By KARL ZIOMEK
For the Sunday Times
TAYLOR — Danny McWilliams was looking for the perfect family.
That family was delivered right before Christmas in the form of Shannon Edwards and her two children, Luke and Moriah in Taylor.
Call it a perfect fit.
McWilliams, an officer with the Baytown (Texas) Police Department, has been working through The Thin Blue Line Dog Project, a program he launched this year. His goal was simple: to rescue and train dogs and then donate them to surviving members of fallen police families.
For McWilliams, it was as simple as rescuing a beautiful Labrador retriever named Preston, training him to be a service dog, finding the right family, and then jumping on a flight to Detroit.
Well, it actually wasn’t all that simple.
For the Edwards’ family, this story started back in 2010, when Shannon’s husband, Matthew, 31, was the first Taylor officer to be killed in the line of duty. It was a shooting that shocked the entire community.
For McWilliams, the story started two years later in 2012, when Deputies Jeremy Triche and Brandon Neilsen were ambushed and killed in the line of duty in LaPlace, La. McWilliams knew Triche – they had trained police dogs together. McWilliams approached his local police association to donate to the Triche and Neilsen families, and ended up personally delivering $1,000 to each surviving family.
McWilliams has never been able to forget that day.
Focusing on his K-9 background, he thought that if dogs can help soldiers cope with the effects of war, why couldn’t they help a surviving child of a fallen officer? Thus, The Thin Blue Line Dog Project was born.
McWilliams, 37, now finds himself on the traffic patrol, but still boards and trains dogs as part of his own business, EasTex K-9 Dog Training LLC. He rescued Preston, who was surrendered in a town north of Houston because he was constantly eating socks.
As McWilliams admits in his is trademark Texas drawl, “That dog had no manners, and was all over the place.
“This is the first dog we’ve ever done,” he said. “I believe things are put in place for a reason. I wasn’t just going to release the dog to anyone. (Shannon and I) talked and shared stories. It just (fit) the right way.”
“Fit” is an understatement. It was more like fate. As McWilliams readied Preston to be donated, he called 10-7 Outdoors, a non-profit that works with children of fallen officers. When McWilliams contacted 10-7, Shannon happened to be nearby. They spoke, and it escalated from there.
Ironically, the flight from Texas to Detroit, with a stopover in Chicago, marked the first time McWilliams had ever flown on an airplane. He bought tickets for himself and for Preston. It wasn’t the easiest trip, but he eventually found himself in the Taylor Police Department, surrounded by friends who truly understood his mission. The perfect fit.
Preston laid on the floor, with his head in Moriah’s lap, when he wasn’t playing with Luke, who is a graduating senior at Carlson High School in Gibraltar. McWilliams did a lot of the talking, relating the story over and over again as cheerful Taylor officers came and went, always with smiles plastered on their faces.
McWilliams and Ricky Barnosky, a member of Taylor’s K-9 unit, especially hit it off, relating similar experiences and comparing notes that only police canine officers could understand. Preston snuggled up to Barnosky several times.
“He smells my dog,” Barnosky told McWilliams.
McWilliams spared few details during the transfer – he raised money through social media to buy the Edwards’ family supplies that they would need for Preston, and shipped them ahead of time. When he showed up at the police department with Shannon and her children, he brought along specially made shirts and hoodies, with Matthew Edwards’ name and badge number.
When Shannon began to talk, she started to cry – something not lost on her son, Luke.
“You can’t get through a sentence without crying,” he smiled. He’ll be heading for the U.S. Marines soon, a move that makes his mother very proud.
“Back when Danny and I first talked, it was just a random conversation,” she said. “We’re really humbled by the outreach of The Thin Blue Line. This is very special. Luke and Moriah have their own dogs, little ones, but I never got another dog after Matt’s death. My husband had a German Shepherd, but it essentially grieved itself to death after his passing …”
She caught herself. “You just never get over this type of thing,” she said.
Based on all of the happy smiles, Preston is going to help. After all, he’s a perfect fit.
(Karl Ziomek is the director of Communications and Marketing for the city of Taylor.)