By Dominique Jando
Richard Olate was born in Santiago, Chile, the twenty-first child of a family of twenty-two. His was an extremely poor family, and just to survive yet another day, every member of the family had to chip in. Richard learned the true meaning and value of hard work at the tender age of six—laboring sometimes simply for a loaf of bread or a fish to bring home for supper!
His life changed when, one day, he found a stray puppy in the streets of Santiago. He adopted the dog and, in the little spare time he had, taught him to perform tricks. Richard discovered that he was actually quite good at dog training. He found two other dogs, and started building a small dog act, which his mother, to cash on her son’s unexpected talents, booked in school shows and street fairs. Richard was twelve.
Soon, performing with his dogs became Richard’s main activity: He was beginning to make a better living doing so than with the many odd jobs he had been forced to do in order to survive. His brother José eventually joined in, and together, they found new dogs to expand their act—which finally caught the attention of circus impresarios. Thus Richard and José Olate became professional circus performers.
The Olates performed with various circuses in Chile and in South America until 1989, when they got their first contract with a circus in the United States. They found other opportunities to perform in the U.S., and never turned back. Richard eventually became an American citizen. With his brother, and then with his family, Richard Olate has performed all over the United States; when the Olate Family performed at the Big Apple Circus in 2001 (Big Top Doo-Wop) and 2006 (Grandma Goes To Hollywood), the act consisted of Richard Olate, his wife, Rebecca, his children, Brandalyn and Nicholas, and a troupe of dogs rescued from shelters.