Dogs were Gregory Popovich's first baby sitters, his first friends. Born into a circus family - his parents were jugglers and dog trainers - Popovich learned early on that the bond between people and animals is strong. So after years of performing as a juggler with the Moscow and Ringling Brothers circuses, Popovich said it only seemed natural to get the four-legged members of his family in on the act.
For the past 10 years, The World Famous Popovich Comedy Pet Theater has delighted audiences with physical comedy, juggling and the antics of Popovich's trained dogs and "cooperative" house cats.
"You can't 'train' a cat to do anything it doesn't want to do," joked Popovich.
In Russia, shelters for animals don't exist, he said. So it was wonderful to come to the United States and see programs that aid pets in need. All of the animals from the Popovich Comedy Pet Theater, which includes 16 cats, 12 dogs, six white rats, six white doves and "five well-trained Russians" are adopted from animal shelters, he added.
The tricks the animals perform aren't dangerous or extreme, Popovich said. Their part in the show is more about funny skits than jumping through flaming hoops. In choosing his performers, Popovich looks for "personality" above all else.
"I try to build on the animal's natural habits," he said. "I want to make (performing) fun for them."While it saddens Popovich to think about any animal as being unwanted, he said it's important to support organizations that focus on preventing pet overpopulation and work to find every animal a good home.
"My pets all got a second chance," Popovich said. "Other animals should have that, too."