07/21/2020: PPP Spotlight: Project K-9 Hero

Jason Johnson, founder and CEO at Project K9 Hero (left), talks with Ryon McKinney, lending officer at SimplyBank, in July 2020.


The rich aroma of a pine forest sweeps through the sitting area at Camp K-9 Hero, where under the shade of an RV awning on a hot July day, Jason Johnson sits Gatorade in hand, talking about the near future and the recent past.


Over there is where someday, a multimillion-dollar rehab and rehoming facility for retired police and military dogs will sit, Johnson says, pointing out a brush-hogged rise directly within line of sight to the west.


And down that way, he says, pointing down a one-lane gravel road to the south, is where Project K-9 Hero – the nonprofit he founded and runs – will build overnight cabins for foster families and soon-to-be foster families to come and stay with their rescues.

All I knew was a guy I trust, Ryon, works there,” he said. “I know […] he’ll pick up the phone.

Project K-9 Hero is Johnson’s passion project. The military veteran and working K-9 consultant lives and breathes it and works tirelessly alongside his team to continue to aggressively grow the group dedicated to caring for retired military and police dogs by paying for thousands of veterinary bills a year and matching them with homes.


Passion to safeguard Project K-9 Hero against financial fallout due to COVID-19 is why Johnson turned to SimplyBank earlier this year for help securing federal emergency aid in the form of a Paycheck Protection Program loan.


“These bills don’t stop,” Johnson says, the sound of a generator humming in the background to keep air conditioning running for his dogs. “You can’t tell a dog who’s sick, like Axel, ‘Hey man, you can’t have cancer because of this COVID.’”


Axel is a retired tactical and tracking German Shepherd who worked for years with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Axel is 11 years old and lives full-time with Johnson. He is currently being treated for lung cancer.


For Ryon McKinney, loan officer at SimplyBank, this is meeting number two with Axel. McKinney was on this property more than a year ago celebrating SimplyBank’s funding of the land purchase for Project K-9 Hero’s eventual permanent home and had a chance to see Axel in action first-hand.


McKinney remembers first reading about Project K-9 Hero and embracing an opportunity to create creative solutions for the mission-driven organization and its leadership team, both on the purchase of its property and more recently, on its PPP loan application.


“[Jason] was already asking me questions that I knew were legitimate great questions,” he said. “When you first look at a company like Project K-9 Hero, you go, ‘Here’s a guy from Michigan who wants to build a facility in Tennessee to rehab and rehome retired working dogs. OK, let’s do it.’”


Without the relief money through from PPP, Johnson fears progress for Project K-9 Hero would have ground to a halt.


“When you’ve lost your job, you’re not going to send your extra money to a non-profit,” he said.


So early in the pandemic, he talked with his leadership team at the non-profit and consulted with their Michigan-based legal counsel.


And “the consensus was: it’s easiest if we went through a local bank,” he said.


With McKinney guiding it through the process, Project K-9 Hero secured PPP funds early in the payout period. Johnson and Project K-9 Hero have accounts with various banks, but it was the personal relationship which led him to SimplyBank for a PPP loan.


 “All I knew was a guy I trust, Ryon, works there,” he said. “I know I can pick up the phone and call Ryon, and he’ll pick up the phone.”


On this scorching afternoon, in the midst of a marketing photo shoot, Johnson receives a call on his cell from a Project K-9 Hero family in Texas, requesting help making payments on a vet bill. He hangs up and dials the Texas vet office multiple times, without success.


“I deal with hundreds of people around the world,” Johnson said. “Not everyone answers the phone.”






SimplyBank successfully submitted 240 PPP loans between April and early June 2020, securing nearly $16 million in emergency relief funds for locally-owned businesses and organizations. SimplyBank sunset acceptance of new PPP applications on June 5, shifting focus to the upcoming forgiveness phase of the program. For more information, please visit www.mysimplybank.com/ppp.


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