Handstands With Balancing, Dunking Chihuahuas? The Story Behind 1 of the NBA's Best Halftime Shows
For over a decade now, Christian Stoinev has traveled the world with his tiny, furry companions, dazzling thousands with their acrobatic displays. They stand on his back—and even on top of basketballs.
"The boys kind of have their own puppy tricks, dog tricks that they do, but then I think the strength of the act is the stuff that we do together," Stoinev tells Daily Paws.
A fifth-generation performer, Stoinev is an acrobatic hand balancer, engaging in feats of strength and athletic prowess, often upside down and on just one hand. But, as Stoinev is quick to admit, his own portion of the act is just an appetizer, setting the stage for the real stars of the show: his Chihuahuas, Percy and Milo.
Here he is with Percy last month at the NCAA Women's Final Four, where the tiny dog manages to stay on top of Stoinev while the human does a summersault. Percy then moves to Stoinev's feet when he does a handstand, eliciting cheers from the Minneapolis crowd.
Stoinev's act traces its beginnings back over 10 years to his days as a teenager, traveling and performing with his parents with the Big Apple Circus. Being the only teen in an act on the road for weeks at a time can be lonely, so young Stoinev begged his parents for a pet. Needing him to be small so he could travel without too much fuss, they got him his first Chihuahua—named Scooby.
"I already was a young kid practicing handstands," Stoinev says. "So then it sparked this idea to my dad, which was like, 'Hey, when we go practice tomorrow, why don't we bring [Scooby] with us?'"
That first day, they placed Scooby on Stoinev's back as a moment of fun, but Scooby seemed so comfortable there, the pair began to wonder what other things the little dog might be trained to do.
"That's kind of how the act started," Stoinev says. "By the time I was 14, I already was performing 'Christian and Scooby' on the Big Apple Circus."
Scooby retired from performing six years ago and died a year and a half ago at the age of 17. Since his retirement, the act—named "Christian & Scooby" to this day—continued with Percy. Now 9, Percy has begun sharing the spotlight with the next dog in line, 3-year-old Milo. These days, Stoinev and the pups perform at a Las Vegas residency and serve as halftime entertainment for NBA, WNBA, and NCAA basketball games. Over the past year, they've added NFL, MLB, and soccer events to the roster as well, allowing Stoinev and his dogs to perform for thousands of people across the country.
"It's hard to believe that I was able to make a career out of this," he says. "And it really wouldn't have been anything if it wasn't for how special Scooby was and Scooby kind of starting it all."
As the act transitioned from Scooby to Percy and Milo, Stoinev has catered performances to each dog's skills. Milo, for example, can pick up a plush basketball in his mouth, carry it on his hind legs, and "dunk" it in a small basketball hoop. Meanwhile Percy is best known for his ability to walk on basketballs.
"My dogs have changed my life in incredible ways," Stoinev says. "Besides the obvious, the fact that they've given me a career. In a way that's the least important way in which they've changed my life.
"They've brought me so much joy and happiness and experiences."
Stoinev is grateful for the chance to perform around the world with his two, tiny best friends. But, like all live performers, his biggest thrill is seeing the reaction of the crowds who he, Percy, and Milo delight each night.
"I'm so excited that I get to show what these little guys are able to do to people all across the world," he says.