It’s a hot, sunny Monday afternoon, and Lou Mack is at the park, throwing a Frisbee to his dog, Zee, a two-and-a-half-year-old Belgian Malinois mix. Zee races after the plastic flying disc, leaps in the air and easily catches it, having the time of his life—maybe too good of a time. After a few catches, Zee grabs the Frisbee and starts chewing on it.
“C’mon, Zee, we have a show to do,” Mack says as Zee wags his tail and jumps up and down.
Mack and Zee may be at a park, but it’s actually an amusement park called Kings Island, a popular attraction in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. They’re performing in front of an audience of a couple hundred people, including moms, dads and kids.
If you’ve ever thought that your career isn’t very fulfilling, and there’s probably a better way to earn a living—you might be right. That’s exactly what happened with Mack. The 59-year-old has made a thriving career out of throwing Frisbees to dogs. Mack and his canine co-stars, spend the majority of the year touring the country hosting “Jump! The Ultimate Dog Show.”
The Show’s Humble Beginnings
Around 30 years ago, Mack—whose real name is Lou McCammon—was working as a general contractor in Davis, California. He was something of a workaholic, and his business partner suggested that Mack find a hobby to get his mind off the job. That partner happened to organize an annual dog Frisbee-catching competition, and Mack fell hard for the sport after attending. He was enthralled by the dogs’ abilities to jump and catch, and thought that maybe he could get involved.
But Mack wasn’t interested in playing Frisbee every once in awhile. Instead he set his sights on winning the next year’s competition. But there was just one problem—he needed a dog first.
Finding the Perfect Fit
Mack sought out Australian Shepherds since he had admired one that had been victorious at the Frisbee competition he watched. He ultimately found his dog through a breeder in northern California. After playing with the puppy, Mack knew that he was the one. He brought the little guy home and named him Scooter.
Mack and Scooter trained for about six months, often going to the park at 3 a.m. so they could get in some Frisbee time before Mack went to work. All the effort paid off. When the next competition came around, Mack and Scooter won.
“At that point, I really got the bug,” says Mack, who started entering more Frisbee-catching competitions and even performed in a professional football half-time show for the San Diego Chargers. From there, Mack and Scooter began touring the world, performing at sporting events and state fairs.
The Show Gets Even Bigger
Eventually, Mack decided to adopt a second Australian Shepherd, Kirby, to see if he could perform with two dogs. It surprised him to learn that Kirby was even better at catching Frisbees and doing tricks than Scooter.
In 1986, Mack put an end to his contracting business and began making his living strictly as a performer. Since then, he’s continued to train and add dogs to his act—with plenty of success along the way.
During the 1990’s, Mack and his pets performed on shows including “The David Letterman Show” and “Live with Regis and Kathy Lee,” and began traveling to far-flung parts of the planet like the Middle East and the Virgin Islands. In 1997, Scooter retired to Mack’s ranch (where all of Mack’s dogs eventually retire), and passed on in 2001.
Making a Difference for Shelter Dogs
Throughout it all, virtually all of the dogs Mack has included in his shows have come from shelters.
One of Mack’s canine stars has a particularly poignant story. At the Kings Island show, Nubs is the third dog to trot out and showcase his talents. Nubs, a four-year-old Pitbull mix, wins everyone’s hearts immediately because he has three legs.
As he does with all of his star performers nowadays, Mack found Nubs at a shelter in Chico, California during one of his tours, and the plan was to have the dog brought to his ranch in Las Vegas. But at some point before Nubs was placed in his crate, he got loose and was hit by a car. The accident cost Nubbs one of his legs. Nobody from the shelter shared this news with Mack, so when Nubs showed up at his house, he was astonished to see that he had a three-legged dog.
“He was so depressed at first,” Mack recalls. “He just sat in his crate and watched the other dogs play and catch the Frisbee. But eventually, he started coming over and joining in. Soon he was jumping and running around on three feet. Really, he taught himself how to run and jump and catch the Frisbee.”
Nubs, no doubt about it, knows what he is doing. When he runs up on the stage, his energy is infectious. He can’t do everything some of the other dogs do, but Nubs can jump and catch Frisbees with the best of them. “He’s an inspiration to a lot of people,” Mack says. “We’ve had people who have lost their legs come to the show, just to see him and hug him.”
What’s Next for Mack?
Mack hopes that by showing what his shelter dogs can do, other people will consider adopting from rescues and shelters. While Mack has certainly done his part—he has 15 dogs that travel and live with him in a luxury RV—he knows can’t rescue every dog and that he won’t be performing forever.
But for now, Mack’s not thinking about retirement. He spends time when he can with his girlfriend and relishes training his dogs and showing the world what a bunch of former shelter dogs can do.
“I’m living the life,” Mack says. No argument there.
Images: Courtesy Lou Mack