Chris Perondi just wanted a dog that could catch a Frisbee.
In 1996, he adopted Pepper, an Australian cattle dog, from a California animal shelter and taught her to do some basic tricks. Several years later, they started performing. In 2001, he quit his job, rescued more dogs and took his stunt show on the road.
Now, for the first time, the Extreme Canine Stunt Dog Experience is at the Minnesota State Fair.
“This just started out as a hobby,” Perondi said. “Thought it was something I could do with my dog.”
Unlike most performing pooches, these dogs were not bred to be entertainers. All were adopted from animal shelters or pounds.
The show features dogs jumping rope and interacting with the crowds. They fly, jump, spin and dive.
“It’s different from other dog shows because the crowd gets involved,” said Chris’ wife, Suhey. “It’s just fun for all ages.”
Perondi’s show also has a message: Pet adoption is the way to go. “There are so many great dogs out there,” he said. “Just walk into a shelter and give them a chance.”
The half-hour show is performed at the fair three times a day in the North Woods arena. Each show begins with a quick introduction from Perondi about the show and the dogs involved. Those in the audience can see and help cheer on the dogs as they compete in a dock-jumping contest — a new element to the show.
The crowd is split into two teams, blue and red, which are the colors of the dogs’ bandannas. As the canines dive off the makeshift dock, each team roots for the dog donning their color. Children are invited up onstage to throw a toy into the water for the dogs to catch.
Later, Perondi coaxes one dog, Ferrari, to leap off his back while catching a disk in midair — a stunt that helped land the show on “Oprah,” “Ellen” and “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”
Perondi’s show got its start at a theme park in Long Island, N.Y., and he and his dogs have since performed around the country at dozens of venues, including Shakopee’s Valleyfair in 2006.
He is never alone on the road. He and Suhey own 10 dogs, most of which are part of the show. He’s also joined by colleagues and some of their dogs. This week, Minnesota native Melissa Lamere-Dragovich and her 11-year-old border collie, Tag, performed in the show.
Like the Perondis, Lamere-Dragovich, owner of 14 dogs, is an advocate for adopting from shelters and pounds.
“There are awesome dogs just sitting there waiting to be adopted,” she said.