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Noaa running in Fast Cat.
Photo by Connie Fore

Many dogs who compete in dog sports often also do other things on the side, but being multi-talented isn’t as easy as it looks. Dogs like Flat-Coated Retriever and Conformation champion “Noaa” do it all and more, taking home titles while also making a difference in the lives of others. Owned by Peter Friedman, of Stuart, Florida, 2 1/2-year-old Noaa is a Silver Grand Champion show dog and works as a therapy dog for children with autism and child victims of abuse.

Passionate About the Breed

Friedman has owned Flat-Coats since 1974, and decided to get another when his All-American dog passed away several years ago. A fellow Flat-Coat owner and friend let him know that a breeder was expecting a litter. “I wasn’t certain if I wanted another dog so soon, [and when] we spoke, I was told that her co-breeder was uncertain if she had one [available] for me,” Friedman says.

Since he’d been in the breed for a while, Friedman felt he might know the breeder. As it turned out, the breeder in question was PJ Lacette, Friedman’s former trainer. “I went to the top of the list after that,” Friedman says.

“When Noaa was four weeks old, I went to look at the litter. We bonded instantly. In fact, he was upset when I put him down. When I picked him up at nine weeks, the breeder asked if she could show him if he turned out as nice as he looked as a pup.” Friedman was hesitant at first, as Conformation wasn’t something that he did frequently with his dogs, focusing more on training them to be therapy dogs.

Peter Friedman

Friedman offered to the breeder that she could show him if she wanted, but because of COVID-19, Noaa didn’t show until he was almost a year old. “He did well in his first show and I was hooked,” says Friedman.

Taking It to the Ring

Noaa’s handler today is Aaron Wilkerson of Palm City, Florida, the same handler who took Best in Show at Westminster in 2008 with famed Beagle “Uno,” the first-ever Beagle to take home the title. Noaa competes mostly in Conformation events on the East Coast, and his career recently took him to the 2023 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City, following a 26-hour drive from home. Noaa also earned an Award of Merit at Westminster. On the way back to Florida from Westminster, Noaa competed in three other shows.

Noaa already spends a lot of time around people at Friedman’s firm, Stuart Scuba. “I figured Noaa would be bulletproof to the noises and crowds from the amount of time he spends at the shop and the things he is exposed to,” Friedman says of their experience at Westminster in Queens, NY. “It turns out that it was true. He took to walking around in the hustle and bustle with no issues. The city was no problem. He was a champ.”

Noaa doesn’t mind crowds either. He’s attended numerous Florida street fairs and exhibits, either for his therapy work or as a representative for Stuart Scuba. “While Westminster was a big deal for me, for him, it was just another show,” Friedman says. “When he puts on his show lead, then that is what he is doing and that is how he acts. When he has his regular lead on, he is just a jerky Flat-Coat who wants to play, run, and swim. Put on his vest and he is calm and consoling to whomever he is with. His show lead brings on a swagger and he becomes the [ultimate] show dog professional.”

A Canine Mascot

The story behind Noaa’s name attests to his presence in Friedman’s businesses. Friedman, who owns three scuba shops and operates a charter diving boat service, notes that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an important part of his business operations. “The dog’s name was to honor the organization,” he says. When NOAA administrators found out about the dog’s feats, Friedman received a letter and challenge coin from Richard Spinrad, Ph.D., Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmospheric National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, making Noaa an honorary member of the NOAA.

Noaa is the shop dog in one of Friedman’s three scuba outlets. “He mingles with the customers and everyone loves him,” says the owner. “In fact, if he’s not there, people ask about him. And rest assured, he loves the attention.” At home, Noaa is best friends with Maggie, a 14-½-year-old mixed-breed dog who participates in Fast CAT. For conditioning, they do about a mile of training daily with Friedman, who accompanies them on a bike or in a golf cart.

Peter Friedman

A Therapy Pro

Noaa can take his friendly demeanor and apply it to more serious situations as well. When working with child abuse victims, Noaa is a calming influence. No matter what kind of setting he’s called into, Noaa will sit facing the child, and this pose serves a purpose.

“This is done so he can watch and make certain no one is coming up behind the youngster,” Friedman explains. “He is a Flat-Coat, so I am not sure what he would do if this happened other than [be] on alert. Usually, an 85-pound black dog giving the stink eye can be enough. He is trained so that when heeded, he will put his head on the child’s lap for comfort. He is allowed, with a judge’s permission, to be alongside the child in a courtroom.”

Recently, Friedman and Noaa were also called into schools to work with children with autism. “This is harder,” Friedman emphasizes, “because some of them fear dogs, while others take to them right away. I am trying to start a program where they can read books to him in a calm setting.”

Helping Others Get Help

Friedman recalls a couple of memorable instances in which Noaa has helped abuse victims. “There was this young woman” who was abused, he recalls. “She started out in a shell, not wanting to speak of the horrible things that happened to her. Noaa was able to sit with her without anyone around. She told him the entire incident. This provided her with the confidence needed to address the matter fully in court. The perp is now serving 15 years.”

In another instance, a young man was afraid to go into court at first, even though it was a closed session. “Having Noaa by his side provided a calming influence, and this led to a good outcome in the case,” Friedman recalls. “Dogs can be so comforting to children in stressful situations.”

Because of Noaa’s unfazed demeanor in crowds and stressful situations, he’s able to provide exactly what a situation calls for, whether in the ring, classroom, or courtroom.

Related article: Rescued Chihuahua Becomes Therapy Dog and Canine Athlete
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