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JAR Interview: Making Waves with Kentucky and Derby

Updated: Jul 29, 2023

A Story of Adventure, Advocacy, and Unbreakable Bonds


Kentucky and Derby, the dynamic duo, flash their matching sunglasses, mohawks, and smiles during our Zoom chat. (Screenshot courtesy of Just Add Rover.)
Kentucky and Derby, the dynamic duo, flash their matching sunglasses, mohawks, and smiles during our Zoom chat. (Screenshot courtesy of Just Add Rover.)

Welcome to Just Add Rover! Today, we're catching a wave with Kentucky Gallahue, a man whose name echoes his birthplace and whose journey is as unique as the bond he shares with his surf-loving dog, Derby. Adopted in 2012 and then hitting the road from Atlanta to the sunny beaches of San Diego in 2016, Derby discovered a natural talent for surfing that even outpaced his owner.


In our chat, Kentucky opens up about their worldwide escapades, their experiences as competitors on the Amazon Prime series 'The Pack', Derby's favorite travel destination, and their recent plunge into the world of children's books. So, wax your boards and get ready to ride this tale of companionship and adventure. Let's dive into Kentucky and Derby's remarkable story!


(Editor's Note: The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.)



Takeaways from Our Interview with Kentucky

  • Community Engagement and Giving Back: Kentucky and Derby showcase a strong commitment to their community, emphasizing involvement in local activities and charitable donations.

  • Interactive Books: Kentucky's innovative interactive books on Derby's adventures leverage QR codes to bring the stories to life through related videos.

  • Fun and Adventure: Their love for fun, adventure, and novelty defines Kentucky and Derby's journey, spanning from surfing, dog festivals, to their participation in 'The Pack'.


Amy: It's very nice to meet you. I'm Amy from Just Add Rover, a platform devoted to championing inclusivity within the world of dog-related events. We're excited to explore your unique journey with Derby. Not only his surfing prowess and your time on the Amazon Prime reality show, “The Pack” but also his role as a therapy dog. Plus, your vibrant clothing line and your book. You've accomplished so much! Can we start with Derby's surfing? How did you discover his unique talent?


Kentucky: Yes, Amy, thank you for having us! As you can see, Derby and I are all about the matchy-matchy. [Kentucky removes Derby’s sunglasses.] But, hey man, we're inside. Let's give everyone a good look at your pretty brown eyes.


Amy: Hi, Derby!


Catching waves together at Ocean Beach Dog Beach – a 'pawsome' duo in their natural habitat! (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)
Catching waves together at Ocean Beach Dog Beach. (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)

Kentucky: So, Derby and I had moved out to San Diego, California, seven years ago. We had been living in Atlanta. Surfing was not in our cards. First thing we did when we came to California was to go to the beach. Derby had never seen the ocean before. I immediately bought our first surfboard at Costco and started learning at Ocean Beach Dog Beach, where the waves are pretty gentle. Initially, I thought Derby would just play on the beach while I surfed, but he followed me into the water. So, I put him on the board, gave a gentle push into a small wave, and he rode it all the way to the beach. I was thrilled but also a bit mad because he learned how to surf before I did!


Amy: Wow!


Kentucky: Yeah, we casually played around with surfing until one day this dude informed us about dog surfing competitions in San Diego. So, we entered one at Imperial Beach. So, I looked it up. Imperial Beach dog surfing competition. I entered us. I had never been to a human surf competition, let alone a dog surf competition. So, I had to watch videos. I show up to the beach with a backpack, a surfboard, my dog, and that's it. I look around and people are setting up tents. They're setting up their whole camp for the day. I was like, ooh, we're a little unprepared. Even though we were underprepared compared to others, Derby placed fifth or sixth out of 30 dogs, to everyone's surprise.


Amy: Impressive for your first competition!


Kentucky: Exactly! From then, we started participating in four competitions a year, meeting other surf dog families, and it became a family thing. I got better at it so now we surf tandem. Derby also surfs tandem with his best buddy, who is also a hundred-pound Goldendoodle, except he has a man bun and a goatee. We surf up and down the California coast, and we've surfed in Hawaii at Duke's Ocean Fest.


Amy: That's fantastic. I noticed you also recently placed second in the Purina Pro...


Kentucky: Yes! Every year we get invited to the Purina Pro Challenge Incredible Dog Challenge. This year, we came in second. It's just something about us. We're usually the second place or third place, but I always say the best surfer out there is the one having the most fun.


