What does the co-founder of a global premium pet food company do once he’s sold the business? He teaches dogs to surf, of course.
During the 25 years he was President of Natural Balance Pet Foods Inc., Joey Herrick donated millions of pounds of pet food to Animal Rescue groups. He was particularly incensed by the overbreeding of pets that leads to 80, 000 being put down each week in the USA alone. As soon as he had a bit more time on his hands, he set up the Lucy Pet Foundation to tackle the problem with a programme of neutering.
And, he needed a novel way to get his message out there.
Blooloop spoke with Joey Herrick, whose innovative, record-breaking surfing trailer – complete with American Wave Machine surf simulator – is set to begin a tour of the USA, auditioning the surfing skills of…dogs.
Back in 2012, his float showcasing surfing dogs made a sizeable splash in the Rose Parade. Held every year on New Year’s Day, the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena California is huge celebration of flowers, music and sport.
The float, built by Fiesta Parade Floats, featured an American Wave Machines (AWM) surf simulator – specially customised at Herrick’s request, for dogs.
Herrick comments: “When I first called American Wave Machines and told them what I wanted to do they thought I was crazy. But we did it, and it worked very well.”
American Wave Machines’ PerfectSwell® is the first surf pool system capable of creating an authentic surfing experience (on real surfboards for people and now dogs!) that delivers 100% real ocean dynamics found in nature .
AWM founder Bruce McFarland says, “We love surfing. Dogs love surfing. Leave it to Joey Herrick to bring it all together.
“We were contacted by Joey in 2011 when he was running Natural Balance Pet Food. In 2010 and 2011 he won the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest float, and the world’s heaviest float respectively for the Rose Parade. He came to us because, for the 2012 Rose Parade, he wanted the world record for the heaviest and longest float – which he achieved.
“This time around, he came to us from Lucy Pet Foundation with a similar concept, a wave machine for dogs.”
Not your average, everyday commission. But, AWM weren’t about to be put off by a little thing like that.
“The challenges in designing for a mobile environment are trying to maximize the wave size while at the same time minimizing weight and footprint. With programmable controls, PerfectSwell® waves can vary in shape and size, creating a dynamic programme for the surfing contests. The system components are very high quality and able to withstand a mobile environment over a long period, ” explains McFarland.
“We’ll be testing the system up at Fiesta Floats with the project leader Tim Estes, who is an extremely talented builder.”
The Rose Parade float featured seven lively canines, including the celebrated Tillman, the Skateboarding Bulldog – surfing simultaneously on 65-foot long waves. It generated huge amounts of attention, raising awareness of the plight of unwanted pets who end up in shelters due to overpopulation.
So, are some breeds naturally better at riding the waves? Not according to Herrick.
“When we did the Rose Parade, we held auditions for dogs, and even little dogs could do it. Bulldogs were great at it; the Briard was great at it; Golden Retrievers are great – dogs that really love water can do this. They take to the board really quickly, and then as soon as the wave comes the trainer releases the board. The dogs do really well with it. We’ve even had Chihuahuas do great with it.”
Herrick’s portable version of this surfing float, comprising a bespoke-made-for-dogs American Wave Machine on a custom-built trailer will tour the country throughout 2016, auditioning surfing dogs:
“…in Chicago, New York, Florida: all over the place.”
The serious purpose behind the fun is, of course, to promote the cause closest to his heart:
“I started the Lucy Pet Foundation about two years ago. I had a pet-food company for twenty-five years, and when I sold it I sat my wife down and said: ‘listen – I’m going to take a million dollars and start a pet foundation.’
“And my wife said – ‘OK.’ And I said, ’ I’m never going to make a dollar from this. I’m never going to take a salary.’ And my wide said, ‘OK: but what about travelling?’ I said, ’ yes – we are going to travel. We’re going to Bakersfield, Lancaster, all the places around California where there’s pet over-population.’”
This was not quite the travel she had been envisaging for this stage of their lives.
“But that’s what we’ve done. We’ve been spaying and neutering pets here in LA sometimes for free; sometimes low-cost; sometimes it’s sponsored. It’s an amazing amount of money that’s needed to do this. And, in two years we’ve become very respected in the area: the City of Los Angeles has just given us a contract to neuter 10, 000 animals over the next couple of years.”
The foundation uses a “spay/neuter mobile” to travel around providing inexpensive surgeries for the pets of people without the resources to afford to pay a vet.
Herrick also decided to start a Lucy Pet Product line with the idea that the profits would go towards funding the Lucy Pet Foundation. As he had just sold his pet-food company, he decided to concentrate initially on producing a range of high-quality pet grooming products, fronted by charismatic dogs.
