The Rex Specs journey began with our own dogs need for eye protection and we quickly discovered the need for durable eye protection for working K-9s. Over the years we have created partnerships with several working K-9 organizations, like Project K-9 Hero.
Lead by Jason Johnson, Project K-9 Hero provides services to retired Military or Police K-9s who don't receive necessary support after being released from service. We originally met Jason Johnson at SHOT show, where we were introduced to his dog, Axel, a retired alcohol, tobacco, firearms and explosives K-9, who suffers from pannus—just like our dogs did.
As we learned more about Jason and Project K-9 Hero we wanted to do what we could to provide support. It's been a long time coming, and we are very excited to announce the release of our co-branded Rex Specs X Project K-9 Hero goggle—launching on February 18, 2020. 10% of sales from these goggles will be donated to PK9H.
We had the chance to catch up with Jason and learn more about the work PK9H does...
What is the process typically like when a K9 is retired from the Military or Police force and how has that changed with the help of Project K-9 Hero?
When a Police K-9 or a Military Working Dog (MWD) leaves service, regardless of the conditions or circumstances as to why, they are not being funded for medical care by the agencies that they faithfully served. This is 100% accurate when we talk about all federal K-9’s, for example: Federal Law Enforcement, DHS/TSA, DOJ, and Department of Defense MWD’s. This is also generally true for state and local K-9 units, but we have found a few organizations that take care of their own. However, it is rare nationwide to see programs already set in place for medical care in retirement.
Since Project K-9 Hero was created in 2016, we have become a national resource for these retired heroes to turn to when they have a medical condition that poses a financial burden on their owner or handler. We have paid in excess of $5-10k for surgeries on multiple K-9’s in our program annually. For issues such as lymphoma, cancerous tumors, and even broken bones that have occurred while the K-9 was on duty but the agency refused to pay for the surgery before they retired the K-9. Project K-9 Hero was there to make sure that they did not go without the medical care they needed immediately and beyond. For those K-9’s retired from service but have special needs with have a program application listed on our website.
Where do retired K9s go after their service has ended?
We are finding that 80% or greater stay with their handler, while another 20% may need to be re-homed once they retire. Regardless of where they end up, almost 100% of them need help with their medical care in retirement.
For the 20% that need new homes, like K-9 Axel our national Ambassador, we assist with that as well. We have an adoption application on our website.
Project K-9 Hero has purchased 177 acres in Tennessee where we will be constructing a Rehabilitation and Rehoming Center, as well as our corporate headquarters. This facility will serve as a place where Police K-9’s can immediately go to when they no longer have a home following their service. We currently have had several K-9’s in our program who needed to be re-homed immediately upon their retirement. This facility will hold up to 14 retired K-9 Heroes at one time, with the goal of placing them into the proper fur-ever homes through our application and vetting process.
The Project K-9 Hero Rehabilitation and Rehoming Center will also have two adoption cabins. Here perspective adopters, and their families, will be able to spend some quality one on one time with their potential K-9. This will ensure that it is a proper fit for both them and the dog prior to taking their retired hero home.
Retired K-9’s will have multiple secure play areas and hiking trails to enjoy under the supervision of our staff. Included on the facility property will be a Memorial Garden, where each of our fallen heroes will be remembered for their service to our country.
What does PK9H provide for retired K9s?
Primarily, we are here to provide assistance with medical care when a K-9 Hero is no longer covered by the agency they served. We specifically help those who have special needs or who are a financial burden on their handler or owner. Medical assistance for dogs in our program can vary from $1k to $15K annually.
In addition to medical assistance, we provide food to members in our program as well. We are partnered with Sport Dog Food who drop ships their brand directly to the handler’s home if they choose to take part of this program. Sport Dog Food has developed a Project K-9 Hero Formula that features our National Ambassador, K-9 Axel, on the front and Axel and I are on the back of the bag.
Project K-9 Hero also provides “End of Duty” services to each K-9 in our program, and to many fallen heroes that are not in our program. This includes cremation or burial, a personalized urn if desired, and a custom 24x36 portrait of their hero, for the handler and family to remember them by.
How many dogs has PK9H helped to date?
To date, Project K-9 Hero has helped over 50 dogs with medical care, food, or death benefit assistance from the local, state, and federal levels of Law Enforcement as well as Military Working Dogs.
You adopted and cared for a retired police dog, K-9 FLASH, what is your fondest memory with FLASH?
Flash and I lived a storied life together which is depicted in our book, “K-9 Flash Becomes a Hero.” My fondest memory is when the Hallmark Channel film crew and producer flew to Drummond Island, Michigan. Flash and I were able to read her book to the students of the Drummond Island Elementary School as part of the Hero Dog Awards filming. Being my hometown, this was a very special moment for both of us.
To see how captive the audience was during our visit was so inspiring for me as an author. That particular day, in a small Michigan school, we taught the children that it doesn’t matter where you come from you can accomplish anything in the world as long as you are willing to work hard enough to earn it. They could aspire to have fortitude just like Flash, who went from being a day away from euthanasia, to becoming the most famous Police K-9 in America. We filmed it all right there for millions of people to see around the world. That was Flash’s last official reading, and to me it was our most memorable of the dozens we have done together around the nation.
What is the K-9 HERO ACT and how will that change things for PK9H?
The K-9 Hero Act, is a vision we at Project K-9 Hero have had for many years. It was a concept that we as an organization brought to Congress that helps fund the retirements of Federal Police K-9’s and Military Working Dog Heroes.
If passed, this legislation would allow for all nonprofits, who provide medical care for retired K-9 Heroes, to apply for a grant program that would allow us to spend up to $5 million dollars over five years as a whole. The funds must be used for medical care only. To include office visits, procedures, surgeries, prescriptions, and other medical related needs of the retired K-9.
We have over 100 applications in waiting as of today, with the majority of those being a Federally retired Law Enforcement K-9 or Military Working Dog. If HR 5081 is passed, that would allow us to bring all of these deserving heroes into our program and start providing help for them immediately.
We would like to encourage everyone to contact their representative today and let them know to support the K-9 Hero Act.
How can people support the work you’ve done with the K-9 HERO ACT?
We need bipartisan sponsorship from the House and Senate to support this Bill before it can be sent for a vote and then signed into law by the President. We ask that supporters contact their local representative in Congress and in the Senate and ask them to support HR 5081, The K-9 Hero Act. On our website we have direct links for each supporter to look up who their representative is and information on how to contact them.Supporters may also help by following Project K-9 Hero on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and sharing our information with their friends and family.