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Altamont Fair Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 12, 2010

The Pawstars –– dogs and owners –– have fun
while flipping, flinging Frisbees, and flying at the fair

By Jordan J. Michael

ALTAMONT –– After a successful debut at the Altamont Fair last summer, the Pawstars Frisbee Show is coming back with some new tricks.

Erich and Kara Steffensen, of Millbrook, and their nine dogs, perform a Frisbee freestyle routine with all types of tricks. The Pawstars have been doing shows at county fairs and minor league baseball games for the last five years.

“We like to show the bond between us and our dogs,” Erich Steffensen said on Friday. “We have a special relationship.”

Steffensen said that Chris Testo recruited the Pawstars for the Altamont Fair after seeing a performance at the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival. “We like the atmosphere in Altamont,” said Steffensen. “It’s really fun.”

The Frisbee tossing started seven years ago when the Steffensens got their first border collie, Java. The activity was meant for exercise and the Steffensens had no intention of going further with freestyle.

“Java and I ended up going to a few toss-and-fetch competitions and I started teaching him some new tricks,” Steffensen said. “People started noticing Java and he became a ham for the audience.”

The first trick Java ever did was a flip. “I toss it over his head and he catches the disk while doing a back flip,” said Steffensen.

Five years later, the couple has nine dogs, mostly border collies. Steffensen told The Enterprise that having nine dogs in the house “isn’t as crazy as people might think.”

“They behave surprisingly well,” Steffensen said. “They’re all pretty relaxed, but we have to give them all the same amount of attention. We let them roam free when we’re gone and it’s no problem.”

Moshi, the next broder collie to arrive, can handle multiple Frisbees at once. Moshi went to the World Finals last year and placed 20th out of 40 dogs. “Moshi loves it all, everything,” said Steffensen.

Fuse, Lalo, and Pai-Mei are the other main Pawstars in the line-up.

“Fuse is the fastest one and Lalo is kind of our clown,” Steffensen said. “Lalo likes to do goofy stuff to pick up the audience.”

The Steffensens rescued Pai-Mei, a cattle dog, from Craigslist. “She had been through four homes in six months,” said Steffensen. “She likes to jump and vault off my leg.”

All the dogs loved to play Frisbee and do tricks, so the Pawstars was a natural progression. “It all fell into place,” said Steffensen. “It has worked out pretty well.”

The Pawstars is just a hobby for the family. Erich works full-time as a butcher and Kara is a partner for a movie company. The couple makes just enough profit from the Pawstars to buy Frisbees and travel to events.

“I think we’re at our capacity for shows,” Erich Steffensen said. “It might be nice to go on a national tour someday, but we have jobs.”

The Pawstars show lasts about 30 minutes and everything is done to music. Kara does the announcing while Erich controls the dogs. There is no “regular” routine because the order and the music are always switched.

“Kara is always on the ball, so I don’t even notice the crowd,” said Steffensen. “Our dogs automatically know what to do once the music hits –– which is amazing.”

Steffensen said that the act is always well received. “Everyone always comments on how much fun the dogs look like they’re having,” he said. “Our dogs want to play.”

The most frequent question the Steffensens get after a show is, “How do I get my dog to do this?”

“You have to have a playful dog,” Steffensen said. “It can be any toy, really. You can teach the dog, but start out basic. Maybe feed the dog out of a Frisbee so trust can be established with the object. Don’t turn play into work though.”

The most difficult trick for the Pawstars is a reverse chest vault, which Moshi performs. Moshi jumps up to Steffensen’s chest and pushes off into a back flip, only to catch the disk in mid-landing.

“The dogs jump and flip all over the place,” Steffensen said.

The nine dogs get their practice every day, but Steffensen says that they try not to overdo it. “Sometimes we’ll only get five minutes in,” he said. “If we can’t play outside, we’ll do some tricks in the house.”

Most of all, the Steffensens want people to see how much fun their dogs are having.

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“You will be amazed by it,” said Steffensen. “These dogs focus all their energy on something and you’ll see how happy they become.”