Amy: Yeah, I saw the video on your site, and he looked very relaxed. He looked like he was having a blast.

Kentucky: Yeah, everybody always asks, how do you know Derby likes this? How do you know he wants to do this?... He turns around, runs out to me and like, let's do it again. And as long as he keeps coming back out to me, we'll keep doing it. If he doesn't want to do it, I'm like, cool, we're not doing this.


Venturing into the World of Books and Merchandise


Amy: I agree. Switching gears, can you tell us about establishing the Derby California brand? How has that journey shaped you?


Kentucky: It started when we moved to San Diego, and I was figuring out what to do next in life. We regularly attended a farmer's market at Ocean Beach where I met Bret, who runs a tie-dye brand called Noiice Dyes. I've never been a fan of tie-dye until I saw his unique marble look. So, I got him to tie-dye hoodies for Derby and me, which kick-started the idea for Derby California. It began with tie-dye hoodies and expanded to shirts, cups, stickers, and even tattoos for kids. And most recently, we wrote a children's book.


Taking center stage at UC San Diego bookstore – Derby's adventures are ready to inspire young minds!  (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)
Taking center stage at UC San Diego bookstore – Derby's adventures are ready to inspire young minds! (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)

Amy: Let's hear about the children's book, "The Adventures of Derby California: Derby Learns to Surf".


Kentucky: I've long wanted to share our story—how Derby and I crossed paths, our move to California, and everything that followed. There are countless stories in my head, but the main thing was to shed light on Derby's origins. Many people have this image that Derby was always this way. [He gestures to Derby.] But I adopted Derby from a wonderful family when he was a little over a year old. They realized they couldn't give him the time he deserved. They'd heard from a friend of a friend that I was looking for a Goldendoodle. His original name was Midas.


Amy: Midas!


Kentucky: Exactly, but he didn't seem like a Midas to me. I took it to Facebook and one of my buddies said, hey, man, you should call him Derby and be Kentucky and Derby! Now, back to why we decided to write a book. When I first adopted Derby, he was quite skittish. His world revolved around his family, the backyard, and his kennel. But he trusted me and that’s where our journey begins. So, that's what our story talks about. I kind of built up his confidence, and said, hey man, whatever we do, we'll do it together and we're going to get through this. We aim to tell children that it might be dark and gloomy at times, but there's always people out there that love you and want to take care of you and make sure that you're okay and you can get through anything.


As for the actual writing process, I'd been toying with the idea for a long time, especially during the pandemic. I struggled with a few attempts at writing the book because translating my thoughts to paper is not my strongest suit. Luckily, my boss and good friend, Glenn Millar, came on board. He helped me write the book, and for about four months we sat together after work, fleshing out my ideas into a narrative. My illustrator, Ashley Lanni, she's fantastic.


Just like anything else, I have an idea. I'll put it out in the world and see what happens. I reached out to all his Derby's Instagram followers, and I said, hey, I need an illustrator. From about 30 volunteers, I selected Ashley based on her interpretation of how Derby and I would look as cartoons.


Amy: Smart move, Kentucky.


Kentucky: Yeah, her depiction was exactly what I had been envisioning.


An Interactive Tale: QR Codes

Zoom screenshot of Kentucky showcasing a unique interactive feature in his picture book – a QR code that brings Derby's adventures to life! (Photo credit: Amy Shaw/Just Add Rover)
Zoom screenshot of Kentucky showcasing a unique interactive feature in his picture book – a QR code that brings Derby's adventures to life! (Photo credit: Amy Shaw/Just Add Rover)

Amy: And she handled the illustrations for the coloring book as well?


Kentucky: Yes, she did. The coloring book offers kids the chance to play around with Derby's mohawk color. What sets our book apart is its interactive nature. It contains QR codes linking to videos of the real-life events the book describes. When kids scan the codes, they're directed to a three-minute video showcasing Derby and me in action. This feature has been a real hit with children who sometimes can't believe Derby is real until they see the videos.


Amy: That's a great idea. Where can people purchase your book?


Kentucky: The book, as well as the coloring book, is available on our website, derbycalifornia.com, or on Amazon at derbybook.com. Just search Derby, California, Surf Dog, and you'll find us.


Amy: It's amazing that he's also a therapy dog. Do you read your book to children when you visit schools and libraries?


