Frank Mallatt is a multifaceted service dog trainer extraordinaire! “I’ve always had a gift with animals, with my autism, it’s always kind of led me that way.” expressed Frank. Autism wasn’t mentioned to him or even entered his realm of daily thoughts until later on in life. He had quite a unique story and connection with his mother. COVID-19 and the passing of his mother caused Frank to pivot the course of his life, pushing him to focus professionally on service dog training. ABILITY’s Chet Cooper connected with Frank and they shared a fascinating conversation.
Chet Cooper: What got you involved in the training of these service dogs?
Frank Mallatt: I started off taking care of my mom. At 35 I got my diagnosis for the autism. Years later my mom came along, she was discovered. We were separated for my whole life until 21 years ago. She’s been with me for 20. She has a 90-second memory, and I within a year realized nobody else wanted to participate with her, basically, and were going to leave her in the care home that she was in at that point. So I went down and got her out of there, and she was with me for the next 20 years until she passed of old age.
Chet: You said a 90-second memory?
Frank: Oh, yeah, I’m sorry, I kind of glazed over that. I can send you the article as well. Yeah, she had a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) when I was about a year old and ended up from a four-month coma to years and years later when she was discovered. She had improved to the point of having a 90-second memory. She had no TBI training or anything like that, 30 years of just basically survival.
Chet: Caused by the TBI?
Frank: Yeah, yeah. Wiley as heck, though. Oh, my God, that lady could run me in circles with the 90 seconds that she had to work with.
Chet: You keep looking at your watch, “I have another 30 seconds!”
Frank: Yeah, sometimes almost on the dot. But as her health—we ate better, more nutritious, that’s how it also helped me to learn my journey working with autism, that a lot of it has to do with how you take care of yourself, in the best-case scenarios. In her case, it wasn’t a mistake, I was really happy I had done it, but I got her in such excellent health condition that she could dance at a three-band festival and be really pissed off if the band was done.
And that’s why she needed a dog, because in between those songs, she wouldn’t remember who she came with or anything like that. So I created a whole world around her with the dogs so that the dogs would go to her in between songs. She would be comforted and know that she was—where she was supposed to go, the dog would bring her to me.
Chet: Did you find that she had an immediate connection with the dogs no matter where she was in the 90 seconds?
Frank: Yeah. I think like me, she had an animal connection, because the more animals I surrounded her with, the more she would stay with that environment. The calmer she was in the long run. I started off with just one dog to keep an eye on her. The dog would even walk her across the street. It looked like she had a leash on the dog, but the dog was actually leashed to her, she was leashed to the dog. That was just a behind-the-scenes type thing. That’s why I’m now making service dogs for children with autism. I know that I can make an ethical—the type of dog that when you do have to tether a child to the dog, they don’t get hurt, that’s the kind of dogs I can produce. Gentle, loving, they will be very caring. But those are very rare, few and far between, luckily.
Chet: How do you choose the type of dog?
Frank: I waited two and a half years for my male dog, I guess it would technically be the stud. I went with poodles because I did my research on dogs. I’ve always worked with dogs out of the dog pound, rescue dogs. They were more in my financial realm, I guess would be the proper way to say it.
I did my research. I decided to make my mom a service dog, and I did a lot of research, and poodles came up as the most Swiss army knife-type dog. They could do anything. They have done anything. And the final capper for me was when I found all the—what little information there was way, way back in the circus days, when circuses were the biggest entertainment you could find, and the poodles were one of the best-taught shows you could see at the circus.
Chet: Yeah, now that you’re saying that, I think I do remember poodles doing tricks in a circus environment.
Frank: Yeah. They think outside the box, and that’s what I created with them, working with the poodles. I’m not only going to stay with poodles, but my gene pool at this point is all poodle. (laughs)
Chet: You’re breeding them as well, then?
Frank: I’ve allowed three litters to be made very carefully. I’m very careful about that. I don’t get them fixed until they’re at least two years old, either. They’re perfectly well behaved. COVID forced us to keep them as a pack, if I could jump the rail here a little bit.
Frank: The only reason I started working with so many dogs at once was because of COVID. Originally, I was just going to copy any other dog-making company and do it exactly like they were doing it, especially once Mom passed. I figured the easiest way would be to copy somebody else.
Chet: You were going to model after others and it wasn’t working for you.
Frank: I was just going to copy other service dog company, where they do one dog at a time, farming them out to different families to train them and such. From COVID, I was forced to keep the first litter, which has turned into my therapy pack, which also trains the dogs underneath them. My personal dog that I waited two and a half years for, I’ve got video of him teaching the first litter the fenceless boundaries of our yard while keeping the puppies inside the yard the entire time. I barely had enough time to run and grab my camera to get a video of him making the last turn of the yard with the puppies.
Chet: That’s wonderful!
