When Chris Perondi met the dog now named Crazy Confetti at the Yolo County Animal Shelter in Woodland, California, he was told that while her litter of puppies had easily found homes, the high-strung mama mutt had been returned to the pound several times already. The future wasn't looking too bright for the little-but-feisty terrier mix.
Perondi had been looking for a bigger dog but a shelter employee pleaded with him to give the "little spitfire" a chance. It was love at first sight.
"I took her immediately. She's so playful; she just needed to be taught some manners," Perondi said. "She was a little bit of a handful. She tried to show all the other dogs she's the boss, but we started learning how to fix it."
Crazy Confetti is now a skateboard-riding canine star, one of the most popular pups in Perondi's show, "Chris Perondi's Stunt Dog Experience," which will be coming to Palo Alto for two performances at the Oshman Family JCC on Nov. 23.
"She's got a really touching story; that's the story of a lot of rescue dogs," Perondi said of Crazy Confetti. He, along with his Stunt Dog Productions team, has made it his mission to champion shelter dogs as well as entertain audiences with a variety of impressive tricks, acrobatics and feats of intelligence and agility from a cast of more than a dozen dogs per show. In any given show, there might be dogs jumping rope, dancing, juggling or competing in a triathlon.
What's now a career began as a hobby, when, back in 1996, Perondi adopted a dog he taught to catch a Frisbee disc. They proved to be a good team and began entering competitions, with Perondi eventually starting a local club. The local media took note and Perondi, who soon added more rescue dogs to his pack, began getting calls from schools, festivals and venues eager to book the act. In 1999, he got his business license and now, 20 years on, Stunt Dog Productions is going strong, making appearances at high-profile events, including the Rose Bowl and on major television shows.
What makes a good stunt dog? Perondi said they should be playful, toy-driven, motivated by treats and not too easily distracted. He's worked with a variety of professional trainers to use positive reinforcement and said his dogs all seem to enjoy performing.
"They each have their own talents. They're just playing. We encourage people to have fun and play with their pets as well," he said.
The highlight of each performance is the "Golden Bone Showdown," in which members of two teams compete in a series of individual challenges to win the coveted "Golden Bone." Audiences have a chance of participating and meeting the show's mascot, Diggy.
Another of Perondi's favorite performers, Flashy Ferrari, is semi-retired at age 13 (Perondi's parents are credited with caring for their retired dogs while Perondi, his wife, Suhey, and son, Anthony, are on the road).
"This will probably be her last big hurrah" on tour, Perondi said. Still, the energetic border collie/Australian cattle dog mix, whom Perondi rescued from the streets of Kansas City, wows crowds with her "big-air" catches and high jumping skills.
Each dog has a special place in Perondi's heart. Ferrari resembles his first "big star," a beloved Australian cattle dog named Pepper, who helped him through a hard time in his personal life.
"It sucks that they get old. It sucks that they don't live longer," he said. "I've lost 13 and it never gets easier, but what helps me get through it is that their legacy lives on and that the next dog will have an opportunity. If their lives were longer, then maybe we'd never give another one a chance."
What: "Chris Perondi's Stunt Dog Experience."
Where: Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto.
When: Saturday, Nov. 23, at 2 and 6 p.m.
Cost: $35/kids, $45/adults.