Jason Johnson is dedicated to helping dogs who dedicated their lives to helping humans — and he’s got one special dog helping him. These days, Jason is a Field Canine Coordinator for the U.S. Government and the founder of Project K-9 Hero, a non-profit assisting retired law enforcement dogs with food and veterinary care costs. Over the years, he’s worked with thousands of canine-handler teams, but a German Shepherd–Australian Cattle Dog mix named Flash holds a special place in his life and at Project K-9 Hero.
“She’s definitely inspired me,” Jason says of Project K-9 Hero’s Chief Canine Officer and official ambassador.
The pair met 11 years ago when Jason was working as a police officer and K-9 Handler in Washington state, and Flash was just another mutt at Everett Animal Services.
“She didn’t have a name. She didn’t have anything,” he remembers.
The one thing Flash had was potential. A 1-year-old former stray with an animal aggression issue, Flash was tested and selected by the Washington State Patrol as a candidate for narcotics work.
“She was gonna be put down the very next day,” Jason says, recalling how hard Flash worked to impress the people who saved her life. Despite being medicated for a low white blood cell count thanks to time spent scavenging on the streets, Flash seemed determined to be the best dog she could be.
“We entered her in the basic narcotic canine course, where Flash did very well. She exceeded past all her classmates. She scored 100 percent on her certification — she was the only canine in her class to do so,” Jason recalls.
After graduation, Flash became Jason’s partner. She served the Yakima Police Department for eight years, even after Jason’s career took him away from Washington. He went to work for the U.S. Department of State before moving on the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) — but he never forgot about Flash.
“When she retired, the City of Yakima gave her to me and I just flew out to get her,” he says.
These days, Jason is lending his canine expertise to organizations at the federal, state, and local levels. While he works hard, Flash is busy enjoying her retirement. At 12 years old, she’s in great shape, still romping through the snow in the winter and hanging out at Lake Huron in the summer months.
According to Jason, many Police K-9 teams aren’t as lucky as he and his dog are. Unlike Flash, most law enforcement dogs only retire after their health deteriorates. Retirees are usually adopted by their former handlers, who don’t want to be separated from their dogs but often end up burdened by high veterinary bills.
“These dogs do so much for whatever agency they work for, but they’re not taken care of for life,” explains Jason, who saw a need he and Flash could fill through Project K-9 Hero. “The day they retire, all funding is cut.
“We have three pillars as a foundation: we want to provide medical costs to retired K-9 heros, we work with two major food distributors to provide food for them, and we provide a death benefit service in which we reimburse their cremation or burial costs.”
Jason says dogs like Flash — who had more than 2,200 narcotic finds as a police dog — deserve a comfortable retirement. The police department saved Flash, but she certainly repaid the favor.
“All those drugs that she seized, she saved countless numbers of lives. Thirty pounds of heroin for example — that could go out on the street and kill people,” Jason explains.
With her drug sniffing days behind her, Flash is now contributing in other ways, relying on her charisma more than her nose as the face of Project K-9 Heroes. According to Jason, Flash is especially popular with kids and is the subject of a soon-to-be published children’s book, K-9 Flash: One Dog’s Journey To Becoming A Hero.
Jason shares Flash’s story not only to bring awareness to the mission of Project K-9 Hero, but also to help others see the amazing potential in shelter dogs.
“She understands she got a second chance in life, and she proves what a rescue pet can do.”