“I’ve just launched a shampoo and conditioning line that Petco picked up nationally, and then Central Pet and General, two large independent distributors in the country, took it, too, so the products are launching on a national basis here in the next two or three weeks.”
Surfing stars, please take a bow (wow)
Lucy, the dog who gave her name to Herrick’s foundation, had a rough start in life.
“Lucy’s great, ” says Herrick. “We lived in the mountains. I was out of town and my son, who was ten at the time (he’s nineteen now) looked out of the window, and saw this little animal. He thought it was a baby coyote, and so called for my wife, Linda, and my wife said, that’s not a coyote: it’s a dog. So they went and caught Lucy…”
The dog was in a bad way, malnourished, with overgrown nails, missing chunks of fur and tyre marks where she had been hit by a car. She was also expecting puppies. Herrick’s family adopted Lucy and one of her pups, finding homes for the rest among their friends.
“So we’ve had Lucy on TV shows here, and we take her to things.”
Then there is Surfin’ Jack, ‘spokesdog’ for the product line, whose name is on one of the ranges of pet shampoos and conditioners.
Herrick found Jack in the East Valley Los Angeles Animal Shelter when he was looking for a dog to appear both in a Super Bowl commercial and to advertise the Lucy Pet products. A photogenic Golden Retriever, Jack was the quarterback in the Super Bowl commercial and lives part-time with Herrick, and the rest of the time with top animal trainer Mathilde deCagney. deCagney also trains Eddie, the dog on the long running hit TV sitcom, Frasier, and whose numerous credits include Marley & Me, Hotel for Dogs, My Dog Skip, Homeward Bound, Max and As Good as it Gets.
Surfin’ Jack (short for Jackie) has learned to do quite a few tricks: rarely seen without shades, Hawaiian shirt and surfboard, she is another lucky dog.
And then there is the famous – and versatile – bulldog, Tillman, who featured on the surfing float during the 2012 Rose Parade, but who is actually best known for skating, rather than surfing. He has been known to try his paw at snowboarding, too.
“When I owned the pet-food company we had Tillman (pictured below), really the world’s best skateboarding bulldog. We had 4 million internet hits and when we got done with him we had 130 million. We did a lot of things with him – we had him all round the country, skating at the White House, and down the halls of Congress, in Elvis Presley’s driveway. He was an amazing dog. He’s now retired.
“I think people are just amazed that dogs take so well to skating and, to a greater extent, surfing. They truly love to do it. When Tillman was skating, it wasn’t something that was trained. It was just something that he did.
“I know many trainers who have tried to train dogs to skate, but it didn’t work. I’ve never seen any dog do what Tillman did. He was just a natural – anything with wheels in motion, he just loved.
“We were checking into the Hilton Hotel in New York on Avenue of Americas and his owner didn’t have him on a leash – he was just standing there. Tillman saw a bellman cart rolling by. It was empty. He hopped on it… Another time, we were in Florida shooting some segments for an Animal Planet and Hallmark TV show we did, called ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’ : it was about Tillman and his posse of bulldogs as they travelled around the country.
“We were shooting on the beach, and there was a strip of concrete for skateboards. Again, Tillman wasn’t on leash. A nineteen year old kid began skating past – I know he was nineteen because I had to go talk to him because Tillman chased him, knocked him off his skateboard and the kid fell into the sand, and Tillman took the skateboard and continued on skating down the path.
“The kid wasn’t hurt and thought it was the funniest thing that had ever happened to him. We were sad because we didn’t have cameras rolling on him.”
The trailer is due to roll out any day now.
“Then what we’ll do is send it across the rest of the country, we’ll put the tour together and map out which cities it’s going to. The whole goal as it goes across the country is to find dogs to be on the surfing float in the 2017 Rose Parade. Next August we aim to be in Times Square looking for the best surfing dogs in New York.”
This will be the sixth Rose Parade float Tim Estves has built for Herrick. All have been award-winning, and have set Guinness World Records for the longest and heaviest floats.
“With the surfing float we actually broke our own Guinness record for the world’s longest and world’s heaviest, and I guess in 2017 we’re going to break our own record again. We’ll make it longer and heavier.”
He is keen to reiterate the point of all this:
“In this country we euthanise about 80, 000 dogs and cats every week.
“This wave machine going around the country will have all the news stations covering it; it’ll get tons of press. Every time there’s a news crew, whoever’s out with the wave machine will be talking about the huge number of dogs and cats each week being euthanised and how we have to get responsible here, so, like the Super Bowl commercial, it’s going to bring awareness of the problem.
My goal is to really try to unite everybody and fix this stuff.”