Log InCartCall Now: (616) 667-7297

Introducing Project K9 Hero with Jason Johnson

Special Guests

Jason Johnson

Jason Johnson is the founder and CEO of Project K-9 Hero, an organization that works to ensure the best quality of life for our nation’s retired Police K-9s and Military Working Dogs. Project K-9 Hero provides assistance with medical costs, prescription food, rehabilitation, rehoming, and end-of-duty services for Police K-9s and Military Working Dogs.

Joe Zuccarello interviews Jason Johnson of Project K-9 Hero, a non-profit organization that provides a peaceful retirement and quality healthcare for retired military and working dogs. These incredible animals serve alongside our brave men and women in uniform, risking their lives to protect and defend our nation. They detect explosives, locate missing persons, and perform a variety of other life-saving tasks. However, once these dogs retire, they often face a significant lack of support and funding for their medical care. Project K9 Hero steps in to bridge this gap. Their work ensures that these retired heroes can enjoy their well-deserved retirement years comfortably, receiving the medical care they need.

Tune in to listen to Jason and Joe’s discussion!

Be sure to Visit the Project K-9 Hero Website when listening to our show!


Speaker 1 (00:03):
Welcome to Hey, Joe, a podcast answering questions asked by our listeners, created by pet professionals for pet professionals, and now your host. Hey Joe’s, very own, Joe Zuccarello!

Joe Zuccarello (00:27):
What’s up everyone? Joe Zuccarello here and welcome to Hey Joe, a podcast brought to you by Paragon School of Pet Grooming. Check out our site@paragonpetschool.com for lots of really cool information on a variety of programs, products, and to connect to educational resources such as webinars, podcasts, current events, special news certifications, and lots of other helpful information to help you grow yourself, your team, and of course your business. Let’s get started with this week’s episode.

Joe Zuccarello (00:58):
Hey, everyone out there in a Hey Joe podcast listener audience. This is Joe Zuccarello, your host, which you would expect if it’s called Hey, Joe, right here is Joe, right, but I just wanted to welcome you back to this episode and out there for the audience out there. You all know that doing this podcast is something that’s really near and dear to my heart, and I really get excited about it, and we have some awesome, awesome guests on from their own areas of expertise. But today’s guest just really holds an incredibly special place, not only in my life and my heart, but also the life and heart of Paragon School of Pet Grooming, but also the hearts of tens of thousands of people across our country. And in fact, this is our number one charity that Paragon has elected to support and this charity, this organization called Project Canine Hero. And I am honored to have Jason Johnson, the founder of Project Canine Hero on today’s podcast as a guest. Jason, thank you so much for spending part of your day with us.

Jason Johnson (02:09):
Thank you, Joe, for not only having me on, but supporting what we do, our mission and our passion.

Joe Zuccarello (02:16):
Jason, I got to tell you, and I’m almost giddy, I’m almost like stepping on my own words because I can’t wait to introduce not only you as the person, but this mission, right? That’s what this is. This is a mission, right, that you’ve created and where it started from, this passion. Tell us a little bit about Jason Johnson. Tell us about your past before Project Canine Hero, before you founded Project Canine Hero.

Jason Johnson (02:44):
Yeah, really simple. Just a kid that grew up in Michigan to a family of factory workers, my grandfather, my grandmother, my father, my aunts, my uncles, all worked in General Motors, Pontiac, Detroit area. I did not want to be a third generation factory worker. Two of my grandfathers were war veterans. One was Marine in the Korean War, one was a Navy CCB in World War ii. And listening to their stories growing up of a life of service and travel, being stationed overseas from Europe to Guam to everywhere in between, I thought to myself, that’s what I’m going to do. And I probably knew that when I was just a very young kid, probably 10 years old or less, that I was going to be a soldier my entire life. And I set my sights during my high school days to do whatever I had to do to get in the military.

Jason Johnson (03:31):
I chose the United States Army military police. It was the fastest path for me to take action, the fastest path for me to carry a weapon, drive a car, have that level of responsibility at the youngest age possible, 18 years old. And so when I was still in high school, I joined up all my other friends, a lot of ’em went to college, and then a few of us joined the United States military, specifically the United States Army, and went overseas and started serving my country. I spent my first three years in Europe. I came back to the States. I had some great assignments protecting billions of dollars of assets to working as a patrol officer, to be a patrol supervisor, even before the age of 21, 22 years old. And I learned about the military working dog program, which fell under the military police court that time. And I really felt a desire to get involved with the working dogs growing up in Hadley, Michigan, my county, my city, they didn’t have working dogs.

Jason Johnson (04:36):
We didn’t have a police canine unit, pretty small town area. And I knew nothing of the tht until I got into the military and saw that this was a profession. So I wanted to get out of the army because I wanted to become a civilian police officer. And I thought being a SWAT officer, a canine officer was definitely my path. And that’s what I really worked hard to do. I took the five years I had in the service. I got hired pretty young still, right? That next year I got hired by Puyallup Police Department outside Tacoma, Washington. Started putting on the bike suit. I was the youngest police officer on the department for quite some time. Actually, I was only 23, 24 years old. And our canine handler was also a former military police officer. So we had that in common. And he was a few years older than me, been there a few years, and I thought, well, how do I get in the canine unit?

