Talents of rescue pups put on display at San Antonio rodeo
Rio’s curly black and white hair flowed as he rode a skateboard through the bone-chillingly cold air, his tiny front paws propped on the handlebars while he stood on his hind legs.
A miniature poodle, Rio flawlessly pulled off the trick — his first time riding a skateboard in public — as part of an abbreviated rendering put on by the Pompeyo Family Dog Show, their act cut short Sunday at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo by temperatures that dipped into the 30s.
Yet about 75 people turned out for the afternoon performance, featuring 11 of the Pompeyos’ 18 dogs, to see the talented canines jump over barriers, perform handstands and hop around on their hind legs.
The crowd, many clad in wool caps, gloves and down jackets, whooped and clapped and yelled with each new stunt. Hints of barbecue smoke from a nearby grill drifted to the metal bleachers set up around the dogs’ performance enclosure.
Since they began working with dogs about 12 years ago, the Pompeyos — Jorge and Natalya, 37, and more recently Katerina, their 8-year-old daughter — have attempted to introduce fresh stunts and routines to each performance.
They have since taken on a much higher profile following last year’s performance on America’s Got Talent, at one point receiving a standing ovation from the notoriously brusque judge Simon Cowell. The Pompeyos made it to the semifinal round.
Natalya Pompeyo, a former gymnast originally from Kazakhstan, draws some of her inspiration from exercises she has performed herself.
“We always do a different show,” she said. “It’s never the same for us. It’s new props, it’s new tricks, it’s everything new.”
Part of their motivation for running the show, the Pompeyos said, is to demonstrate to people what rescue animals can accomplish. Most of the Pompeyos’ dogs come from shelters, where they stop in each city as they tour the U.S. and other parts of the world, including South America and Canada.
If they find a dog that appears to have potential for their show, the Pompeyos do not hesitate to add another member to their traveling team. The quality they look for in assessing a prospective show dog: boundless energy.
“Sometimes people have dogs and they put the dog on the couch all day,” Jorge said. “They think the dog is happy, but they are not happy. They are bored.”
Jorge, born in Colombia, joined the circus at age 5. His early exposure put him on contact with many types of animals and sparked his lifelong interest in caring for them — especially dogs.
“Dogs are so smart,” he said. “They always like to learn something.”
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