"My mom worked with dogs, so I have experience with trained dogs," he notes in a Russian accent as thick as borscht. But after coming to America, he brainstormed the idea of training a common animal that audiences may not have seen performing before. Popovich started with one cat, quickly learning what a cat will or won't do. His current troupe includes twelve housecats, eight dogs and a few doves, all of them house pets rescued from animal shelters.
There's no real secret to his success. "With cats," Popovich explains, "You cannot push them to do something they don't like to do. Some cats like to jump, other cats like to climb -- so I let them do what they like to do." Cats, he adds, don't come with special talents, outside of the inner ones any creature might reveal. "They're all special," he says of the animals in his menagerie, who live in his home as part of the family. "I know each one's character, and each animal's personality is completely different. I just help them open up those personalities."
Consciousnesses raised, his costumed kitties jump through hoops, walk on their hind legs, leap on his shoulder and generally have a great old time performing; the dogs stick to more traditional fare, such as a skit called Classroom Dogs, for which they pose as Popovich's students, answering math questions and looking cute. Needless to say, the act's a real crowd-pleaser everywhere it goes, from Circus Circus in Las Vegas to the stages of Branson, Missouri -- and it promises more of the same this Sunday, March 23, at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada. Bark twice if you agree. Tickets are $10; call 720-898-7200 or log on to www.arvadacenter.org.