Jason Johnson (05:28):
And I learned that putting on the bike suit, laying tracks, volunteering your time, showing the dedication, that’s how you get involved. And I started doing that as soon as I could. I got hired there in 1999 and I started doing hundreds, dozens of hours of quarry work, bike work, decoy work, laying tracks. 2:00 AM I was working on shift anyway, so it was nothing for me to put on the sleeve and go lay a track. And of course, the canine officers from, they were a part of the Pierce County Metro Canine unit at the time, really enjoyed that. They wanted training, they wanted people to help, so why not the youngest guy in the department? And I logged all that. I kept a log for years of all the things I was doing because I was working hard towards that next canine slot. And then a little bit of life change happened where I needed to move departments over to the central part of state because of my spouse’s employment.

Jason Johnson (06:19):
She got out of the army. She was an air traffic controller, got a job there at the Yakima Airport, and I applied at Yakima. Police got hired pretty much right away because I had the training, I had the academy, I had the experience. And same thing, putting on the bike sleeve, putting on the bite sleeve, started taking some of my off days to attend trainings. State patrol had a good canine unit. They started letting me handle dogs. They started letting me handle their dogs and detection work. I would go to seminars. I would do everything I could do to prepare myself for the one day that came around that I could be a canine officer. And some people think it’s easy and everyone has a different path on how they become a canine officer. But I will tell you, from 1993 until the early two thousands, 2004, and then ultimately 2005, I never had one chance to apply for a canine job.

Jason Johnson (07:10):
All the jobs I had, just the agencies I was in, what I was doing, the opportunity to apply for a job just never came across my path. But when it did, I was prepared. I was still the most junior person in the department who applied, but I had think around 600 hours of volunteer time that I could talk about, and dozens of canine handlers and trainers from around the state that I worked with who wrote me letters to recommendation to get the job. And that is what I would say changed my life forever. I did get the job and I went on, become the first narcotics canine, handling the history on patrol for the Yakima Police Department. We went to school over Washington State Patrol. I got paired with a dog named Flash, and Flash was going to be euthanized about a day before she got into training.

Jason Johnson (08:03):
I had another dog, a black lab, and it turns out it didn’t work out and Flash was an extra, and nobody really wanted to work with her and extra. I named her Flash the day I got her. But about a week and a half into it, I got paired up with Flash, and we just made a great team. And she was very young, she was very raw, and she had just a great sense for wanting to work and wanting to please and wanting to search. And we graduated. She went on to have 3000 appointments and 2200 fines in her long career. And during that time, I had become a canine instructor, a canine certification official. I was on the SWAT team. I was a defensive tactics instructor. I was in charge of our honor guard, and I was a field training officer. Pretty much everything in law enforcement that I ever wanted to do.

Jason Johnson (08:57):
And I was 33 years old, and that was in 2008. And I was finishing my master’s degree in security management and and I could really kind of see the future post nine 11 was into the explosive work, and I could kind of see the narcotics work specifically in the Pacific Northwest where I worked in Washington State kind of faded away. And ultimately to this day, it has faded away. My department no longer has the narcotics canine unit. It doesn’t exist. And so what I did is I started my own company around 2005, 2006, called Canine Solutions International, while I would fill an active duty police, canine handler and trainer. And I started doing contract work at the school, gun detection, bomb searches, narcotics detection. I had about eight major contracts, and flash was my police dog. And then I had another five dogs that was training and working these contracts because my law enforcement agencies didn’t want us using our police dogs for this service.

Jason Johnson (09:57):
Well, I thought, well, why wouldn’t I just start a company on my off time and just do it myself anyway? Which is ultimately what I did. Well, the contract work got a little bigger than when I thought it would be. Of course. Keep in mind, I’m getting my master’s degree in security management at the time, and I got recruited for a contract, a single contract just for myself in Iraq to work with the ambassador of the United States and Department of State Diplomat Security to protect dignitaries, high level meetings between foreign presidents, US Presidents, secretary of State, and all of those quite important people. And I had a one month job interview down in mooc, North Carolina. I went down there for three weeks to be a protective security specialist, which is, there’s a lot of rangers, Delta Field Green Berets. I was a military police officer and a SWAT officer.

Jason Johnson (10:51):
So not the worst background, but not the same background. A lot of shooting, a lot of movement driving, medical navigation. It’s a vetting course. They weren’t training. You said you had these skills, come prove it every day. You could fail every day. You could get sent home. It’s a 21 day course. I passed from that. I went on to the canine course, and canine course was a five day course. I’m proud to say on Monday morning at 10 30 on the very first day I was graduated canine, I was prepared, I guess you were. They set up. He is like, well, we’re just going to set up how it’s going to be on Friday when the test, you’re going to have to take same certification type thing, and you don’t have to pass it now, but just so we know where you’re at, so what we need to work on all week.

Jason Johnson (11:40):
Well, he set it up and oh, about three and a half minutes into it, I got a hundred percent fines with no misses and probably record time, he said. And he’s like, well, I think you’re done here. Could you us train? I got places to be. I got things to do. Could you help us train these dogs the rest of the week? I was a trainer too, so they knew that. So I helped them train dogs, which is great. I knew I passed. So after a month in North Carolina, I was able to go back to my apartment and deploy to Iraq, and I was taking the job of a kennel master there named Chuck Medford is a very decorated veteran and a person he worked on. The first ambassador that we had there, which worked on his details, the canine handler. So I had big, big shoes to fill and did everything there that one could imagine.