Frank: And that’s the litter of puppies that turned into my therapy dogs. They are these rocks that teach all the other dogs. It’s a whole new way of training service dogs as well as allowing a person who has a disability to—who might be on a higher spectrum or whatever you want to call it, to be able to make service dogs and give back to people as opposed to back in the day when I worked 9 to 5 cooking or waiting tables, pretty laborious work.
Chet: You were able to create a model with the dogs that you have now that they might be able to train the trainer.
Frank: Exactly. To a certain point, yeah, that’s the way it kind of works. And the other thing about pack-training the dogs—if they’re going to an autistic person, they have most of the tasks they would need to get to be a legal service dog. They are at the two-year age, so they can go out and learn other tasks, including scent training, specific stuff, life-saving techniques and such. That’s where they would be at. The amazing part of it is one guy—although it needs to be more people, but one autistic person is able to make this many service dogs. This year the dogs that are turning two will be—I think we have six, so we’re looking for six homes at this point.
Chet: Is there a specific type of person you’re looking for to get the dog? You mentioned that you want to have a high-level spectrum, but the autism spectrum is so diverse, do you try to work with the whole spectrum?
Frank: I try to work with the whole spectrum, because dogs are so—I liken them to people. I mean, I understand them better than people, to be honest. They have so many personalities, so many different things that drive them, that I try to introduce the dogs to their clients as a pack, and I let the dog—I watch and I let the dog pick out the client. Does that make sense?
Frank: Okay. That’s something I’ve only been able to do twice, and I’m starting to see the flaw in it as we grow, like having too many dogs in the pack.
Frank: The flaw is that as we grow, we won’t have that group gathering as much as before, and at some point we will have to pre-pick the dog for the person. I’m not looking forward to that, but as we grow, I know it’s part of the transition. What I am doing, though, is, I’m talking to a person out of Florida and another person out of the Mississippi area who is also autistic and loves animals and understands animals more than people, but they’re stuck in dead-in jobs, like Jack in the Box or something like that, which is a high goal for their parents to at least have them stabilized and be able to take care of themselves, but if I can take what we’re doing here and give them an opportunity to start it there, we could really make a huge difference on the service dog industry.
Chet: I always liked that idea of multiplying the efforts and then allowing people—as you know, there’s more than the service dog. There’s the entrepreneurial nature of any business. That becomes a bit of a challenge, but if you can also help them with figuring out how to make it sustainable for them to pay the bills and pay themselves for the work they’re doing, that’s a great model.
Frank: Yeah, that’s what I’m looking forward to, bringing in people who can put that together. My gift is speaking to animals, and I know that. It would take a lot away from me. That’s why we’re still fundraising the way we are, until we get grant writers. Although we do have some help coming. I’m very excited about that. We have a graduating student from Humboldt, that’s now Humboldt Cal Poly, or Cal Poly Humboldt, I don’t know how they word it yet.
Chet: There are only two Cal Polys. You’re saying there will be a third now?
Frank: Humboldt State University is now a Cal Poly.
Chet: I went to Cal Poly Pomona.
Frank: When it was Humboldt State, I went there to a veterans’ Upward Bound program, and that’s where I got labeled, whatever you call it, tested for my autism, which was kind of late.
Chet: Did you happen to hear anything about a princess from the UAE?
Frank: Not to my knowledge.
Chet: I think Sheikha Jameela bint Mohammed Al Qasimi from UAE went to Humboldt. I think she had many university choices, and she chose Humboldt. I know it’s a beautiful area up there, maybe that was part of it.
EDITORS CORRECTION: Sheikha Jameela attended Chico State University and was awarded an honorary PhD.
Frank: Yeah. I lived next to the campus, and there was not a lot, but there were a few really noticeable well-to-do students. They were driving fancier cars than I’ve ever had.
Frank: I got a used one that was in the same realm, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe that!” One year out of high school driving a limited edition BMW.
Chet: I don’t think that was her. She played down any wealth. She’s a very down-to-earth person. She works around disability issues. She created a center that helps children with disabilities, SCHS (Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services). That’s how we met her, at a conference in San Diego called CSUN, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, an assistive technology conference connected to Cal State out of Northridge?
Frank: No. I’ve pretty much lived in a shell with my mom for the past 20 years. I took us off mainstream television and such—I keep saying “such” (laughs)—mainstream television and things for, like, the first year I had Mom. Back then, she would parrot commercials. So if she heard a commercial enough times, she would just—she’d be able to parrot it right back to you.
Frank: Which is amusing, but it got real annoying quickly, so I just turned it into—back then you could get Netflix and there was just you and Netflix and nothing else. The hardest thing was to keep the movies going for her.
Chet: Are you the only child?
