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Canine stars steal show at Lake County Fair

Keri Caraher of Fort Collins, Colo., dog trainer and owner, watches one of her dogs jump high to catch a frisbee in the Canine Stars Stunt Dog Show during the Lake County Fair at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake.
Keri Caraher of Fort Collins, Colo., dog trainer and owner, watches one of her dogs jump high to catch a frisbee in the Canine Stars Stunt Dog Show during the Lake County Fair at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake.

GRAYSLAKE – The bleachers before the miniature arena are slowly filling in as the one o’clock hour approaches. Above the sound of Meghan Trainor’s “Me Too,” another chorus is singing: the excited yips, barks and yelps of the dogs that sense their show – the Canine Stars Stunt Dog Show – is about to begin.

It’s July 26 and the 91st annual Lake County Fair is well underway. Carnival riders are zipping through the air, carrying their own chorus of delightedly terrified screams. Next to the Canine Stars’ arena, the petting zoo pen is filled with both animal residents and human visitors, an errant goat trying to sneak a bite of T-shirt or handbag when no one is watching.

There are still 10 minutes before the show begins, but Opal, a white terrier mix, and trainer Amber Karstens are taking advantage of the rapidly forming audience for a little practice time. At a prompt from Karstens, Opal leaps up to Karstens’ chest and rapidly pushes away with her hind legs to complete a nimble little flip. From the audience, a little girl’s voice carries above the applause: “That was cool!”

This is the first year Canine Stars Stunt Dog Show is performing at the Lake County Fair. Founded in 2012 by Keri Caraher, the show is based out of Colorado and Wyoming and has toured extensively throughout the North American continent, performing in Canada, Mexico and the United States. The majority of the canines on the show’s roster are all adopted animals, either rescued from shelters or found as strays and adopted into the Canine Stars family. Today, the Canine Stars family consists of 25 trainers and 200 dogs who found their forever home in show business.

For 25 minutes, adults and children cheer on the canine performers as they catch frisbees, freestyle dance and clear heights up to 52 inches from a near standstill.

Performing for the first time in the U.S., Karstens, a visiting trainer from the Netherlands, returned to the arena with her dog, Ruby, to perform a freestyle dance to “Footloose” that had the crowd clapping, laughing and smiling from beginning to end.

The show’s finale was performed by Power, a 10-year-old Belgian Mallinois that could barely contain her excitement to leap off the arena’s dock into a pool of water. Living up to her name, Power soared more than 24 feet through the air before splashing into the pool.

Caraher said shows like hers provide a valuable opportunity for audience members – children especially – to realize the untapped potential in any dog, regardless of its age, breed or background.

“We have all sorts of mixes from shelters, found ’em as a stray on the side of the street and here they are starring in this amazing show,” she said. “You can build a relationship and bond with your dog and do amazing sports and things with your dog. … Kids who come to fairs that live in the suburbs and can’t have sheep and goats – they can’t raise those animals and learn about those things like empathy and compassion and just taking care of another living being – they can do this with their dog at home.”

After the show, 5-year-old Ava scrambled from her front-row seat for a meet-and-greet with Power, grinning ear-to-ear for a photo with the dog. For Ava, Power was the runaway favorite of the show.

Ava wasn’t the only one impressed with the show.

“The dancing routine was pretty amazing,” Lake County resident Brad Choate said. “It’s a hot day and she did a full song. That was pretty great.”

“I feel like that’s a special bond between the owner and the dog,” Amie Russo added.

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