Jason Johnson (12:28):
In Iraq, I protected dignitaries with the Department of State. We protected our reconstruction teams who were rebuilding schools, hospitals, all of these things. I was the primary dog team using the 2008 elections in Iraq. And then as we approached 2009, the mission changed a little bit for me. I was asked to go to Afghanistan and do the elections in Kabul that year. I was the primary dog team used in the 2009 Afghanistan elections in Kabul and did a few hundred missions in the red zone with my dog, probably at the highest level that I thought one could do it in the world at that time. And I was thinking, okay, what do I do from here? I didn’t want to go back to the police department. I kind of did everything I wanted to there. And I started looking at some federal opportunities. And ultimately I got recruited and hired by the department or the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Farms, explosives to A TF outside of Washington dc and they have their National Canine Academy there.

Jason Johnson (13:33):
And I was hired to become an instructor in February, 2010. And there we started, we’re training 21 other countries on our anti-Terrorism Assistance program agencies such as the A TF agents, the FBI agents, the US Marshals, the NGA, the CIA, and then a lot of state and local. So over that period of time, I was also a course developer. This gets me into writing programs, writing programs for the government, making adjustments to certification, standards, policies, procedures. I was able to do all those things. Great experience. Also trained all branches of US military in Yuma, Arizona and Creature Air Force Base Nevada before their deployment to overseas. That was over close to 2000 dogs, received an award from the partner of state called the Johnny a Massing Memorial Award, which is kind of like the Nobel Priest Prize for me, for explosive work. It was for those given to those.

Jason Johnson (14:33):
Johnny Massengale was an A TF special agent who was killed in explosion in 1992. And that award is given to those who have significant contributions to the explosive field, explosive detection field. And for me, training those over 2000 dog that deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan for all branches of our military through the use of the Pentagon during that time is the reason I received that. And after about five or six years there, being a government employee, they just kind of work you every day. You don’t get any time off the mission’s, the mission, and it’s a great mission. I loved it, but I wanted to go back operational. For me, it was like being a drill sergeant. It was like being day one is day one, graduation day is graduation day, and on Monday you have a new class, you start again. And I did that for a period of years from 2010 to 15, so five or six years of just that Groundhog day, and I want to get back operational because when you’re in the instructor environment, you control everything around you.

Jason Johnson (15:37):
And up until that job, I’d always been operational being in the military, the police, Iraq, Afghanistan. And so I went back over to Department of Homeland Security under the TSA program for the passenger screening dogs that you see in the airports, the one that are sniffing passengers for explosives. And this was a great job for me. This is a real life threat. We know we have terrorists that try to sneak explosives through our checkpoints. This has been proven. This has been found. It was my job to help make those teams better, to keep ’em certified, to do red team assessments all across the nation to make sure that they’re finding undetected items that I’m sneaking through. This was a great job for me. I loved it. Also, it was called a field canine coordinator. I also was a person that was in charge of program management in my region in respects, if you came to me and said that your dog was experiencing medical issues, getting too old, vet thinks it might need to retire, I would physically take it out of the government.

Jason Johnson (16:37):
I would sign paperwork with you, I would give you your dog back. And I’d also release the government from any financial responsibility. Now, that’s the part that really got me right there because we work these dogs right up to the point, they can’t work anymore physically, mentally, or emotionally, and then we give ’em to the handler, and now they’re a hundred percent responsible for whatever they need. So as a former handler, and I’ve had 15 operational canines in this background that I’m giving you, and unfortunately none of them are alive today, but we’re responsible as handlers for all of that. And these dogs are serving our country. They’re serving our military, they’re serving our police force, they’re serving our government. And I didn’t feel that that was right. So in March of 2016, I took $500 out of my pocket. I figured out how to start a 5 0 1 C3.

Jason Johnson (17:28):
I called it Project K nine Hero. I was still a government employee. I was still full-time. I had to get some paperwork passed, make sure I could do this. Of course, they’re like, Hey, you can’t be talking about it at work. You can’t be doing business there when you’re doing here. I’m like, okay, whatever. I’m starting it. And here’s me taking care of your dogs. I’m taking care of your dogs, but let’s not talk it. Let’s not bring it up. But I started it slow go. I mean, I started with my first children’s book, painted a Flash Becomes a Hero. Flash was the first. She was still alive at this time. And 2016 started the calendar, some hats, some shirts, just any ways I could think to raise money. I mean, I remember trying to get the logo set and the website, and if I look all the way back on it now, man, how much work was all that to where we’re at today? But I wouldn’t trade it for

Joe Zuccarello (18:18):
The, I’m going to let you come up for air for just a second there. I want to stop because what’s really interesting about this story, and I love the way you tell your story because it’s very much like other people’s passions. We can only tell what that passion is. I think we can only tell the best story looking in the rear view mirror, we can only tell the best story saying, I had no idea that as those things were presented to me in my path and I had some kind of inner drive to pursue them, I didn’t know where it was going to go. I just know I was going right. But now as you look back in the rear mirror, you can say that’s why that opportunity was presented to me. That’s why I went after that. That’s why I was drawn to go after that.

