Lets start with the obvious question: How do you get a house cat to do anything, much less push a grocery cart, jump through hoops or roll on a ball?
Just ask Gregory Popovich, a world-class juggler, acrobat and animal whisperer who has mastered the art of coaxing house cats onto the stage.
You see, each cat has a trick hiding inside them, he says. Cats are very independent, so I cant make them do anything. What I have to find out is their natural talent and then build on that.
Popovich has appeared with his Comedy Pet Theater on TV shows such as Late Night with David Letterman, Penn & Teller and Americas Got Talent.
Today, youll find Popovich and his animals at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas six days a week, except when hes on tour with his award- winning show.
He brings it to Boise Dec. 16 as part of the Velma Morrison Family Theater Series. On stage, youll see hysterical feats performed by 14 cats, 12 dogs, three geese, one parrot and even a few humans.
All the animals are rescues from shelters. He says his show proves that all animals at shelters are worth the effort to save.
So if you want a pet, maybe you will try there first, Popovich says.
Just by going to the show you can help the Idaho Humane Society fill its Pet Food Pantry. Bring a can or small bag of pet food or treats with you.
Popovich learned to love and work with animals growing up in the Moscow Circus where his parents had a dog act.
Circus life is lot of traveling, and as a small boy there is not time to make friends, Popovich says in a still-strong Russian accent. The animals became like my babysitters and friends, and I spent a lot of time with them.
By 17, Popovich had developed a juggling and balancing act that made him one of the renowned circus stars. After winning several international competitions, he became the first Moscow Circus act to be invited to perform with Ringling Bros.
When he was asked to create his own act at Circus Circus in Las Vegas, he decided to return to his roots and work with animals, but with a twist.
I am a comedian and I wanted to do something different. Working with dogs is very obvious, he says. I had a kitty. I decided to so something with my kitty.
It was enough of a novelty that he again became an international celebrity.
The real trick is finding the right cat (or dog) for the act. When he needs a new animal which is not often these days he goes to the local animal shelter searching for a certain pet-sonality.
Its a level of energy that says this pet would love to play, he says. When you adopt a pet from the shelter, you have to know theyve been under stress. I have to give them time to calm down and trust me.
Popovich spends months with each cat playing with it to find its inner stunt.
Maybe it likes to jump to my shoulder. So I make a trick out of that.
So, in one act, a cat jumps onto his shoulder, but from a tall platform or through a hoop. Another might like to walk on the back of a couch. That can become walking on a tightrope.
Each of his cats does only one trick. His dogs have more of a repertoire and range in breeds from dachshunds to terrier mixes.
And the geese?
Popovich found them at the Vegas shelter where they were taken after their owner had died. He only wanted one but they were a family.
I had to take all three, he says.
The geese play a crucial part in a sketch about a fire truck a twist on the classic clowns routine.
But this isnt just animal tricks on stage, he says.
Popovich creates skits with his animals, giving each a character in the story. Thats why its called pet theater.
The human acts in addition to Popovich, all performers from the Moscow Circus happen in and around the animals.
Its like a competition who is more talented the humans or the animals and guess who always wins? he asks.
Once a pet becomes part of the show, it will spend the rest of its life in Popovichs care both onstage and at his home, where theres a cat house, a dog barn, lots of open space and even a pet swimming pool.
When they retire, they become part of my family, Popovich says.