People actually do show up at the Downtown Farmers Market. Handsome couples. Striking men. Beautiful women. They are dressed in all types of fashions, from easy and relaxed to hipster heaven. They promenade up and down Court Avenue, showing off their most recent piercings or tattoos or beach-ready bodies. Every Saturday. And the children, my goodness, brigades of children in strollers, or strapped to their moms or dads, or toddling unsteadily down the main concourse. There is no getting around it, the Downtown Farmers Market is a people-watching paradise.
They’re watching the dogs. German Shepherds, Labs, Poodles, Great Danes, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Golden Retrievers. Mutts and purebreds. You name it, that dog is at the market. And there is a crowd of people petting, stroking, poking and generally being silly in front of that dog. And heaven help you if there is a puppy. The sidewalk shuts down in adoration. No kidding. It becomes a dog-a-palooza, right there in downtown Des Moines.
And, surprisingly, most of these dogs are pretty well behaved. What is going on?
“I try not to go to the farmers market because I’ve trained half the dogs down there.”
A boyish grin breaks over the large man’s face as he tells me this. I almost expect the “aw shucks” of a schoolboy up to mischief. Is he pulling my leg?
“You’ll hear ‘phooey’ echoing across the downtown market crowd. Phooey means ‘No — Stop — Don’t.’ If one of my dogs hears phooey, it means, ‘don’t make me come and help you not do what you’re doing.’ ”
Derrick Honore has a deep well of a voice. There is no breath in it, no nasal sounds. It echoes up through his large body as a boom reverberates from way down in the shaft. People and dogs stand to attention.
“In dog training, the middle man is the correction or redirection that bridges the gap between the command and the response. It’s the dog’s job to cut out the middleman during training. My philosophy of training dogs uses their predatory instinct and their ability at self-discovery. I use what dogs already know against them to train them.”
Honore is a graduate of the Tom Rose School for Professional Dog Trainers in Missouri. He has trained dogs professionally now for more than 15 years under the business name of Kai’s Obedience Dog Training, named after Honore’s first dog. He is a businessman. He is a professional. And watching the group of dogs he’s training, he gets the job done. He will train your dog, and with some luck, he’ll train YOU to not mess up your dog’s training.
“You are the hard one to train,” says Honore with a smile. “Never your dog.”
Ah, but his life was not always so straightforward.
“I am a thug. But I’m not that kind of thug.” Honore hesitates, thinking. “Although I still don’t take no shit.”
Raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Honore had a complicated life. Left to his own devices as a young kid, he gravitated to stealing and fighting. But dogs were a big part even back then.
“As a kid, I used to run from one neighborhood to another neighborhood in Baton Rouge. I’d steal people’s dog. I’d bring it over to my neighborhood, train it and sell it to someone else.”
Honore shakes his head at those hard times.
“As crappy as that was, I didn’t think about it until I got older. When those kids came out the next morning and saw that puppy wasn’t there, it must have been a terrible feeling for them. It is a terrible feeling for me to think about what I done as a kid.”
Honore is not proud of his past. He is also not ashamed of it. He stresses to me that he is no rags-to-riches story. But he believes he’d be in prison or dead if he was back in Baton Rouge. He attributes much to a woman who ran a horse stable in Iowa City and assisted him in going to dog training school, to parents of an ex-girlfriend who became his surrogate parents, and especially to his grandmother.
“My grandmother pushed me hard. She didn’t push me hard by being hard, she pushed me hard by expecting good from me even though I was bad. So, I spent time trying to be good, even though I was actually bad. Even though I was bad, I tried to spend more time with her to be good.”
“She was one of those soft grandmas. She got up in the morning and made biscuits in the morning. She was the grandmother everyone dropped the kids off with. She wasn’t the typical ghetto grandmother that beat your ass and threw you outside no matter how hot it was. She would always tell me, ‘Don’t quit, dear. Your daddy tell you you ain’t shit, everyone tell you you ain’t shit — keep going.’ I was supposed to be the crazy one. I am. Dogs keep me mellow.”
And he is mellow as he laughs. And he is mellow as he talks politely to his clients. And he is mellow as he professionally takes care of business.
“People trust me with thousands of dollars when they give me their dog. I come in hat to the back, shoes untied, and I expect you to write me a check. I can’t be bullshit. I can’t snow people. I am always respectful. I may hurt your feelings, but my heart has nothing but respect.”
No doubt. As for your dog…
“Don’t make me come and help you not do what you’re doing.” CV
Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.