Joe Zuccarello (19:05):
And I think that’s where passions really, I think that’s where we can define passions versus just a job or just a task. So this project canine here, you shared with me before that you can remember, I think you said you have a picture of this U-Haul out in front of your Michigan address where you had a few bucks in the bank and you’re like, listen, I’m going all in. I’m going all in on this. I mean, had to be a little scary because your story so far had a path. I mean, you kept saying to me, and then I knew that this existed. I was going to walk through this and I knew that this, I knew that this course existed. I was going to beat it. I was going to beat it the first day by 10:30 AM It was defined up until this time, this moment when you said, I’m going to go all in on something that I don’t know is out there, right? That’s right. Yeah. I didn’t know the piece of the story that you shared about when you had to sign the document releasing the United States government from any fiduciary responsibility over that working dog.

Jason Johnson (20:21):
That’s right.

Joe Zuccarello (20:25):
I could tell when you were saying that part of the story, that was a light bulb moment that was like, how can this be? Right? So Project Canine Heroes Born.

Jason Johnson (20:36):
That’s right.

Joe Zuccarello (20:37):
Born with almost nothing. Right? So what is the mission of Project Canine Hero and why is the mission so important for you to be able to tell me to tell the Hey Joe listener audience and really anybody that’ll listen, and I’ll tell you, I know, know the story, so I’m honored just to give you a platform to tell other people. But I will tell you the mission, the mission is easy to tell even for somebody, even for me, and I’m not in it every day. The mission is so easy to convey, but there’s no better person that can tell the importance of behind the mission other than you. So why is this so important?

Jason Johnson (21:18):
Yeah, I wanted to make the mission real simple. I see a lot of nonprofits out there, and I think they get too broad is they want to take on so much and they want to help veterans. They want to help first responders and they want to do this and that. Ours is very simple, retired police canines and military working dogs, those that served our government, our community, whether it be city police, state trooper, deputy sheriff, any branch of the military, they’re eligible for medical benefits for the rest of their life through our organization. We know that these dogs, again, as I spoke about, they put their lives on the line for us, whether it be a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan or working in our airports or working in your hometown, chasing bad guys. They all do it. And they don’t ask questions. They have no reservation.

Jason Johnson (22:09):
They serve. And I feel that we owe it to them. We owe it to them as a society, as the American public, as the US government. We owe them a happy retirement. And what I’ve seen in the past is we’ve come a long way. I don’t want to say they’re discarded in the sense that they don’t care what happens to ’em. They try to get ’em back with their handlers for the most part. But who’s to say that first responder, that deputy sheriff, that state trooper, that United States Army Corporal or that United States Marine Sergeant has the kind of money it takes to pay their medical bill as being almost all of those things in my life, I can tell you they don’t have $10,000 sitting in their bank account for lymphoma treatments. They don’t. So two things happen that first responder, that soldier, that government employee, they go in personal debt or that hero goes without, and I didn’t want to see a hero ever go without. So the mission is simple. We provide medical care, prescription food, rehabilitation, re-homing, and end of duty services to those heroes. And for those that don’t have a home to go to, which you’ve been out here to 177 acre facility, we have a place where they can come be rehabilitated and hopefully adopted out or stay here so they don’t get euthanized just because no one has the resources to take them in.

Joe Zuccarello (23:32):
So Jason, let’s talk about that for just a second. So you’ve already established that really there’s, and I know you’re working toward change, so we’re going to talk about that as well. But currently, you’ve already just told the audience, the podcast audience there, that currently when a canine first responder or a military working dog retires from service, there are no government funds set aside for that. Canine heroes continuing, whether it’s a year, whether it’s five years or even longer, the rest of their life, there’s no retirement fund for them.

Jason Johnson (24:12):
So I don’t want to be all inclusive. There are cities out there who’ve passed some laws. There are some states that have passed some laws. I’m going to tell you it’s less than probably three or 5% of the general population that they try to help their retired dogs. But the majority of all municipalities, deputy sheriffs and state agencies do not. Then I can say for a hundred percent certainty that the United States government government agencies, the United States military does not at all. So it’s 97%.

Joe Zuccarello (24:45):
So I want to make sure we’re clear. So yeah, there’s some outlying municipalities that might throw a few dollars at it and try to, it’s probably second, third, fourth, down the rung of importance, maybe 40th down the rung of importance. So it’s not a great deal of money even in those three to 5%. But in the United States government, you said with 100% certainty.

Jason Johnson (25:04):
That’s right.

Joe Zuccarello (25:05):
There’s no support. Now, I want to make sure everybody’s clear. This isn’t Jason saying that the United States, this isn’t Jason against the government. This isn’t saying the America’s the worst place to live. It’s not that at all. In fact, if I’ve ever met a patriot, it’s Jason Johnson. I mean a true patriot, it’s just a fact,

Jason Johnson (25:26):
Right? We’re here to change that. We’re here to bring awareness to it. That’s part of the mission too. Spreading awareness and educating the public on the cost and responsibilities of taking care of a retired military working dog or police canine. That’s my job. When I talk to members of Congress, members of Senate, they don’t know this. They will think, I thought we passed a law that the handlers get to keep their dogs. And I say, we do try that. That’s accurate. But that doesn’t mean you’re paying the bills that’re just putting them in a really bad financial situation or moral obligation.

