Debbie’s Dogs

k-9s unitedBy Montana Samuels |

It was close to 3 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 7, 2014. St. John’s County K-9 Deputy Baron, and his handler, Officer Farrah Ashe were on a call about a domestic dispute.

The suspect in question, Brandon Allison, also had an active warrant for the sale of narcotics, as well as a prior criminal record. Allison fled on this night, leading to Baron’s first apprehension and engagement of a suspect.

Baron had been on the streets for 13 months, having completed bomb sniffs and the Dayton 500 and the Pepsi 400, as well as at The Player’s Championship Golf Tournament.

On the night of the 7th, Baron’s career, and life, was cut short.

While in pursuit of Allison, Baron was killed by the suspect. The cause of death was asphyxiation.

His death had a widespread effect on many, leading to multiple news stories, and striking a chord with the hearts of dog lovers in the area.

The story was especially heart breaking to one woman in particular.

“I’ve just been a dog lover all my life,” says Debbie Johnson, “when he (Baron) was killed, it captured my heart.”

As an avid dog lover, Johnson wanted to find a way to give back to the K-9 unit in St. John’s County. “I went to the funeral, which I wasn’t sure about because I knew I’d be very emotional and I’d never attended anything like that.”

There, she was able to speak to people involved with the K-9 unit, who informed her how she could get involved, and what was not allowed. “Me being totally naïve about K-9s in law enforcement, I wanted to bring them a treat,” Johnson laughs.

Though she can now laugh about how naïve she was at the time, the word itself no longer be used to describe how familiar she is with how things work.

As of April this year, Johnson created a non-profit, K-9s United, in honor of Baron, and to give support to K-9 units in St. John’s County and Northeast Florida, with the dream of spreading the organization to the rest of The United States. “My heart is St. John’s County, but my vision is to create enough money to where I can help more than St. John’s County, my vision would be to actually go nationwide, with a priority of being Northeast Florida first,” says Johnson.

Ashley Berg is a friend of Johnson’s, and also aids her with K-9s United. Berg says that the pace of which K-9s United has become impactful is something she has not seen. “Debbie has gone for zero to 60 in no time. From setting up a non-profit, to determining logistics of a golf tournament… it’s unheard of what she has accomplished in such a short time frame.”

Johnson says that despite her confidence in the organization, she has been surprised by just how fast things have been moving. “I’ve been a little bit overwhelmed with the amount of attention,” says Johnson, “I’m not surprised, but I just didn’t think about it.”

Confidence is a big part of what makes K-9s United able to be so successful so quickly. Confidence and a combination that Johnson says is a no brainer. “There are a lot of people out there that are passionate about dogs, and when you mix dogs with law enforcement, I just knew I wasn’t the only one.”

Even for the ever confident Johnson, the trials that come along with starting a new venture don’t come without a little bit of stress. A devout believer in God, Johnson often turns to prayer in times of uncertainty.

“Just even a few weeks ago, I was a little discouraged because I wasn’t getting the response I wanted to get in regards to the golf tournament,” says Johnson, “and I literally prayed and said “okay Lord, you laid this on my heart for a reason, so show me what the next step is” and literally the next day I got an email about being on the morning show.”

The morning show she references is WJXT channel 4, and is not her only coverage, as media outlets are beginning to run with the story about Debbie Johnson and her dogs.

The golf tournament she speaks of is a charity golf tournament that will be held annually here in St. John’s County. The tournament, set for the month of October is to honor Baron, who lost his life in the same month.

Johnson is sure to illustrate that her goal is simply to raise awareness and funds for the K-9 units in the area. Her perspective is dog lover first, non-profit second. The sentiment, and the effort, are much appreciated by those that work closest with the animals.

“We’re honored that she would think of us first in her fundraising efforts,” says Commander Mulligan of the St. John’s County Sheriff’s office, “certainly we don’t reach out and ask people to do this on our behalf, so for somebody to do this on their own, it honors what we do, and we appreciate it, especially in the times of today.”

The K-9s United first annual golf tournament will be help on October 5, at the St. John’s Golf & Country Club, and Johnson says that K-9s United will host a 5K sometime in the spring on next year.

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