PUNXSUTAWNEY â€” For a few hours during the Groundhog Festival, the event simply went to the dogs, as Michelleâ€™s Magical Poodles performed several shows for the crowd.
Michelle Harrellâ€™s four poodles â€” Blondie and Pirouette, both 11; Apollo, two; and Emilio, six â€” entertained guests by jumping through hoops, making figure-eights, rescuing stuffed toys from a mailbox and interacting with children.
Harrell, of Gulf Breeze, Fla., not only displayed her dogsâ€™ tricks, but sought to illustrate that it is good to interact with oneâ€™s pet at home to help keep them active and healthy.
â€śThe goal is to get people to engage with the family pet,â€ť she said.
â€śIâ€™ve had some people go home and try simple tricks with their pets, and theyâ€™ve said thank you.â€ť
Harrell said thatâ€™s especially important with older animals which, with age, may be treated like a toy if someone has lost interest.
â€śYou donâ€™t just put (an older animal) in a corner and not engage with it,â€ť she said.
The younger poodles are more adept at some of the high-flying hoop jumps, while Blondie and Pirouette leap lower obstacles.
â€śBlondie does what Blondie wants to do,â€ť Harrell said, â€śand Pirouetteâ€™s job is to give kisses after the show.â€ť
Harrell began her performance career in San Francisco, performing as a living doll and later as a living statue at events in the United States and Europe.
She began her poodle act after finding Cupid, an abandoned and rescued poodle adopted from Florida Poodle Rescue. She said she did not have to become a new dog lover in order to work with poodles.
Harrell said her mother passed away young, and she wished her mother could have seen her current act.
â€śShe never got to see this, because she would take in dogs, and we would have two or three dogs in the houseâ€ť as children. â€śThat gave me my love of dogs.â€ť
Itâ€™s almost easier to train poodles because by nature, they are intelligent animals, Harrell said.
â€śWhat youâ€™re training them to do is brain tricks,â€ť she said, unlike dogs trained to fetch and catch, which is based on their natural instinct to pursue and maneuver.
Today, Harrell and her dogs travel year-round, especially from July through October. This weekâ€™s performances have marked not only Michelleâ€™s Magical Poodlesâ€™ first trip to Punxsutawney and the Groundhog Festival, but also their first-ever trip into Pennsylvania.
Of this trip, Harrell said, â€śThis is the most interesting, because this has been the most endearing in a quirky way.â€ť
Michelleâ€™s Magical Poodles will perform from 12:30 to 1 p.m. and 4:15 to 4:45 p.m. today; from 11:30 to noon, 1:30 to 2 p.m. and from 3 to 3:30 p.m. Friday; and from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and from 1:45 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, the last day of the Groundhog Festival.