Frank: No, there’s another sister and another family member was discovered. She had an illicit child in high school age, then my sister and myself. I was the only one who wanted to pretty much having anything other than to know that she was alive. It was that important to me. It was like a light bulb came on. I have a weird connection with the other side. One time when I was all messed up on life and too young to figure out that there was much of a future going on, I was having a tantrum with myself, and just out of the blue, I said, “I just want my mother!” and I heard, “We could do that,” it appeared in my brain and I heard a bell and a ding and a tickle in my chest where I get the connection nowadays, when there is a connection. I knew immediately that there was something going on, but I didn’t know what. The frame of mind I was in, I was like, “Okay.” I never hallucinated, so I didn’t think it was anything like that.
Now here we are 40 years later and I’ve pretty much got it down. It was a really big, obvious, “Hey, here you go!”
Chet: It was a win for the both of you.
Frank: Yeah, it definitely was. We both blossomed from the time that she was with me. I like to say we nailed the landing. She was tenacious. She got me to be a good guy.
Chet: That’s really good. The overflow of what you’re doing now with the service dogs, hopefully will continue to spread helping others have a better quality of life.
Frank: My goal is to get me replaced by other people like me who are younger and I don’t want to say money-hungry, hopefully not, because I’m not. That’s one of my biggest problems, that I don’t like money. I’d rather barter my way through life than worry about cash.
But that’s not a functional thing! (laughs) And that’s where we’re at with this, trying to figure out funding and such. I don’t like money, but we definitely need money.
Chet: Einstein said, “Barter is smarter.”
Frank: I didn’t know that.
Chet: And I add to that, “But it’s harder.”
Frank: Yeah, it is, and you’ve got to be creative! (laughs)
Chet: Well, that’s the fun part, being creative around it. But not everyone can figure out creativity and be sustainable with just barter, even though that’s the way society originated. Currency was something we had to come up with because barter was difficult for a lot of people.
Frank: And hard to keep control of—to process, excuse me.
Chet: I’ve seen a lot of your videos. Did you have a little icon, an avatar, that looks like a Bigfoot?
Frank: Yeah. I grabbed it and I recreated it a couple times over, yeah. That was my old computer business. That was a Bigfoot guy working on a computer.
I was trying to come up with a video company back then, and that was one of the things I was using. And there’s another one that’s one sitting in front of a computer, and then I modified it to a laptop, and the newest one I was playing with is a Bigfoot that I believe is hanging on a drone.
I pretty much let all those websites go. Now I’m down to just Critters4Service and Frank Mallatt.
Chet: Are you shooting video with drones, too?
Frank: Yes, yes! I’ve been shooting some of the video—I’m good at content, but I haven’t been real good at editing. I’ve got a few really, really good shots that I haven’t edited out yet, like four-camera-angle shots with the dogs bursting out of the car, doing what they’re supposed to do for me, and then coming back, showing the dogs coming out of the door in control, like, they’ll come out for me one at a time and sit down around me, waiting for the next dog to come out, until I give them a release command. Just a lot of different video stuff. Them interacting with animals. YouTube has some on there. Facebook has a whole bunch.
The one I think you saw was Bigfoot Data. It was a confusing time for me. It was right after I closed the computer business. I was just started to play with drones. If you were in the YouTube stuff, you might have seen the videos of the—I was doing videos for the nonprofit food bank.
That was my first beginning with drones. Now I have a couple of 6k drones, and we’ve got some really, really good shots.
Chet: Those 6ks are high enough def that you can take an image and it’s still high-quality.
Frank: Yeah. At 6k I can take a single slice off of the reel and it’s perfect.
Chet: That’s really cool. I’ve never flown one.
Frank: Luckily, they almost fly themselves.
Chet: That’s kind of what I’m picking up. That’s why Amazon and others might be using them for delivery, because they could just program in the coordinates.
Frank: Yeah. The ones I’m using, I could use the same exact software that’s one them and pre-program them like, if you’re doing an agricultural field and want to inspect it, I could fly pre-patterns, specific stuff. It’s very universal. Mine was a competitor, an actual competitor for DJI. Originally the company that built them, they make the car recognition stuff, like when a car gets close to another one and the lights come on and tell you that you have another car close to you. That kind of technology. My drone has top, bottom, front, left right sensors, so if I’m flying at something, it’ll literally not let me run into something.
I felt I kind of rambled on there, for the most part.
Chet: Not at all, I think it’s a nice touch with your mother and how you got involved in service dogs.
Frank: Yeah, I’m really excited about it growing and moving forward. I’m not—the reality of where we are financially is scary as you know, but the bigger picture, knowing that I’m still in that leap of faith, and if nothing else, I keep getting little tickles from the other side, that little tingle I told you about in the chest. Every once in a while I’ll get a little cheater tingle to let me know that we’re not (laughs)—into imminent demise. I think we’re fine. I’m sure I’ll probably think of a hundred things I didn’t say.