Once the dogs disembark from the RV, it immediately becomes apparent why
they've grown to be net-famous. Imagine the inherent entertainment value of
an English Bulldog -- squat dogs resembling Ernest Borgnine
that sound like a sawmill when they breathe. Now put that dog on a
Presto. Crowds of cell phone camera-toting office workers dropped
everything and rushed to the windows overlooking Mission Creek or staggered out of the building."It's the skateboarding dogs!" says a passing man with a San Francisco Giants logo tattooed on his neck.
Tillman -- as well as his disciples Sully, Rose, and Lyle -- are affectionate enough. But it's soon apparent that they don't want a scratch behind the ears nearly as much as they want that damn skateboard. Deprived of their fix, the creatures grow restless and begin grabbing and worrying each others' leashes and making a din. These may be the four greatest skateboarding dogs in the world, but they're still dogs.
Ron Davis -- who owns Tillman, Rose, and Sully -- subtly wraps the skateboard in a towel. If the dogs see that skateboard, they'll become apoplectic. And a pair of bulldogs weigh well more than the petite women holding their leads. Skateboarding bulldogs dragging their publicity manager into the path of an oncoming T-Third train could also become a YouTube sensation -- but it's not a stunt anyone wants to stage today.
Around three and a half years ago, Davis left a job as a construction manager after his skateboarding dog appeared on a doggie reality TV show -- and he got a call from one of the owners of Natural Balance pet foods. He's since picked up more skating dogs as well as Lexi Beermann's pooch, Lyle. This is a full-time occupation for Davis and Beermann; the dogs perform at dozens of events a year.
When Davis finally unveils the skateboard, Tillman reacts as if his owner is holding a cut of beef with wheels on it. The dog hurls his 60-pound cannonball body skyward and his grunts jump from handsaw to buzzsaw intensity. Presented with the board, Tillman triumphantly grabs and shakes the wheels in his sturdy jaws like a wolf dispatching a gopher. Once he's killed the board, he begins shooting along Mission Creek with alarming speed; Davis' admonishment that a Tillman skateboard to the ankle hurts like hell is not an idle warning.
More bulldogs than you'd think are skating these days. Their sturdy legs and low center of gravity make them naturals for this crazy endeavor; Beermann notes that Lyle got his start when he knocked over a skater on Venice Beach and rode off on the hapless man's board. Beermann adds that the bulldog's unusual features -- the underbite, the short legs, the squat build -- were all bred into the beasts as advantages in in the Medieval sport of "bull-baiting." Along those lines, bulldogs love to chase things -- on cue, Sully has to be restrained in an attempt to run down a man on a moped. Bulldogs love to chase skateboarders. A select few love to ride, too.
By Davis' estimation , Tillman is the "Michael Jordan of skateboarding dogs" -- though even Jordan doesn't have an RV with his picture on the side of it. And Jordan's handlers have rarely, if ever, deposited bags of his feces into area trash cans.
After his Mission Bay exhibition, Tillman heads back into his RV; there are tourists to wow at Pier 39, a pet food store opening in Burlingame tomorrow, and, of course, Sunday's Giants game. The office workers who've captured the dog's exploits on their cameras and iPhones head back inside to work -- and, when you think about it, so does Tillman.