If you’re not a fan of Duane Chapman – better known as Dog the Bounty Hunter – then chances are you are at least aware of his reality television series on the Arts & Entertainment Network.
The show is the number one rated show on A&E. Don’t expect Brady Bunch sugarcoating when you tune in on Wednesday evenings. Instead, watch an extended family live together, laugh and cry together – and relentlessly hunt down fugitives in Hawaii and Colorado – as the world’s best bounty hunting team.
Try to define Dog’s persona and describe his mission in life in just one story, and you’ll set short this remarkable tale. Duane Lee “Dog” Chapman, 57, was the son of an army welder father, and a Chirakawa missionary mother. He dropped out of the Grade 7, and later was a member of the Devils Disciples MC outlaw motorcycle club. In the late-1970s, he was sentenced to five years in a Texas prison for a murder he didn’t commit, but to which he was an accessory.
Dog served 18 months of his sentence before being paroled and he never turned back. With help and encouragement, Dog turned his life around and became a bondsman. With 28 years experience, Chapman is now considered the world’s most prolific bounty hunter. He has made more than 6,000 captures – and counting.
“I am what rehabilitation stands for,” says Dog.
Since 2004, A&E crews have tailed the Chapman family during bounties, and have captured candid banter at their offices and in their homes. The show is a spin-off from Dog’s appearance in the A&E show, Take This Job, which featured folks with unusual careers.
Why is the show so popular? As Dog says, “For one thing, I don’t look like I belong to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And it’s the family thing. People like to see that. And we have Beth.”
If Dog is larger than life, then so is his wife, Beth, his long-time partner whom he married in 2006. They own and operate, along with their extended family, the family business – Da Kine Bail Bonds in Honolulu, Hawaii and they also bounty hunt in the Denver, Colorado area – Dog’s hometown. The business also operates out of Oahu, and in Kona on the Big Island.
Dog’s sons Leland and Duane Lee, Tim Chapman (no relation, but Dog’s “blood brother,” as he calls him), Dog’s daughter, “Baby” Lyssa, and his nephew, Justin, are all show regulars and part of the bounty hunting team.
In fact, Dog has been married five times and has 13 children and 10 grandchildren. Dog and Beth have two children: Bonnie Joe, and Gary “Boy” Chapman. Beth’s daughter, Cecily, also appears on the show and lives with the Chapman family, while Beth’s son, Dominic, has appeared on the show, too.
As Dog called this scribe to talk about his life, his new book and his visit , son Duane Lee made initial contact and was professional and polite, despite the chaos that always seems to find Da Kine Bail Bonds.
“Dad is with some kids from Make-A-Wish who just stopped by. Can we call you back or will you hold?” It was shortly after 9 p.m. – 3 p.m. Honolulu time. I held. About 20 minutes later, a familiar voice came on the phone
“How’s it, sir? Thank you for holding.”
Dog often shows respect with a “Sir” or a “Mam,” but it caught me off guard. I told him not to worry about the wait, that what he was doing with the kids was more important. “I wouldn’t say that, sir,” he replied.
Here’s just a part of that interview.
DOG: I apologize for having you wait. We had three of them – two boys from the U.S. and the little girl is from Canada.
REED: You have a lot of fans in Canada. I saw kids dressed like Dog the Bounty Hunter at Halloween.
DOG: Right on, right on. Thank you.
REED: All these years since your criminal past, do you still pinch yourself and ask if it’s really happening?
DOG: Absolutely. I’m very blessed to be there. I wanted it. But it’s like living the dream. We were just talking about this last night. I said, ‘I hope this is not all a dream. I’ll wake up some morning; it’s gone.’
REED: I recall most of the episodes. I know when some of my college students found out I watch your show; they thought I was very cool. One was quite pleasantly surprised that a college professor was watching your reality TV show.
