Two rescue dogs with some celebrity status — having impersonated ‘America’s Got Talent’ judges Howie Mandel and Sofia Vergara on NBC’s competition show last year — are coming to Wichita with a group of other adopted dogs to dance, dive and jump during a series of shows June 16-19.
The Canine Stars will perform 13 shows at Festival Plaza at Exploration Place, an outdoor space adjacent to the Science Center. Each show will last about 30 minutes, followed by a meeting of about 15 minutes. Tickets are $8, with discounts available.
The shows are part of Exploration Place’s focus on dogs this summer, with the traveling exhibit “Dogs! A Science Tale” and the IMAX film “Superpower Dogs”.
Opal, a pit bull mix who appeared as Bow Wowie Mandel in the team’s two appearances on “American’s Got Talent,” is the Canine Stars’ most famous entertainer, said Kera Caraher, who co-founded the Fort Collins, Colorado-based dog entertainment. company with his partner Ethan Wilhelm in 2012.
Opal also appeared on Nickelodeon’s “Unleashed,” another reality competition, where she won top honors.
In addition to the 12 dogs owned and trained by Caraher and Wilhelm, The Canine Stars include nearly 30 trainers and their dogs from across the country who serve on three show teams. The team led by Caraher, for example, will have been in Pennsylvania for a week-long training camp before heading to Wichita, then travel to Los Angeles for a major dog festival there.
Almost all of the dogs are rescues, Caraher said.
“But it wasn’t like this before,” she said.
Before Caraher and Wilhelm formed The Canine Stars, they had traveled the country as part of competition teams, using dogs purchased from breeders.
“While we were competing we learned… how many homeless dogs are out there. And so we really wanted to help solve the problem of homeless dogs by adopting all of our featured dogs. When we play with them we definitely promote that they have been rescued to show everyone that, hey, you can get any stray dog off the street or out of a shelter and discover their potential to participate in dog sports and start training.
The training is based on each dog’s personality, characteristics and motivations, Caraher said.
“We meet the dog, see what he likes to do, encourage that more, and turn it into a ride,” she said. “Really bouncy dogs might be good for high jumping. Toy-loving dogs might be better suited to the Frisbee.
When rescuing Opal, a wanderer who ended up in a Florida shelter, Caraher noticed she liked to do a pose called sit pretty. This is when a dog sits upright on its hind legs while its front legs are in a curled up position. She was also very food driven rather than toy driven. In the touring show, Opal does more dance tricks and stunts.
One act that is a fan favorite is dock diving. Think of it as a long jump for the dogs, but instead of jumping into a sandbox, they slide and land in a 35,000 gallon pool of water. The roof of the team’s travel trailer serves as a dock for bouncing the dogs.
Student trainers, who participated in the virtual dog training program offered by The Canine Stars, also have the chance to take a tour.
Megan Fox, a teenage college student from North Carolina whose “beautiful boy” Sawyer appeared as Sofurry Vergara on the NBC show, is part of the team coming to Wichita, Caraher said.
The student training program, which includes participants from other countries, and “America’s Got Talent” appearances were both prompted by the COVID pandemic and the band’s inability to tour, Caraher said.
Of the two videotaped proposals, the AGT producers liked the idea of the dogs impersonating the four judges.
“They really wanted something different from the usual dog tricks that had been around before.”
Using specially designed chairs to hide the human trainers who provided arm gestures, the dressed-up dog impersonators joked and criticized the trainers and performing dogs using the voiceovers of the respective judges.
The Canine Shows’ two appearances on AGT — a taped audition show that aired in June 2021 and a live show two months later — led to the busiest touring season in the canine entertainment company’s history, Caraher said. It also led to the creation of more theatrical type shows featuring storylines.
“I won’t be home until December – and I left a month and a half ago,” Caraher said.
The Canine Stars Entertainment Shows
When: 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. daily from Thursday, June 16 to Sunday, June 19, with an additional show at 6 p.m. on June 16
Where: Campus Exploration Place, 300 N. McLean
Admission: $8 ages 12-64, $7 ages 3-11 and 65+, $7 for Exploration Place members, ages 2 and under free when seated on an adult’s lap
More information: 316-660-0600 or exploration.org