Joe Zuccarello (25:58):
Yeah, I’m sorry. And to your point earlier, when these dogs retire, they’ve been used, I mean, their bodies

Jason Johnson (26:13):
Not the same as the pet.

Joe Zuccarello (26:15):
What’s that?

Jason Johnson (26:16):
It’s not the same as a pet, it’s more like a special operations soldier.

Joe Zuccarello (26:19):
Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, just how much they’ve been used. I mean, their life is almost accelerated, I mean by the physicality of what they had to do before. So when they are released back to hopefully the handler, their partner, that they may still have years of life left, but what we’re searching for is to give them the quality of that right in a way that can be afforded. So obviously super important mission. Let’s talk about your rehabilitation and Rehoming campus in Whitwell, Tennessee, right? Yes, sir. I’ve had the pleasure of being there visited when one of the canine the military working dogs was reunited with his military handler super special event. Good morning America was there. I mean it was it a terrible weather day? It was a terrible weather day, but you know what? The weather was almost set aside and everybody’s brain, it was fine for us to stand out there on this cold, windy, rainy day to see this particular moment in time that really most of us never get a chance to see. You get a chance to see it a lot more than the rest of the world. So it was awesome getting a little bit of a window into that. But let’s talk this let’s about the campus, right? Yes. So you’ve got 170 acres, you said in the middle of nowhere, Tennessee, sort of between Nashville and Knoxville, if I have my geography correct?

Jason Johnson (27:43):
Yeah, a little bit. Kind of triangulate between Chattanooga on the south side, Knoxville on the east, Nashville to the north.

Joe Zuccarello (27:51):
Yeah. Okay. So one of the things that Project Canine Hero is doing, and again to call awareness to this, one of the things Project Canine here is doing is you want to build a better facility. You want to build something that when it’s built, it will even cause even that much, it’ll call that much more attention to this incredible noble cause. Tell me a little bit about what it is you want to do on the property there and the capital campaign behind that.

Jason Johnson (28:19):
Yeah, so what we’ve noticed, when I first started in 2016, I was set just to pay the medical bills and make sure that they’re getting the help they need. And then it started coming to my attention that while not every hero gets to stay with their handler, and while I was lucky to get flashback, even though I was separated in the story there, I got separated for about five years from 2008 when I went overseas. And then when I came back to the government when she retired in 2013, she didn’t have a home to go to, but they called me and I was able to fly up and get her, and that’s how I end up to get her back. And we started it. Not every hero is able to go back with their hand there. Maybe there’s kids in the home, maybe they bit their spouse, maybe they’re taking a new job, maybe they’re going overseas.

Jason Johnson (29:01):
There’s a lot of reasons why personal health issues that doesn’t happen. I would say 90% of the time it’s okay, but that 10% of the time we want to be a resource. Some of these dogs have serious aggression issues, and with my background and training and the staff we have here, we address those. We learn their triggers, we remove those triggers from their life, and we try to get them to where they can live in society, at least in a controlled environment with someone with some experience who has the right fenced yard, right home situation. A lot of the dogs don’t do well with kids or other dogs, but we’ve vet all that out and we adopt ’em out from here to make sure they’re euthanized and nobody wants to hear. And I’ll have people tell me it just doesn’t happen. But it does that some of the dogs in our government and military or even police departments would never be euthanized, but they are.

Jason Johnson (29:53):
If they’ve got serious forms of aggression and they can’t adopt them out and they can’t find the right home, they certainly are. So we’re honored to be that resource for the government. And you’ve been out here, you’ve seen dogs from different branches in the military, different branches of the federal government and state and local. And for me it’s an honor and a lot of that has to do with my background. They know that we have the experience, that we know what we’re doing, that we have the qualifications, that we have a beautiful 177 acres located out here where there’s no public around. We have fenced areas, we have it controlled. We have it manned 24 7. And for that, we’re trying to raise funding for this capital campaign to have six different buildings on here. And those six different buildings consist of a rehabilitation rehoming kennel.

Jason Johnson (30:36):
Indoor play area isn’t included in that. A grooming area, a vet check area, a area for rehabilitation like water, treadmill, tanks, cold laser therapy. We have the ability for all of those. We have vets on our board. We have a doctor Lust who is our general medicine doctor who practices out of Washington state. We have Dr. Melissa Parsons Doherty, who’s an oncologist who practices her two oncology cancer treatment centers outside of Houston, Texas. We also have local veterinarians that work with us or come out here and evaluate dogs. So we have the greatest resources in the world, the highest levels of government, and it is the highest levels of government. Military call me directly for assistance. It’s a huge honor. And if it wasn’t for that, you wouldn’t see organizations like Good Morning America, traveling from New York City on probably the worst weather day of the world to stand in a field out here and film such a great reunion story.

Jason Johnson (31:37):
But they did, and I’m thankful for it. And I think that’s going to more stories. We do like that and more stories in light. We can shine on the capital campaign, we can show a need for these heroes. And I just want to give you some numbers as we record this today, yesterday we put in program number number 267 lifetime. Since 2016, we do one hero a week, 52 a year, 52 lucky ones. I would estimate it’s about $25,000 commitment every time we put a dog in. And that’s on the average of the span of its life. Could be one year, it could be five years, 700 pending applications. Plus right now to get program services through this organization, we have 10 dogs on site here at the Rehab Rehoming Kennel, over a dozen or more pending applications of dogs who need a home or they could be euthanized otherwise.