Kentucky: After our TV appearance, we became a certified therapy team with Love on a Leash. We've been visiting nursing homes, hospitals, and schools. Derby is a natural.


Amy: I also heard that you've been teaching others to surf with their dogs at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego? I had interviewed Jessica, their PR Director, for a previous piece I did on PAWmicon. I didn't know they had surfing there too!


Kentucky: Yes, one of the surf competitions we do every year is at Delmar Dog Beach, which is held by the Helen Woodward Animal Center for their Surf Dog-a-thon. I got to know the people who run it. We told them that we'd love to help in any way. They told us about these clinics they hold every year to show people how to surf with their dogs. We volunteer our time to teach these people. All the proceeds from the clinics go to the Helen Woodward Animal Center. A portion of our hoodie sales also goes to them.


Kentucky and Derby at the Bark for Life of San Diego event, showcasing their colorful tie-dye merch and captivating children's book. (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)
Kentucky and Derby at the Bark for Life of San Diego event, showcasing their colorful tie-dye merch and captivating children's book. (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)

Amy: Do you sell your hoodies and other merchandise at festivals?


Kentucky: Yes, we do! San Diego is probably the most dog-friendly city I've ever been to. There's always a dog festival happening somewhere. We started off by just attending, but now we sell our merchandise and share our story. Recently, we were judges at the Cardiff Dog Days of Summer costume contest.


Amy: Have you had any special moments at these festivals?


Derby's Pawtigraph: A Unique Mark of Affection


Kentucky: The best experiences are when kids recognize us from the show, when they say Derby was their favorite. They sometimes bring us pictures they've drawn or show us they're wearing our shirts. We love autographing books and Derby does his own "pawtigraph."


Amy: How do you do the "pawtigraph"? Do you dip his paw?


Kentucky: A friend came up with the idea. He asked for an ink print of Derby's paw. Then he sent back a rubber stamp with Derby's pawprint. Derby has been trained to tap things, so he can tap the stamp.


Amy: I've read that you can do paw prints with non-toxic tempera paint too, but making a stamp is a good idea.


Kentucky and Derby all set to 'pawtograph' their books - bringing a personal touch to their storytelling adventure in Atlanta, GA! (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)
Kentucky and Derby all set to 'pawtograph' their books - bringing a personal touch to their storytelling adventure in Atlanta, GA! (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)

Kentucky: Yeah, a rubber stamp and some ink... We put it everywhere!


Amy: Do you have any tips for others who might be thinking of participating in a festival of their own?


Kentucky: Sure do, Amy. The biggest thing is to ensure your dog is comfortable around crowds, particularly other dogs.


Amy: Makes sense.


Kentucky: When you're raising a dog, once they've had their shots, my rule is 90 people in 90 days. Every day, introduce them to someone new or another dog. Familiarize them with different situations as much as possible after they've had their shots, getting them used to all kinds of interactions. Derby took some time to adjust to playing with other dogs, but now, he's more relaxed than I could've ever imagined. Remember, it doesn't happen overnight. You'll need patience, treats, and plenty of love.


Amy: I noticed you rewarding him with treats even while you're talking with me.


Kentucky: Well, everyone thinks Derby’s so well-trained, but he's still a dog. His thought process goes something like, "If I'm going to sit here, you better be giving me treats."


Reminiscing ‘The Pack’: Unforgettable Moments


Amy: So, let's circle back to “The Pack.” You mentioned earlier that you participated in the Amazon reality series. Can you share a particularly memorable experience from the show?


Kentucky: One would be how we got on the show. I had created an Instagram account for Derby and one day, we got a DM [direct message]. At first glance, I'm like, nope, delete. I deleted it.


Amy: Wait, you deleted it?


Kentucky: I did, yeah. Later, another surf dog mom told me about the same opportunity. At that time, my fiancé, now my wife, she said, let me submit something. So, she submitted it. They responded immediately, asking us to get on a Zoom call. It took a few more Zoom calls before I fully grasped that this was a real show, produced by Amazon. It's funny how I almost threw this opportunity away.


Amy: Literally, oh wow. That's a good story.


Kentucky: Even then, I remained humble, aware that there were many other good dogs out there who could have made it. But I was just happy to be there. Oh, I get to go around the world with my dog? Cool! As for how far we would get, I had no idea...


