In a new series, with photographs and interviews conducted by Monwell Frazier, DNO explores how locals are using quarantine to draw new plans and rediscover old paths. Diego Perez from Uptown shares how he’s gone from personal trainer to opening Underdog Academy to rehabilitate our city's toughest dogs.
So basically, tell us who Diego Perez is?
So I was incarcerated from the time I was 18 until I was 27 years old, and while I was incarcerated was when I got my personal training certification. So when I got out, that was my main goal at the time, so that was the company that I started for the first three years after I got out. From there, I always had dogs and I was always training my dogs, and that's kind of when I fell in love with training and I started to help other people out with their dogs. Maybe a year and a half ago, two years ago is when I decided that that's the career path that I wanted to take. The personal training, the industry of being at the gym and stuff is super saturated. I mean, everybody is a trainer and I saw that the market for dog training, especially here, is completely empty.
What is the difference between certification for personal training and dog training?
In order to work at a gym, the majority of time, you have to have one. And for dog training, you don't, so anybody could be a trainer. So that's one of the things that will set a good trainer apart from another one is if they have their certification, you can get any kind of certification online that you need. So yeah, I've been approved to take the exam for my CPDT, which is the top dog trainer exam, so I'll be taking that in March.
In June 2020 you opened Under Dog Academy, what made it feel like the time to do it?
COVID, health, actually. I was at home a lot more. I didn't have work through training at the gym. I had started my internship with training dogs before the big quarantine — I mentored under someone else. I started the internship before, but then right when COVID hit, it kind of put the brakes on everything. We weren't able to go to the SPCA for classes and stuff, so my fiance and I, we just started this spitball idea. She's going to quit her job soon to help me.
It just seemed like the best time since we were home and we had all this time and I was able to kind of create the idea and plan it out.
How's it been going since you opened?
It's been going great! I'm actually kind of surprised by the amount of people that continue to reach out to me. Like I said if I do an ad on Instagram, I have to stop the ad just because the amount of people that need dogs to be trained, especially right now, a lot of people during quarantine adopted a dog, and now the dogs have now been inside for six months. They haven't been around other people, they haven't been around other dogs, so you're starting to see all these behavior issues come out, so we're calling that the quarantine bugs.
So all these dogs that have not been socialized at all are now having all these behavior issues. I mean, it's a lot like us. We don't like to be inside for that long, but at least we know what's happening. Then also, these dogs have their mom and dad's home all day, every day, and then now they're starting to go back to work and these dogs are having all these anxiety issues and stuff.
What a change. It's like as people we're going through that too. What inspired you to name it Underdog Academy?
I threw around so many names. I would ask people for ideas. I've always kind of considered myself an underdog. I've kind of had to fight against a lot of odds, especially being incarcerated before and just being able to give the animals another chance. A lot of these dogs that have really bad behavior issues, if they don't get the help they need, they could be sent back to the pound and stuff. I've just always been one to root for the underdog and kind of help people out as well. That was kind of the idea.
“A lot of these dogs that have really bad behavior issues, if they don't get the help they need, they could be sent back to the pound and stuff. I've just always been one to root for the underdog and kind of help people out as well.”
It's cool how the name kind of really encapsulates that. What inspires you to continue growing and discovering these new pets in the way that you do?
I've been super just amazed at the support that I've had from my family and friends, so I've just always wanted to kind of make them proud and to kind of be able to give back in any way that I can for them. I surprised myself with the amount of stuff that I've done and want to do, so there was for sure a little bit of a lack of confidence at first, but now that I can see what I'm able to do and my background at this point doesn't really matter. The skies are blue, to be honest.
So what do you see happening in terms of growth in the next year?
In the next few years I would like to have an actual place for a daycare, a place where I can actually train dogs to have other trainers come there to train dogs, but have an actual spot in New Orleans.
Awesome. Tell me about your DNO tattoo.
So February 1, 2008, I knew that I wanted to get this tattoo. It was Krewe D’Etat night for Mardi Gras. I went to Pigment on Magazine Street. I think it was three o'clock or something, so it was a little bit before the parade.
I wish I remember how much it cost, I think it was like $150. It hurt like hell and I swore that I would never get another tattoo again, and I wish that I remembered the chick's name, but it was also her birthday because she had some ones pinned to her shirt and then when she grabbed my ID, she was like, "Wait a second." So yeah, so that was really cool and I'd love to know who that was and I just can't remember.
So what resonated with you with the design?
So back when I was 18, I had a mohawk, so the spikes and the mohawk were just like... That was it. I always thought the jaw looked a lot like the boot, even though it's not, I just always thought it did. And the fleur-de-lis is pretty representative of us – so yeah, it was just everything that I love in a single image.
“...there was for sure a little bit of a lack of confidence at first, but now that I can see what I'm able to do and my background at this point doesn't really matter. The skies are blue.”