SIT, STAY, SPEAK

ANNALISSA JOHNSON:
FROM PUPPIES TO POLITICS
By Maka Boeve

Tenacious is the best way to describe Annalissa Johnson. “Work harder. Work smarter,” is her motto. Her work ethic has paid off in both her professional and political careers. Johnson has not only built a successful dog training business, but has also been Rochester City Council’s Ward 6 member since 2016.  

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

Johnson was raised on a farm in rural northwestern Iowa. Despite a childhood fear of dogs, she still pursued her dreams of working with animals. “When I was 4, I was bitten in the face by a Saint Bernard, our family dog, and had about 20 stiches,” Johnson cringes. “I was terrified of dogs.” 

Her initial desire to become a veterinarian was thwarted because she didn’t quite “get” chemistry. She ended up being an environmental sciences major with a political science minor because, according to her, “Every environmental issue is politically-based.”

Not knowing what she wanted to do after graduation, she moved to Rochester and worked a few odd jobs. “It’s a weird lineup of how I got to where I am,” Johnson reminisces. “I was a tattoo artist and did bartending and retail too.”  

FINDING HER PASSION

Then, she got dogs—first, a Rottweiler/Husky mix for protection, but then a Golden Retriever for companionship. After paying someone else to train her dog, Johnson decided to pursue a career in dog training. She enrolled at the renowned National Canine School in Columbus, Ohio—the oldest training facility in the country. 

When she started Good Dog Camp in 2003, she traveled to clients’ homes and ran workshops.  “At the time, I thought I knew everything about dog training,” says Johnson. Now I realize I didn’t know anything. Every dog teaches me something different, whether it is about dog training or about myself.” 

The timing of starting a business wasn’t ideal. “Starting in the middle of a recession, especially one that required being outside in the winter, seemed like a brilliant idea,” Johnson says sarcastically. But despite the tough times, this helped develop her strength of character. “Thank goodness for the Rochester Greeters because I lived on those books of coupons,” Johnson laughs. “During that time, I realized I needed to make sacrifices to meet my goals. My house was always so cold. Yet, I wanted this business to work, so I just made it work,” she says, knowing she ultimately wanted to do dog training full-time. Now, Good Dog Camp has a permanent home near Cooke Park.

CALL TO SERVE

Johnson got involved in the community through Chamber of Commerce meetings. She has championed the Boys & Girls Club of Rochester and participated in other charity events, even doing ballroom dancing for a good cause. 

She got interested in politics initially because of the City’s leash laws and now considers herself a champion of the underdog. “I like to help the quiet people,” she says, “the ones whose voices are not often heard.” She is also focused on leaving a legacy, especially concerning environmental issues.  

LEAVING A LEGACY

“We are not building the city for us; we are building the city for our kids and our kids’ kids, and that second generation is who we have to keep in mind with every decision that we make,” Johnson says. “I’m not going to lie, sometimes I forget, but then I refocus and try again,” she admits. “This may mean that some people are unhappy with me, but I need to think about what is best for the future. We must lead by example.”  

“We are known as the Med City and should care,” Johnson passionately explains. “We should be leaving things better for our children.”

As for her fear of dogs, Johnson says she still has brief panic attacks if a dog is near her face. However, she now has a Bernese Mountain Dog that looks very similar to a Saint Bernard. Johnson smiles and says, “The capacity of love is immense.”