When a dog’s day is done, or rather their K9 life serving our country in military service is complete, these heroes need a safe landing zone to retire. Their unique abilities, specialist training, and unparalleled relationship with their human partners make finding a place for them to live out their lives safely and happily a challenge.
The vision of the founder and CEO Jason Johnson’s conception of Project K9 Hero has taken considerable effort and time to execute. Despite the project going strong after many trials and tribulations, Johnson and his team of dedicated trainers and caregivers had to face an unprecedented and unforeseen accident a few months ago, when a recent lightning hit one of their kennels where retiree K-9s were housed.
Although all the K-9 Military Working Dogs (MWD) and other K-9 police dogs are equally important at the project, a K9 of special import MWD Rosso, was directly involved in the incident, and narrowly escaped with his life thanks to the quick action of Johnson and his team.
K9 MWD Rosso protected both President Trump and President Obama on several details during his service to our country. He was awarded the prestigious Air Force Commendation Medal for this service and for his deployment to Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield in the Middle East where he protected countless American military personnel.
Enjoy this interview with Project K9 Hero’s Jason Johnson to find out more about what happened and how this valuable mission has been developed and operated by him and his team.
Q: Could you please share the backstory including approx. timeline of how you came to have 3 Horizon Structures kennels for your wonderful retiree canine project and how they have been utilized?
A: It all started when we bought our 177-acre Rehabilitation and Rehoming property in 2019. It took a year to get in some infrastructure, power, water, etc. to set up the temporary kennels for our K-9 heroes who needed a place to live after their service to our country.
In the fall of 2020, the US Air Force contacted us and asked if we could give Military Working Dog Rosso (T206) a home. That is when we had the very first Horizon Structures kennel delivered and occupied by MWD Rosso in December of 2020.
In 2021, and in 2022 we took in several more retired Police K-9s and MWDs that were facing euthanasia and had no place to go so each year we ordered a new one give us three duplex’s total to hold six retired heroes.
Q: Following the recent lightning strike on one of your kennels, could you enlighten us (pun not intended), on what happened?
A: At about 10pm on Friday April 21st, lightning directly struck Kennel A, at our Project K-9 Hero Rehabilitation and Rehoming Facility. Inside was Military Working Dog Rosso, K-9 Blitz, and K-9 Gwen. The building insulation began to smolder, as all electrical circuits were melted and fried.
Due to a quick response by our staff (4 Project K-9 Hero Staff Members, one of them including myself) on site that night, all dogs were quickly moved to safety and checked for injuries. Thankfully, none of the dogs were injured, but it was definitely a lot closer than preferred.
We were without power for some time, however an emergency response by electricians at 3am we were able to get it restored. We have a lot of cleanup to conduct, and another $21k Horizon Structures Kennel to purchase. However, if you look close at the photos you will see the lightning strike was literally inches away from where Rosso was sleeping, and we are just extremely thankful that they are all ok! Everything else can be replaced!
I want to personally thank our highly professional staff for responding last night to help with the placement of dogs, fire suppression, and electrical damage to ensure this act of nature was as limited to what you see in these photos as possible.
MWD Rosso protected President Trump and President Obama during his service to our country.
MWD Rosso served in the United States Air Force for Nine Years at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington. During his career Rosso was assigned to protect the President of the United States on 10 separate details to include a trip to Japan.
Rosso was deployed to Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Spartan Shield in the Middle East where he was responsible for the safety of countless American Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Sailors. Rosso was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal at his retirement ceremony on December 1st, 2020 but was scheduled to be euthanized because of his aggressive behavior. Since that time he has been enjoying his second chance at life at the Project K-9 Hero Rehabilitation and Rehoming Facility. Rosso is 13 1/2 years old.
Q: Following the devastation of the lightning strike, how are you managing to house the K9’s that were displaced and how are they doing? Any ill effects?
A: We placed each of the dogs in smaller crates for a period of 36 hours when our full-time maintenance staff worked hard to repair the kennel back to a live-able state, disconnect all electrical, and make it safe for at least a temporary period of time.
The dogs were clearly shaken up from the noise and destruction. It will take months and possibly years to determine what long-term effects they may have or PTSD from this incident.
Q: What are your plans regarding replacement of the kennel?
A: We must have a full electrical system for the summer and winter months for air and heat. The entire insulation was burnt in the ceilings and the wall so the damaged kennel is a total loss.
The new kennel that we ordered will replace the damaged one, which was the very first one we purchased in 2020 and be the new home of Rosso and Blitz.
Q: Can you give us some insight into how your K9 Project evolved and how you see it growing in the future? For example: Why do the dogs come to your facility and why are they usually retired? Is it just age related? Burnout? Unsuitability due to medical issues? How do you help them adjust to the new lifestyle? It must be hard for them to experience the less adrenalin/slower lifestyle.
A: We have 230 heroes in our program. 90% of those stay with their handlers and we pay their medical bills for life after their Police or Military service.
The other 10% have behavioral or aggression issues that lead them to either be euthanized or come to a facility like ours.
Our professional staff takes the time to learn their triggers and manage their needs on a daily basis. Everything we do here is positive. To give these retired K-9 Heroes the retirement that they deserve.
Q: What is the biggest problem you experience in caring for the K9’s? Help with caregiving? Assume it takes a highly qualified K9 expert to handle these dogs?
A: Funding is our biggest issue to help build our permanent rehabilitation kennels. We have a highly qualified and professional staff that is necessary to deal with working dogs of this caliber. We are looking corporate sponsors to help put their name on these building so we have a more capacity and health care capabilities.
Here is a link to our capital campaign page:
Video overview of plans to our permanent facilities:
Q: What can people do to help you further this project? Are there any ways civilians can help you continue the program and further develop it? Either via donations/monetary or any supplies needed?
A: Monetary Donations would help the most which can be done on our website at:
Q: Why did you decide to go with a Horizon Kennel in the first place and what determined you to replace it with the same brand?
A: We love the quality and versatility of the duplex models for our retired heroes. We decided to replace it with the exact same model because of how well they have performed for us and our specific needs.
Q: How has your experience after this traumatic event been working again with Merv and the team at Horizon?
A: We called and spoke to Merv the very next business day (Monday) and went through the incident with Merv, told him exactly what we needed to replace it and he had a detailed invoice back to us within hours. We immediately paid the full amount even though we haven’t received any insurance money yet, and Merv expedited the shipping for us to get it here within just two weeks from when we first spoke.
Giving our K9 heroes a second chance is not an easy task. Just as their human counterparts suffer both mental and physical issues during and following service to our country, K9 dogs often require very specific care suited to their individual needs in order for their retirement from working life in the military or other services to be implemented successfully.
The Project K9 Hero deserves more support than it currently receives, and if you can do anything to help fund any aspect of its important work kindly reach out to Jason Johnson to find out how you can help.