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Inspiring Conversations with Jeff Johnson of Can Do Canines

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeff Johnson.

Hi Jeff, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
My background as a nonprofit leader is fairly unique. My profession is employment and labor law and I practiced at Cargill, Inc. and law firms in Chicago and Minneapolis. I started my own consulting business in 2001 after being elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives and ran that business for 20 years while serving in the House and later on the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners.

In 2018, after losing the race for Minnesota Governor to Tim Walz, I decided it was time to move on from politics and government and start anew. I spent two years looking for the right opportunity and thankfully found Can Do Canines. I’m blessed to be here and believe I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The transition has been surprisingly smooth. It wasn’t without some bumps, of course. There were a few supporters of Can Do Canines who could not get past my political background – politics has become very personal these past few years – but by and large the staff, volunteers, clients and supporters of this amazing organization believe deeply in what we do and can set aside any past political differences knowing we’re all working toward the same mission now. We’re at a very exciting time in our 32-year history as an organization.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
We are a 32-year-old nonprofit that raises and trains assistance dogs to serve people with five different types of disability; mobility, hearing, seizures, type-1 diabetes and childhood autism. We are one of the largest organizations of our kind in the country and placed our 800th dog/client team just a few weeks ago.

It costs about $45,000 to train each of our assistance dogs, but we give those dogs away free of charge as we don’t want to deny anyone the chance to change their life based on their economic status. Along with our 46 employees, we rely on hundreds of volunteers to help raise and train our dogs along with 200 prison inmate handlers in our prison program.

Our dogs transform the lives of our clients by providing them with freedom, independence and peace of mind.

Have you learned any interesting or important lessons due to the Covid-19 Crisis?
Like every organization, we learned that some work can be done just as effectively at home and that many meetings can be held virtually, to everyone’s benefit. We also learned that some of our training can be done online. Nothing will ever replace in-person training with our professional staff, but in some cases, it can be enhanced digitally.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Kali (girl with poodle): Greg Bissen
Carden (man in wheelchair with dog opening door): Liz Banfield
Prison photo: Mark Falstad
All other photos: Can Do Canines

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