Jason Johnson (32:29):
The first building we’re going to put up, the Rehabilitation Home Center will have an additional 14 kennels that will give us up to capacity about 25 heroes here with special needs. And I feel comfortable with, I don’t really feel comfortable with, and these dogs do have special needs and they have to be managed. None of them come out at the same time. Each one’s a separate time. So 25 is the number I feel our staff and myself can handle. We have the room and when we get that up, I feel that first building’s going to be the most comprehensive rehabilitation rehoming center for Working Dogs in the entire world. And that’s saying something. I know you’ve seen the plans, Joe and the plans are out there on our website at project k nine hero.org and the men, you can look at the capital campaign and see some of those plans in those phases because in addition to the Rehab Rehoming Center, we got our national headquarters.

Jason Johnson (33:16):
We’re close to a $5 million organization. When I started, I worked only off my phone. It wasn’t even until about two years ago, we even had an office. It is difficult to manage what we manage without an office, but we have a temporary office now. We have temporary kennels, but that office will help us grow if we’re not already, which I think we are. When we talk about specifically what we do, the largest nonprofit organization in the world that helps with police, canines and military working dogs, specifically with the rehabilitation rehoming and the medical combined adoption cabins. When adopters want to come out, spend a few days with our staff, which is mandatory, they can stay right here on site. The dog can stand in there with ’em. They can get them to see the feel for it before they take ’em home and something goes terribly wrong.

Jason Johnson (34:03):
It can be done under our presence and our supervision. When agencies come to Drop Dogs off, they can stand those cabins. When program members come out to visit the memorial where their dog is honored, they can stay at those cabins. When board members come out and they want to bring special guests, they can stay at those cabins. So all of those things help with that. And then we have our maintenance facility. When you have 177 acres, you got to have a place to put the tractors, the equipment and everything to keep that nice. And our finally, the last six buildings, our caretakers Kevin, and that is a residence on site that manages the dogs 24 7. This is not a facility that you can just lock the gate, go home and hope you come back tomorrow and everything’s okay. It requires 24 7 occupancy. We’ve had a lightning strike here when one of the kennels caught on fire and luckily none of ’em died. We were here, we’re always here. We always have somebody here, and that’s why it’s necessary to have that. So that’s the six phases. It’s a total about 8.6 million. We have a great capital campaign advisory board, all that’s on our website under our About Us. We’ve brought on a capital campaign executive board member as our director who’s got a great experience in helping raise these types of fundings for capital campaigns like this. And I feel extremely comfortable that with the team we put together that this is going to happen.

Joe Zuccarello (35:26):
Yeah, I completely agree, and especially now and for as long as it takes, I’m honored to actually have a seat on the board for the Capital Campaign committee. So it’s just been, again, that’s how passionate myself and how passionate Paragon is to support. One of the things that we just love doing is providing a grooming facility that at least until we get the larger facility built facility now, so the hygiene needs can be met for the heroes that live on campus right now. It’s interesting what you talk about as far as a capital campaign, and please visit project canine hero.org to find out more information. And anybody out there that’s listening to this podcast, again, just a reminder, this is Jason Johnson, who is the founder of Project Canine Hero, an organization who mission is very clear and very simple, and that is to prolong a healthy life of retired military working dogs and canine first responders and other type of working dogs.

Joe Zuccarello (36:27):
When you talk about Capital Campaign before this, we started a little bit talking about when you talk to Congress and when you’re talking to the government, and to your point, it’s not that they don’t want to, A lot of people you talk to in government, they don’t know. They don’t know that this has, they don’t know that nothing. There’s no, they don’t know that that’s happening. So talk to me a little bit about what your government mission is. Remember we’re talking about, let’s change that momentum, right? Let’s try to get more involvement there. Tell me about the Canine Hero Act project. Canine Hero is spearheading,

Jason Johnson (37:12):
Yeah. It’s something that I originally wrote 2018 and 19, and it was released to Congress under HR 50 81, and that was by Congressman Ron Wright out of Arlington, Texas area. And unfortunately, Ron had cancer and during Covid had passed away. And when your congressman who releases it passed away, even though we had co-sponsors and other things, my bill passed away. Then we had a change in our presidency and things in Congress. And the Senate weren’t exactly going as smooth as you’d want ’em to because when you have a bill, you have to have 60% of the House and the Senate to pass it. And that means that’s going to be some Republicans and some Democrats. And that’s very difficult to do when government’s not getting along. So I’ve waited a little time, I’ve rewritten it. I’ve hired a government liaison on our team. This person has experience as a full-Time chief of staff or a member of Congress, full-time, chief of staff for a member of the Senate, US Senate and US Congress.

Jason Johnson (38:10):
So I don’t think I could have a better person on my team to help me with this because a lot of these are personal connections. I need to get into the offices. I need to get into their rooms. I need to bring dogs with me. I need to tell their stories. I need to make ’em see firsthand this is something that’s important and that’s how I’m going to do that one office at a time. The idea of that is to make a law, to create legislation that’s not only going to help fund the retirements of, and what we can do now, Joe, to start is you got to think we have city dogs, municipal dogs, state dogs, and deputy sheriffs. They’re not federal. So it’s going to be hard for me to ever fund all those, but there’s a lot of those out there in every town in America.

