Gregory Popovich, 47, is a fourth generation animal trainer who moved to Las Vegas from the USSR two decades ago. When he's not doing his regular show at Planet Hollywood, he tours the world with 30 animal performers, his wife and 20-year-old daughter.
His animals are all from shelters and this show benefits the SPCA, which will have pet adoptions outside the theater at 5 p.m.
He left the crumbling USSR for opportunity in the US, in Vegas, the entertainment capital, he says. "The dream has come true for a poor Russian guy who came across the globe."
1. What's harder to train, a cat or a kid?
Cats, of course. It depends though. A different time of life and kids can be more difficult. Overall, though, cats are more difficult.
2. What was the most difficult animal you ever trained? Were there some you just had to give up on?
I cannot say there is a type of animal that is more difficult, geese, or mice or dogs. It all depends on their personality. That's why I call it a pet theater. If we have one dog who doesn't want to do anything, I create situations around this dog. I let him play a role in a skit called Dog Classroom, where he can play the lazy student who didn't do his homework.
Even the cats that don't want to do anything, they can be in the chorus line. If they really don't want to do anything, I make them part of my family and they stay with us.
3. Can anyone train animals the way you do?
It's not really easy for every person. You have to have experience working with pets. I represent the fourth generation of animal trainers. It's very natural for me to communicate with pets.
Every person can do it, if the person has enough patience and tries to understand pets. I think animals are people too. They have personality, thoughts, habits and many times humans ignore them.
If a master has enough time, they find a lot of body language and messages. Pets are always trying to send messages to masters.
Pay attention to the tail, to the eyes. If the tail goes down, it means the animal is unhappy. If it goes up and shakes, it's happy.
They also communicate much with their eyes. You have to be patient to see it.
4. What is the most challenging trick you trained an animal to do?
We have a very unique trick where the cat and dog work together. We call it a piggy back ride. The kitty is on the dog's back.
We don't have pets jump through fire or tricks like that. We just let them express their personality. The audience sees pets happy on stage. The first thing they see is a dog as the master of ceremonies, who introduces the show.
If you let animals do their favorite things, they are happy.
5. What's smarter, a dog or a cat?
A cat. They are smart enough to ignore you.
6. OK. An encore, please. If you can get cats and dogs to get along, what would you suggest for Democrats and Republicans?
Oh my God. I'm Russian. I just came from the Soviet Union 20 years ago. I stay away from politics. I'm an entertainer.
But if you talk about how to get people to get along, the best way is through kindness. You have to learn a lot of kindness and a lot of patience. That's a beginning. Send them positive messages and it reduces stress. You can get a lot of positive stuff later. But first you have to learn communication, respect and patience.
The Rio Theatre
1205 Soquel Avenue 95062