not just a K9 unit problem. I chose to write about the K9 unit because it is what I have the knowledge of.

But please do not forget about the 200+ deputies that have left or been fired in the past year and a half. I beg of you to please not forget about their loss and the pain their families have experienced too.

While I could continue to share so much more, I am not going to at this time. As silly as it may sound to some, watching my friend and their families go through this has weighed heavily on my heart. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope it sheds some light on the emotional things we often do not discuss.