Jason Johnson (38:58):
This particular act would help fund those federal canines that work for our federal agencies and our military working dogs who work for the Department of Fence. And that’s about half our program. So while we’re raising money and paying bills right now for that through fundraising, what if I could get a government grant through my nonprofit, that dollar for dollar I could pay the medical bill for, and it would come out of that fund because that dog served the United States Army or that dog served the FBI. And that’s what I’m looking to do. And that’s a little easier to do federal money on federal money. And all I have to do is convince them that these dogs are worthy. And there needs to be legislation. That’s all

Joe Zuccarello (39:36):
You have to do is convince them, Jason, that’s all.

Jason Johnson (39:39):
I’ve already written it for ’em. I’ve already written it for him. And we’re looking this year to get it. And when you do that, I’ve learned a lot of lessons. You got to be cautious on who releases it. This person needs to be bipartisan. They can’t be too polarizing one way or the other. So you almost have to recruit and partner with and choose someone who you feel is going to get the support from both sides of the aisle, Senate House, Republican, Democrat. And that’s my plan, and that’s how I’m going to do it. And again, I’ve rewritten the legislation, how I think it’s best. Of course, I’ll work with their legislative director and their team, and they may have some tweaks and changes, but it’s already in a nice packet and a nice package that I’m delivering to ’em. And we’re working with several of ’em right now. And it’s timing right, Joe, right? I mean, there’s certain times you should release the bill, and there’s certain times you’re not. And I’m not the expert on that. I’ll let their office tell me when we release it, but it’s just like the capital campaign. It’s something that I want to get done as a legacy, as something that is going to change the way these heroes are treated for generations to follow way after me.

Joe Zuccarello (40:54):
So Jason, so let’s talk a little bit about that. Obviously what you’re searching for with everything from the government initiatives of not only calling attention and getting some funding and some laws passed that help do that. And then to your point then maybe the work that Project Canine Hero does because you’re shepherding and you’re stewarding that, but you’re also then able to take the funding that’s donated and to the municipalities and the state dogs and the local municipalities and the townships that way and helping them as well. You mentioned, I want to come back to the number you said. You said we have Project K nine Hero is 130. Well, I know there’s been over 250 go through the program, right?

Jason Johnson (41:38):
Yep. Two 60 lifetime members with 132 alive today.

Joe Zuccarello (41:44):
And those 132, I just want to make sure that everybody understands those 132 are not at the campus in Tennessee. They’re spread out all over the country with wherever they’re home. So they’re either with individuals who have adopted them or the handlers that they had at one other time. So like you said, it’s nothing sometimes to have to write checks for emergency veterinary care, for bloat, for meniscus, for back issues, for, I mean just everything from medication to prescription diets to extensive surgeries, and even physical therapy as follow up. I mean just like people extensive surgery comes with extensive physical therapy, and that all comes with an extensive price tag. So we talked about, I want to make sure we draw a line so everybody’s clear. The capital campaign is designed, that’s an effort that’s designed. And if any of you out there are listening, you work for big companies or middle to large companies and you want to have your company’s name on a building, this is where the capital campaign comes in. These are checks usually with a couple of commas and a handful of zeros. So that’s the capital campaign. But Jason, if somebody’s listening out there, we’ve got 132 of these living pets that are out there now, pets, retired canines out there that need this everyday care. So that’s a different kind of donation, that’s a different kind of ask. That’s a different kind of support. Talk to the hey Joe listener audience about that kind of support and how people can get involved with that.

Jason Johnson (43:32):
Yeah, so I mean, like you said, on our daily operations, it’s nothing for us to spend 20,000 around here a day. I mean, with 132 living, we could have three or four in the ER at any time. Some days zero, some days five. So it varies. But that’s through our operational account. And when people usually donate through our page, project canine hero.org or go on our website and buy a book, a hat, a hoodie, so many other things we have on there, all of that funding comes back to help that daily operational support. And what I’ve found when I’ve been trying to do the capital campaign prior to having the advisory board on my own is everyone’s pretty much okay with donating to help with canine in need. Oh look, it’s in surgery and the surgery cost is going to be 6,200 and let me help pay for it.

Jason Johnson (44:16):
But nobody’s really that interested in help ’em with the capital campaign. They, it’s hard for them to envision the need. One of these dogs are going to be euthanized that they didn’t have this facility, but they don’t see that immediately. And then they want to see their money go towards something that they can, immediate gratification, they just paid for Bill, where the capital guy paying is a marathon, not a sprint. When you talk about putting in the resources of electricity, water lines from the road site work, completing the architectural plans, you know what I mean? So it is different on that aspect. But why we have the Capital Campaign committee is because you’re right, people can put their names on buildings. We’re going to look at a bunch of different ways to get donors involved. I have some great ideas to bring up with the board on that, and I just feel they both have their importance, but it’s so much more easier for me on daily on social media to talk about this is canine.