DOG: So they liked you right away, right on (laughs). On the book tour, we had doctors, lawyers, generals – generals. And they said, ‘My guilty pleasure is Dog the Bounty Hunter.’ They said, ‘We used to say that last year. Now we say, Our favourite show is Dog the Bounty Hunter.’ We didn’t know how many other people watched it. We noticed during the book tour, the difference in the demographic is unbelievable, from four or five years old to 95 years old. Thank God. It’s a blessing. We’re very lucky.
REED: I like the fact you speak about second chances. I speak about second chances in athletics and business despite being a disabled person. Setting goals, reaching them. It’s important to have mentors. And it’s important for me to know that God’s plan for me involves talking to people and giving them hope and inspiration, and encouragement. I see God’s plan for you – using your TV show and now speaking tours and book tours to offer that same kind of hope. The Big Guy has a plan for you.
DOG: Yes. I think so. Absolutely. I met Reverend Roberts, Oral Roberts’s son. He’s now a good friend of mine. But when I met him, he said, ‘Dog, (you’re) more like a ministry than a TV show.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s our life; it’s like that. I wouldn’t do anything else. I’m very lucky.’
REED: You said once that so many people are drawn to your show because it has a family element. We can see you, (wife) Beth, (close friend) Youngblood, sons Duane Lee, and Leland, daughter Baby Lyssa, (nephew) Justin – the whole gang – out on a bounty. But then the bounty ends, and we want to see the Chapmans at home, living a family life. So I guess it’s like a reality cop show meets the Brady Bunch. OK, not so much the Brady Bunch (laughing).
DOG: They do like the family part. When you meet, say, Sylvester Stallone, you are really wanting to meet Rambo or Rocky. With Dog, you’re really meeting Dog. So that helps a lot. To be the person that they’re meeting. But yesterday, I met George Clooney, and I really felt like I was meeting Batman. That blew that all to hell (laughs), but I really did. He’s such a nice guy. But I think when others meet us, it’s really Beth, really Dog, really Duane Lee, Leland, Baby Lyssa. We’re not playing a part of some character. We’re not actors. We’re being ourselves.
REED: Your London stop June 22 at Centennial Hall is dubbed, The Mercy Tour 2010. What will you talk about other than your new book?
DOG: You know brother; I have no idea yet because I have several things to talk about. But I really don’t know which one. And I prepare seven or eight. I have learned that when I do a speaking engagement, I wait until I’m almost on stage. And then whatever comes to me – so far so good most times.
REED: I’m looking forward to being inspired by your speaking engagement. Let me ask you this, too. When the cameras are not on, are there many members of your team we don’t see who are hard at work behind the scenes at Da Kine Bail Bonds?
DOG: This year we have two or three assistants who we haven’t shown, who we will show in Season 7. We are including them. There are some behind the scenes who we now show because it’s getting a broader picture. People want more and more of what really happens after the camera is shut off. So basically, they don’t anymore. They’re flies on the wall.
REED: Are you out on a lot of bounties that never make it to air?
DOG: No, we run out of bounties, bro. Where we live, we used to get them all the time. But because we live here, people have stopped failing to appear (in court) because they know we’re coming, and we’re going to catch every one of them. A girl woke up her son the other day, and she said, ‘It’s 7 o’clock; court is in an hour. By 10 a.m. if you don’t get up, Dog will be here.’ She said he hit the shower in five minutes; he was out the door in 20 minutes and in court. I think that shame therapy or whatever it is – We’re coming. We’re going to get you – has a lot to do with it. Hawaii is like few and far between. The mainland, they don’t give a dang. They’re running. So that’s why we go to west – the wild west of the United States, Colorado, Utah, California, where gun laws are still wide open. Those are where they have 200,000 criminals on the books. So when they hear that we’re coming there to big cities, the cops tell me the criminals dig out. They split. Because they don’t know which one we’re after. We’re like the Bounty napkin to the spill, or the Orkin man to the cockroach, you know what I mean? (Laughing).