Although your mother probably doesn't recommend hitchhiking, for JD Platt it turned out to be a life changer—in the best possible way. A lifelong and professional snowboarder, in 1996, Platt was hitchhiking back from Mt. Bachelor and a woman picked him up. As an icebreaker, he asked an innocent question—what do you do for a living?—and the answer he received changed his life. Turns out she was a half-time entertainer for the National Football League; specifically, with trained dogs.
The answer was particularly kismet for Platt. Since the age nine, he had a loyal dog, Missy, a German Shepherd, Black Lab mix, who he had taught to pull him around on his skateboard, "My main form of transportation," he recalls. And a week before being picked up hitchhiking, he had been at a dog park in Bend. He told the woman that he had been tossing the Frisbee for his dog, and she had caught seven out of 10. "I tossed pine cones, tennis balls, Frisbees." He convinced the woman to stop by his house, and meet his dog.
John Cusack couldn't have scripted better serendipity. Platt spent the next year traveling with the woman, who mentored him. And he rose quickly in the world rankings as a dog trainer and performance artist, reaching seventh.
"I got the bug," he explained.
By 2000, Platt decided to retire from snowboarding. He said that he took his final run, and then, at the bottom of the mountain, decided to dedicate his career to dog training and performing.
Yet, it still took another four years before he could go fulltime. He picked up odd jobs to make ends meet, and in 2004, was hired by Dollywood, a popular amusement park in Tennessee named after the Country-Western singer Dolly Parton.
Since then, Platt has maintained a brisk road schedule, packed from spring through October. In part, that road travel has earned sponsors like Les Schwab.
It is an elite squad. Only 10 people in the U.S. reportedly make their full-time living as dog presenters and entertainers like Platt. Platt works with 12 different dogs; mostly, he says, herding breeds, terriers and retrievers. But he also has a Whippet and Boston Terrier, which are challenging as a trainer.
Although he hasn't entertained at an NFL halftime yet, he has been just about everywhere else—arena football, college basketball, MLS games, college soccer and county fairs. "A little bit of everything," he admits. Even computer companies have called him to perform at company picnics. "I love every single one I do," he says, but also confesses: "I'd much rather entertain 100,000 than 10 people."
Platt will perform with K9 Kings Entertainment on Wed., July 30 – Sat., August 2 at the Deschutes County Fair, and on Friday, Aug. 8 at the Elks baseball game.