Hebert Shifts from CPA to K9 School Security

Zebra K9 Lucy in a classroom

Not long before a distant relative was among four students killed in the 2021 Oxford High shooting, Northern Michigan University alumnus John Hebert had co-founded a new business that provides full-time, onsite K9 teams certified for firearm and explosives detection to schools and other public entities. The irony of the timing is not lost on Hebert, but he said his personal connection to the tragedy only fueled his drive to offer additional measures to enhance safety for students, teachers and staff.

Seven Michigan school districts, including two in the Upper Peninsula, have contracted with his business for K9 services. The teams are funded through Michigan school aid funding earmarked for improved safety and mental health. Their ability to detect potentially dangerous devices can be a proactive, visual deterrent, Hebert said, and the presence of a dog in an educational setting can provide greater peace of mind and social/emotional support.

The first iteration of the business also included breeding the dogs, but Hebert called that “a very capital-intensive exercise, especially with a pandemic.” They backed off that function to focus strictly on team training and certification, typically an eight-week process, followed by placements in schools, hospitals and other locations. The restructured and rebranded Zebra K9—"a deliberately non-dog name intended to be more memorable,” Hebert added—is based in Waterford, Mich.

“Our canine training staff has decades of law enforcement K9 training, patrol and leadership experience,” said Hebert, who graduated from NMU with a double major in accounting and economics in 1968. “I didn't have any relevant experience like that; I was a CPA and did public accounting for 40 years. But in that capacity, I dealt with a lot of business owners, and a large part of my practice was for nonprofits. As I approached retirement, I needed to figure out what to do with my life because you can't play golf all the time.”

Hebert said he knew he wanted to devote some newfound retirement flexibility to community service and volunteering. He was previously recruited by the Leader Dogs for the Blind organization and served on its board and in various capacities for 14 years.

“That really developed my love of dogs and my appreciation for what they're capable of doing and how they can be trained to help people in various ways,” he said. “That, combined with the unfortunate reality of school shootings led to my business partner and I starting a K9 safety company. Now we're in the process of having one dog trained specifically to detect vaping because the use of marijuana has become a huge concern in the schools.”

Hebert said he supplies the financial acumen and serves in an advisory role rather than in the frontline, day-to-day operations. His co-founder has more entrepreneurial experience. Though Zebra K9 is based downstate, its reach has extended to the Upper Peninsula, in part because Hebert is an Escanaba native and one of the company's trainers was formerly stationed in the region with the Michigan State Police. St. Ignace schools added Zebra K9 Nova in January. Rudyard Area Schools welcomed yellow lab Gator and his handler in April.

Hebert began his post-secondary education at the University of Michigan, but found he was unprepared for its “gigantic” size, which he found intimidating. He transferred to Northern and immediately sensed it was the right fit.

“I just fell in love with it,” he said. “I got involved with a fraternity and the accounting club and participated in a lot of activities. I also learned from fantastic professors. Tom Holmstrom stands out to me as the best I had, and I still see him when I'm in Marquette. Northern portrays itself as appealing primarily to people who love the outdoors, and it certainly does offer that benefit, but the bottom line is that anyone can get a great education there. I've spent quite a bit of time on campus since then because I recruited accounting students up there for a long time and I also served on the NMU Foundation Board for 14 years.”

After graduating from Northern, Hebert stayed on for the summer to complete some graduate courses, but was soon drafted into the U.S. Army for two years. When he got out of the service, he embarked on his intended career as a CPA.

“There was a representative from a Detroit firm that recruited me at a career fair on campus, and he became a mentor of mine. He actually wrote me letters when I was in Vietnam. We kept in contact and he held a job for me for when I got out. I moved down to Detroit, where I had never been before I started working there. There were a number of mergers over the years, so I ended up with progressively larger firms. I ended my career at Plante Moran.”

Retirement affords Hebert several opportunities each year to travel over the Mackinac Bridge to visit his sister in Marquette or spend time at his family's cottage in Cornell. For more on his Zebra K9 Security Services, visit zebrak9.com.

Handler Carlos with K9 Gator and Rudyard students
Handler Carlos with K9 Gator and Rudyard students
Gator on detection duty
Gator on detection duty
Prepared By

Kristi Evans
News Director

Categories: Alumni