Ending a successful day at the Ocean Beach Street Fair, Kentucky and Derby share a moment of rest and reflection. Their bond is as inspiring as their adventures. (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)
Ending a successful day at the Ocean Beach Street Fair, Kentucky and Derby share a moment of rest and reflection. Their bond is as inspiring as their adventures. (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)

Amy: And you ended up getting second place, right?


Kentucky: Yes, we did. Seems we're always the runner-up, but you know what? We have fun while we're doing it. We're just happy to be here.


Amy: That was evident when we watched you on the show. It was clear you two were having fun.


Kentucky: People often ask me what my favorite country was to visit. Personally, I loved Costa Rica. I wish we could go back. We didn't have a chance to surf, but I loved it. It was a little warm for Derby, but he enjoyed it too. You know, going through the jungles. Seeing a three-toed sloth right above his head, like what is that? Hearing howler monkeys in the jungle. He's freaking out, as if to say, what is that? I need to get that! But Derby loves Switzerland. He had never seen snow that deep, and he absolutely loves the snow.


Amy: He loves Switzerland?


Kentucky: He sure does! Me? I like snow, but I'm not a fan of the cold weather. You would've seen me bundled up, showing only my eyes, while Derby was out there rolling in the snow.

Kentucky and Derby sporting their trademark blue mohawks, matching Hawaiian shirts, and sunglasses. Living proof that the best adventures start with a grin and a bit of style. (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)
Kentucky and Derby sporting their trademark blue mohawks, matching Hawaiian shirts, and sunglasses. Living proof that the best adventures start with a grin and a bit of style. (Photo courtesy of @derbycalifornia's Instagram.)

Amy: Let's talk about the matching blue mohawks. How did you come up with that idea?


Matching Blue Mohawks: An Iconic Style Statement


Kentucky: Derby is the first dog I've ever had that needed grooming. So, when his hair grew out to the point where I couldn't see his eyes, I decided to get him groomed. I asked the groomer to shave him down and give him a mohawk, similar to the one I had at the time. And that's how Derby got his first mohawk. Later, we met a groomer at the dog beach who offered to dye Derby's mohawk. She uses a vegan dye. The only color she had was blue. Everybody's like, you should dye your mohawk blue. I was like, you're right! So, I dyed mine blue. So, like yeah, that's where it started. That's just kind of been our thing.


Amy: That’s quite unique! Do you have any advice for pet owners who might want to try something new with their dogs?


Kentucky: Absolutely. The key is to start small, reward them as if they've performed the most incredible trick in the world, and be patient. Keep the training sessions short and ensure they're a bit tired so they can focus better.


Amy: That is really good advice!


Kentucky: Over time, Derby began picking up tricks rather easily. Now, if I hide something and tell him to search, he'll find it. One of the most useful tricks is teaching your dog to pick things up for you. For instance, if I ask Derby to fetch the remote, he'll do it.


Looking Ahead: Plans for a Book Series and School Visits


Amy: Thank you for sharing your journey with Derby! Is there anything else you'd like to share?


Kentucky: Just one thing. Derby and I are hoping to start reading at schools across the United States. If you purchase our book on Amazon or our website and want us to read at your school, do let us know. We also have an author's package and a presentation that we can send out. Plus, we're looking for a publisher to help us turn Derby's story into a series. We're doing well, but we'd love to reach more people. In the meantime, we'll keep doing what we do best - putting smiles on everyone's faces.



More Takeaways from Our Interview with Kentucky

  • Celebrate Uniqueness: Kentucky and Derby's unforgettable style and individuality not only sets them apart but reminds us that our differences can be our greatest strengths.

  • Be Memorable: By training Derby to give a pawtigraph, they've taken a simple concept and turned it into something memorable.

  • Embrace Collaboration: Kentucky showcases the power of collaboration, successfully engaging with others to enrich and expand his and Derby's initiatives, demonstrating the value of pooling diverse talents and skills for shared goals.





Many of the photos in this piece are courtesy of Kentucky Gallahue's Instagram account. We thank him for his generosity in sharing these wonderful moments.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Just Add Rover. While we strive to present accurate and reliable information, Just Add Rover does not endorse, approve, or certify such information, nor does it guarantee the accuracy, completeness, efficacy, timeliness, or correct sequencing of such information.



© 2023 Just Add Rover. All rights reserved. This interview has been conducted for www.justaddrover.com and is protected by copyright law. Reproduction of the interview, in whole or in part, is prohibited without prior written consent from Just Add Rover.




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