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Oodles of Poodles: Groundhog Festival marks poodle act’s first trip to Pa.

July 4, 2012

Apollo, the youngest poodle in Michelle’s Magical Poodles show, leaps over a bar during the second show Wednesday at the Groundhog Festival. This week marks the first time that Michelle Harrell and her poodles have performed not only at the festival, but in Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tom Chapin/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — For a few hours during the Groundhog Festival, the event simply went to the dogs, as Michelle’s Magical Poodles performed several shows for the crowd.

Michelle Harrell’s four poodles — Blondie and Pirouette, both 11; Apollo, two; and Emilio, six — 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 dogs’ tricks, but sought to illustrate that it is good to interact with one’s pet at home to help keep them active and healthy.

“The goal is to get people to engage with the family pet,” she said.

“I’ve had some people go home and try simple tricks with their pets, and they’ve said thank you.”

Harrell said that’s especially important with older animals which, with age, may be treated like a toy if someone has lost interest.

“You don’t just put (an older animal) in a corner and not engage with it,” she said.

The younger poodles are more adept at some of the high-flying hoop jumps, while Blondie and Pirouette leap lower obstacles.

“Blondie does what Blondie wants to do,” Harrell said, “and Pirouette’s job is to give kisses after the show.”

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.

“She never got to see this, because she would take in dogs, and we would have two or three dogs in the house” as children. “That gave me my love of dogs.”

It’s almost easier to train poodles because by nature, they are intelligent animals, Harrell said.

“What you’re training them to do is brain tricks,” 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 week’s performances have marked not only Michelle’s Magical Poodles’ first trip to Punxsutawney and the Groundhog Festival, but also their first-ever trip into Pennsylvania.

Of this trip, Harrell said, “This is the most interesting, because this has been the most endearing in a quirky way.”

Michelle’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.

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