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It’s Not Just Who You Know, But What They Know.


–by Anna Cooke


“An American woman with a Rottweiler?” said the male judge to Connie Johnson, as he looked over her dog Auggie during the Schutzhund trials. “You have guts,” he said, out of respect for her perserverance in what was, at the time, a male-dominated disci- pline. The year was 2000 and the Schutzhund trials (now referred to as IPO) were held in Switzerland. Auggie went on to win every protection tournament across the United States over four years, never scoring under 96 points. Connie has had a successful career as a real estate agent


mainly to fund her love of showing dogs. “It gets expensive,” she laughed as we discussed politics and dogs over lunch in Tampa. “I used to say that I sold real estate to support my dog habit. But, that changed when sales slowed during the real estate crisis.” Then, she started volunteering at the shelter, which actually


ended up helping her sales. “I was making connections with people coming to visit the shelter or to adopt the animals. We had a connection and these people turned into real estate cus- tomers.” During that same period, Connie also reached out to foreclosed homeowners to help them find places to live that would also accept the family pets. Connie and her husband live with 12 dogs, diverse in breed


and size, from her 120 pound Rottweiler Ava Marie, to her four pound Chihuahua/Rat Terrier mix, Parker. “I pulled my little man Parker as he was being walked on a catch pole to be euthanized,” said Connie. “He had been horrifically abused and is still quite fractious.” Every morning, she walks her property with her dogs and does a minimum of thirty minutes obedience training with them. “It’s the best part of my day,” she said. This is a person who connects the dots to affect change in


her community, and Connie’s community is all of Florida, which she dearly loves. “Helping others achieve their goals is important to me,” she said. Currently the safety net manager with the SPCA Florida in Lakeland, Connie has been involved with helping animals, families and children for 27 years. She has worked with police dogs, service dogs and show dogs, volun- teering her time to train them. She made two American Kennel Club world teams and has worked on rehabilitating some of Michael Vick’s dogs. She started a program, Best Friends, that helps troubled


teenagers at the juvenile justice department. The teens come to the shelter and Connie chooses a dog for them to work with. “These kids transform in the program. Coming in, they don’t know how to be compassionate because their families don’t know how to show love.” She recalls a really hard case, that of a 17-year-old who didn’t want anything to do with the program or the dogs. “When he was in jail, no family members visited him. My goal was to change his life. I began by telling him stories about the football players with whom I’ve worked and


www.TheNewBarker.com


about my work with Michael Vick’s dogs. He finally agreed to come to the shelter.” Connie set him up with a dog that was a cruelty case and she explained to the young man that the dog had the same kind of life that he had. “I told him the dog just wanted to be loved and trusted. When I saw the two of them together, the dog licking his face and him laughing, I knew I had done my job.”


Connie with Mattie Mae. Connie became president of Rebuild Tampa Bay in 2009,


the same year Super Bowl XLIII was in Tampa. “I wanted to shake things up a bit. Instead of rebuilding a few homes, I wanted to transform a community,” she told us. And that’s just what she did, pointing to the homes her team helped transform as we drove around a Tampa neighborhood. More than 700 volunteers remodeled 72 homes, putting in new floors and roofs wherever needed. “We even reconstructed one house from the ground up,” she said.


Continued on the following page.g Spring 2018 THE NEW BARKER 23


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