Who says you can't train a housecat?

Clearly not the Panfilov Circus Family, which brought its troupe of performing cats to the York Fair this year.

Under the direction and smile of trainer Mayya Panfilova, the cats walk - some upside down - across a suspended tightrope, roll across two ropes on a plush ball and climb up a pole several feet in the air before plunging back down.

The act is part of the free Royal Hanneford Circus held at Memorial Hall each day of the fair, with five shows daily and four shows on Saturdays.

Trained cats? Although many cat owners might suggest that it's near impossible to train felines, it can clearly be done. Just ask Panfilova's husband, Andriy Bilobrov.

Miss Mayya Panfilova and her clowder of cats shows York Fair fans cats can be trained.
Miss Mayya Panfilova and her clowder of cats shows York Fair fans cats can be trained. (Bil Bowden photo)

"It's a lot of patience, it's a lot of time, and it's a lot of practice," he said. "Of most things, it's patience - and love. We love our pets."

The duo begins to train its cats at two months, but it's fun for them, Bilobrov said.

"Just like play - it's not like exercise," he said.

Certain cats are more adept at certain things - some are better at jumping, some are better at the upside-down stunts, he said. And the act uses two "teams" of cats to give each cat the rest he or she needs.

The team was last at the York Fair in 2009 and is glad to be back, Bilobrov said, noting the couple loves the fall weather in Pennsylvania.

"We're very happy when we get offered to come here," he said.

The husband and wife, both 40, came to the United States from Russia about eight years ago and have been in the circus business for around 15 years, Bilobrov said.

They have 12 cats, which even have their own special room in the family's home in Atlanta, he said.

"It's (a) lovely animal," he said. "It's like my family."

The self-described circus family has been traveling with Hanneford for two years, he said. Its daughter, Alisa Panfilova, 22, is even a professional hula hooper.

"It's (the) best thing. it's a very fun time," he said.

Cute and clever: After watching how the cats literally and willingly jumped through hoops for their owners, spectator Jennifer Rosenberry, 22, of York City said she couldn't train her own pets like that.

"Not my cats," she said. "I think cats are harder to train - way harder than dogs."

Rosenberry also correctly imagined that it would take a lot of time and patience to do so.

"I think it would take more treats. They must've had to start them when they were little," she said.

Rosenberry's sister Rebecca, 19, of Lewisberry also liked the show, although she said she's more of a dog person. The sisters even remarked how that one of the cats, a particularly stoic gray one, resembles the Internet-famous "Grumpy Cat."

"The cats were so cute," Rebecca said.

-Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.