Not so stupid pet tricks at the Wheeler Opera House
The Wheeler Opera House is going to the dogs – and the cats, the doves, and other members of the animal kingdom – as famed animal trainer and circus performer Gregory Popovich brings his Comedy Pet Theater to town on Thursday.
The cast of the family-friendly show includes cats, dogs, parrots, doves and a mini horse.
“I try to open the personality of each pet,” Popovich said from a recent tour stop in Kentucky.
Skits include a dog classroom, where dogs act as Popovich’s students and “Animal Train Station,” where he acts as a train conductor collecting tickets from animals.
This winter, Popovich is on a national tour with his cast of 30-some animals. They travel in a custom-made trailer that includes heating, air conditioning, water and other amenities to keep his four-legged supporting cast comfortable, Popovich said.
“Our main message is that animals are people, too,” he explained. “It’s not just pets doing simple tricks. I’ve found different ways to have pets in situations where it looks like pets are acting – they are acting.”
His castmates aren’t groomed, specially bred performers or show animals. They’ve all been adopted from shelters. The love and camaraderie of traveling and performing, Popovich said, helps rehabilitate animals that might have had difficult beginnings.
“It takes weeks to rebuild communication and trust,” he said. “Coming out of shelters, many of them have lost their trust in humans.”
And cats – those divas of the animal kingdom – tend to pose some extra challenges, even for Popovich, author of “You CAN Train Your Cat: Secrets of a Master Cat Trainer.”
“Cats are difficult animals and you can’t push them to do anything they don’t like,” he said.
Popovich has partnered with the Aspen Animal Shelter for the event. Seth Sachson, the local shelter director, will speak before Popovich’s show and will have adoptable pets on hand.
“For us it’s important to promote the adoption of homeless pets,” Popovich said. “Doing our national tour, we always partner with a local shelter.”
A fifth generation circus performer and Russian native, he grew up in the world of animal training and juggling (he’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for juggling nine rings while standing atop a nine-foot ladder). He began performing in Las Vegas in the early 1990s with his wife and their pet cat. As they got involved in pet adoption advocacy work, they added to the animal cast and repertoire of tricks, becoming a hit in Vegas and around the world – soon landing Popovich and his furry friends on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “America’s Got Talent.”
Showbiz is in Popovich’s blood. But his heart is in finding good homes for good animals.
“Ordinary pets can do interesting things,” he said. “They’re talented. And if anyone adopts a pet after our show, then our message is being heard.”
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