Air buds: Dogs take center court

Ready Go Dog Show takes Cintas Center court with rooted history at XU

By Tess Dankoski and Katie Sanchez, Staff Writers

The crowd was captivated earlier this month at the men’s basketball game by the halftime performers — a duo of trick-performing, Frisbee-catching dogs and their owners, John Casey and Nikki Penta. 

Casey and Penta own and operate Ready Go Dog Show, a company that brings dog-based performances to halftimes, fairs and theme parks across the country. 

When asked about his start in the dog show business, Casey explained how he began throwing a Frisbee with his dog back in 1990. 

“It was one of those moments. Six months into having my first dog, I knew exactly what I was going to do with the rest of my life,” Casey said. 

From there, he began competing with his dogs in local and national competitions, all while working full-time as a framing carpenter. In 1995, he landed his first halftime show with the Cincinnati Bengals. 

“It was just the greatest feeling ever to go out and jam with my dog,” Casey said, looking back on the performance. “It was just fun.” 

After 25 years of performing under different titles, Casey officially formed Ready Go Dog Show in early 2020 in collaboration with Penta.

Casey has been performing annually in Cintas Center for the men’s basketball halftime show since 1998. Growing up as a Xavier fan and Cincinnati native, Casey looks forward to this particular show every year.  

“I could do 100 halftimes a year for NBA teams or for 70,000 people at an NFL game, but I always get nervous when I come home,” Casey said. “Because if a dog is ever gonna poop on the court, it’s gonna be at a Xavier game.”

Casey’s connections to Xavier go much farther than being a lifelong fan. Throughout his childhood, Casey’s mother worked in the Xavier admissions office, and he attended basketball camps led by former coach Bob Staak in the early 1980s. Even now, Casey still remains friends with the former Xavier basketball scorekeeper Jerry Gels and current radio announcer Joe Sunderman, who were his grade school basketball coaches. 

Casey has performed all over the country at schools, arenas and fairgrounds, but he says his focus has always been on the dogs. 

“I didn’t start out doing this for any other reason other than to have fun. Playing Frisbee with the dog was what it was all about,” he said. 

Casey is passionate about dog adoption, with nearly all of his current show dogs coming from shelters. Many dogs end up in rescues because they have high energy levels that are unsuitable for many homes, but this energy is what makes them perfect for Casey.

“They ended up in rescue for a reason, and that was because they had too much energy for a normal pet home. I just give them an outlet for that excessive energy,” he said.

The stars of the Xavier vs. Butler halftime show were Vino and Phobia, two of Casey’s favorites.

Vino is a three-year-old Belgian Malinois adopted from a rescue in Nashville. 

The Belgian Malinois is a muscular, tawny-colored breed known for its extremely high energy level, which makes them difficult to handle for many families. However, they excel as police and military dogs and, in Vino’s case, Frisbee-catchers.

Newswire photo by Desmond Fischer
Half time performer titled Ready Go Dog Show visited Cintas Center on Feb. 2. The dogs are known for catching frisbees on the court.

Vino was joined by the black and white Phobia, a four-year-old smooth-coated border collie. Phobia, adopted by Penta from Finland, is an enthusiastic, high-flying pup with a diverse portfolio of skills from Frisbee-catching to a five-foot box jump.

Casey and Penta currently own 15 dogs that perform in shows, but he still considers them pets rather than performers.

“I’m not just looking for a machine. I don’t want a robot that does tricks for treats. I want a dog that loves what it’s doing and what it does, so that when you watch the dogs play, they look happy,” he said.

Vino and Phobia showed that enthusiasm in this month’s performance at Cintas Center, igniting an electric crowd of Xavier fans as the dogs raced across the court to catch disc after disc in a series of dazzling tricks.

“The first time that pink Frisbee flew through the air, I was filled with immediate joy,” Sarah Sprinkman, a first-year international relations and Spanish double major, said. 

Sprinkman watched the game from the student section and recalled the excited frenzy that came over the crowd during the halftime show.

“Frankly, I think we won because of those dogs,” she said.