Johnson retires from county board to work with nonprofit Can Do Canines

Longtime Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson is the new executive director at Can Do Canines. Johnson will leave the county […]

Jeff Johnson portrait

Longtime Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson is the new executive director at Can Do Canines. Johnson will leave the county board in early December to take on his new role. 

Can Do Canines is a nonprofit organization that raises and trains service dogs for people with disabilities. Johnson will succeed Alan M. Peters, the longtime leader and founder of Can Do Canines. Peters will work with Johnson through a leadership transition before enjoying his retirement. 

Alan Peters and dog
Alan Peters and Friend

Peters, who founded the organization in 1989 and has served as the executive director since then, is retiring at the end of 2020. 

Peters leaves an impressive legacy. During his time, Can Do Canines has earned an international reputation among Assistance Dog International (ADI) member organizations, being one of only two ADI-certified organizations in Minnesota. Can Do Canines has provided 750 high quality assistance dogs—all free of charge—to people with disabilities. Peters also led a $4.4 million capital campaign, resulting in a 25,000-square-foot, mortgage-free facility in New Hope. 

Can Do Canines staff and board members expressed gratitude to Peters for the leadership and passion he has shown these past three decades. During retirement Peters plans to spend more time with family, embark on a writing project and pursue some long overdue travel. 

Peters announced his retirement in April 2020, giving Can Do Canines leadership time to conduct an extensive national search for a new executive director. Johnson’s selection was announced this fall. 

The Can Do Canines staff and board are committed to not only preserving what is best about their client, volunteer and donor experience, but also finding new and better ways of serving others. Throughout this transition process, the mission will continue to be the driving factor in finding new ways to increase the number of graduating teams and create future successes for the organization. 

“Jeff is an experienced leader whose reputation for ethical, committed, transparent leadership abounds,” said Judy Sharken Simon, leader of the search committee. 

Johnson announced in 2016 that his third term would be his last on the county board, consistent with the same three-term limit he placed on himself while in the Minnesota House. 

“My time in government and politics has been exciting and meaningful to me, but it’s time to move on and use my experience and the talents God has given me in a different way. I couldn’t be more excited to lead Can Do Canines into its next season,” Johnson said. Serving people and interacting with dogs are passions for Johnson. 

Johnson joined the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners in 2009. During his time on the county board, he has focused his attention on issues of public safety, fiscal restraint and ensuring that programs produce measurable positive results and outcomes. 

“It has been a tremendous honor to serve my constituents on the board for nearly three terms,” Johnson said. “While I’ve certainly raised a lot of questions over the years about programs and spending priorities, I’ve found the commitment of our staff and the quality of county leadership to be exceptional.” 

Born in Detroit Lakes, Johnson graduated from Detroit Lakes High School in 1985. He holds degrees from Concordia College and Georgetown University Law School, earning a J.D. in 1992. 

He worked as an employment attorney at law firms in Chicago and Minneapolis, worked for Cargill and founded his own firm 20 years ago providing training and investigation services to businesses throughout the country. 

Johnson was a member of the Minnesota House from 2001 to 2006 and twice was the Republican nominee for governor. He is married with two children. 

Johnson has held numerous leadership positions at organizations including Northwest Twin Cities Young Life, Community Action Partnership of Hennepin County, and Governor’s Workforce Development Council. He is the author of two books on positive family, personal and professional relationships. 

He also recently collaborated to launch the non-profit organization, Northstar Neighbor, which exists to spread a message of hope and compassion by serving our neighbors who are at higher risk of COVID-19 complications. Northstar Neighbor has grown to nearly 1,000 volunteers in an extremely short period of time. 

Can Do Canines is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities by creating mutually beneficial partnerships with specially trained dogs. Learn more at .

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