Jason Johnson (45:16):
Let’s just say eti, who has a chemotherapy burn on her arm right now from a procedure, it’s deteriorating her skin and really eaten away at it. It’s a very serious issue that she could lose her leg. I show a picture of a dog with a burnt leg and just said, Hey, this dog’s going through chemotherapy and now has this issue that could lose its leg and bacteria is killing it, and we’re getting at this treatment and it’s $6,200. People are going to pay and they’re going to feel good about it, and we can appreciate that. And the capital campaigns, it’s a harder sell. And that’s why we have a huge team to help us. They both are important one’s going to help save that dog’s leg and save its life. And the other of the long term is going to help save a dog that would’ve been euthanized it didn’t have a home to go to.

Joe Zuccarello (45:58):
Yeah. Well, I can tell you this, and I started off by saying, this is a very easy mission to get behind. And whether you are active military out there right now and listening, whether you are a friend or family member of active or retired military and you want to continue to serve and you love animals, this marries both of those worlds together. So I mean, it’s such an emotional transaction that many find easy to support now that you know about it, which is really great. And that’s what we’re trying to do is give it yet another stage through Paragon and through the Hijo podcast. But if you’ve never served, I’ve never served, but this is a way that I can serve this. That’s a way that I can support some of these heroes that are in this industry that has been my career that served me well to be able to give back.

Joe Zuccarello (46:48):
So I just employ you. I employ everybody out there that’s listening to at least consider it, maybe pass this along, share this as much as you possibly can with friends and family members and industry influencers and industry professionals who might be interested in either helping to care for the daily needs of some of the canines or the capital campaign needs. So I just employ everybody to pass it along. Funny story, before we hop off though, Jason, is this, you talked about, what was it, 600 hours that you volunteered and you’re wearing a bite suit. I think you mentioned a bite suit four times, right?

Jason Johnson (47:23):
Oh yeah.

Joe Zuccarello (47:24):
I had about an hour of volunteer and I, I don’t know if I call it an opportunity, but I did have a moment in my time where I made probably the worst decision ever to accept putting on a bite suit at a training facility. And I can remember the trainer, it was a schutz and type of training facility, police dog training. And they said, Hey, do you want to do this? I said, yeah, I knew these people from a previous career. So I put this bite suit on and they’re like, I said, what do I do? And they go run. And I thought, okay, and I’m looking like blink. Blink. I feel like I like this. Stay puff marshmallow man, right? Hopping. I got to tell you, when that dog hit me, it felt like a truck.

Jason Johnson (48:07):

Joe Zuccarello (48:08):
My gosh. Listen, I’m thankful I did it, but I’m glad I won’t do it again. So I mean, it is a force. You can’t imagine this 80 pound creature hitting you. And it literally felt like I ran like a wall hit me. I didn’t run into the wall. It was amazing. Absolutely an amazing experience. And if you ever get a chance to, I know you do, you see it all the time, but for all the listeners out there, if you ever get a chance to watch these dogs in action, here’s what I ask you to go to project canine hero.org and look at some of the videos. Look at some of the photos, read some of the stories. Jason, I was going to put you on a spot, but I didn’t think it was fair. I was going to say, was there that one dog was there, that one canine that you remember that one that just really stood out? Well,

Jason Johnson (48:52):
Sure. And it’s Canine Flash who’s a project canine Hero program member 0 0 1. And she pretty much co-founded the organization with me. She suffered from Lyme disease when she retired. She almost didn’t have a home when I found her. She almost didn’t have a home. She almost got euthanized before she was a police dog. 2018. She was named a law enforcement dog of the year in America by the American Humane. We’re in Beverly Hills, we’re on the red carpet, we’re on the Hallmark Channel. She, we’ve been on the Today Show. The girl’s got more awards than I’ve ever seen a dog have. And if it wasn’t for that one dog, those other 102 hundred 66 wouldn’t be in this program.

Joe Zuccarello (49:33):
I’m glad I put you on the spot because that’s a really great way to wrap it up. So Jason, thank you so much. I mean, you are just a real gift to what you do. The mission is certainly warranted, and we thank you for what you do. We thank you for your previous service. We thank you for your service today. And for any of you that are out there, go to project canine hero.org. You can go to paragon pet school.com and find that you’ll see our page where we support Project Canine Hero. And just listen, if anything else, just get involved. Every dollar counts. And I know that that doesn’t sound, I mean, it’s sort of cliche, but it really truly does. Somebody that’s seen it firsthand. I can attest that it truly does. Jason, thank you so much. We appreciate your time. Thanks for sharing your story.

Jason Johnson (50:22):
Thank you much for having me, Joe, and we really appreciate all that you do, all that Paragon does and all of our supporters out there. And as I always say, these canine heroes spent their entire life protecting us. So I’m going to spend the rest of mine protecting them.

About Joe

Joe Zuccarello is president of the Paragon School of Pet Grooming, leaders in grooming education on campus and online. He possesses more than three decades of experience in the pet grooming, product development and pet business consulting disciplines.

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Subscribe on Stitcher Subscribe on Apple Podcasts Subscribe on TuneIn Subscribe on Google Play Music Listen on Spotify

    Questions for "Hey Joe!"

    Do you have questions about grooming, products or pet industry practices that would make for a great "Hey Joe!" episode? Submit your questions here!

    error: Content is protected !!