16 Oct Show Dogs
One man’s journey from the slopes of Mt. Bachelor to Animal Planet
You may have seen his bright yellow pickup cruising the streets of Bend, or caught a glimpse of him on Animal Planet. Or maybe it was the CBS reality show Greatest American Dog or a college football halftime show when you first spotted JD Platt and his pack of highly skilled and high-flying dogs. As the owner of K9 Kings, JD Platt has toured the country far and wide with a dog condo in tow, going from fairs to sporting events, entertaining stadiums full of fans who cheer on Platt and his four-legged companions as the dogs snag Frisbees out of mid air at full stride.
If the world of canine entertainment strikes you as an obscure career choice, you would be right. There are only 11 world-class professional dog entertainment outfits in the U.S., and Platt and his K9 Kings are one of them. And Platt spent some time getting there. Though his dogs are bred runners and jumpers, Platt took a longer road to center stage in the canine entertainment industry. A military brat growing up, Platt landed in Bend in 1979 and began his career as an entertainer by becoming a child Michael Jackson impersonator. In the summers, when he wasn’t moonwalking down Wall Street, he was a DJ, and even worked a stint as a professional break dancer, teaching lessons and competing around Bend.
While he had a talent for captivating audiences, it was downhill skiing that soon became Platt’s most promising endeavor. He competed in the junior Olympics and was considered one of the Northwest’s most promising alpine skiers. That was until Platt came across the then-new sport of snowboarding. “It was one of the two most significant stories in my life—walking away from what was to be a promising career in ski racing to pursue a sport that no one had ever heard of. But I had a vision; I could see where snowboarding was headed as a sport even in those early days,” explains Platt. He went on to enjoy a 20-year career as a professional snowboarder with accolades that include inventing a new trick (the Lien Dracula) and—one of the most coveted honors in the sport—being on the cover of TransWorld SNOWboarding.
It was a chance encounter toward the end of his snowboarding career that would set the stage for the next chapter of his life. One day, Platt went to Bend’s Columbia Park with his new dog Galaxy, an English Pointer-Border Collie mix, that he had gotten for free from an ad in a local paper. He threw some Frisbees and was amazed when Galaxy chased down and caught nearly every disk. It helped that Platt himself was already a professional Frolfer (Frisbee golfer to the layperson), another of the many obscure yet impressive pursuits on his resume. A few days later, while hitch-hiking back from Mt. Bachelor late in the season, he got a ride from a man who later became his mentor and a good friend. “He was a K9 entertainer. At the time I didn’t even know that was a thing, but he told me he was playing NFL halftime shows. After seeing what was possible with Galaxy, I wanted to learn everything he knew,” recalls Platt. It was fortuitous timing as his would-be mentor was already planning his retirement, opening the door for fresh blood to step in.
So in 2000, Platt took his last run as coach and professional snowboarder down Palmer Glacier on Mt. Hood and started the second most significant chapter of his life. He committed to becoming a full-time dog trainer and entertainer. Again, the people in his life were shocked by his decision to leave a promising career behind for something otherwise unknown, but, as in the past, Platt’s vision was clearer than the skeptics’. Though it took some time, he relied on the same confidence he always had in himself. He filled in the blanks by hammering nails working construction and picking up shifts at Bend Pet Express until the phone finally rang. “My first gig was three months straight at Dolly Parton’s theme park in Tennessee—Dollywood. We did a record 252 consecutive shows and from there went on to the fair circuit.”
Since then, Platt and his 11 dogs have traveled to nearly every state in the union, showing off just how fast they can run and how far they can fly. Most of his dogs today are Whippets, though not all. “Whippets were the dogs used to start the sport back in 1974,” he explains, adding that the dog breed can run up to 35 miles per hour. “The guy who held the record for the longest Frisbee toss to a dog used a Whippet, I used a Whippet when I broke his record, and the guy who recently broke my record also used a Whippet.” For Platt, Whippets are tried and true, but recently he has been challenging himself to take on breeds that he is less familiar with. This includes herders like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds. “They want a job, they want to work, they have a mind and body that is geared to do this type of work, they love to play, perform and be in front of people,” he says. Platt also has a terrier who is new to the crew, as well as an American Indian Dog—a rare breed and perhaps the first time it has been used to entertain audiences.
At the end of the day, skills and hard work aside, Platt just wants his dogs to be dogs. “They are all still my pets, and I take care of each dog as if it were my only one.” With man’s best friend as his only co-workers and 38 years and counting in Bend, Platt feels incredibly fortunate. “I still feel like I am just getting started, and I love what I do,” he says