A traveling family circus.
Circus Stella is the name of the husband and wife team, Dextre Tripp and Jana Colgin, along with their five rescued dogs, Stella, Louise, Adrian, Mabel & Clarice. Along with their dog act, they perform rope-walking, juggling, and aerial acrobatics. They’ve officially completed their build in their newly purchased Nissan NV 3500 high top cargo trailer, incorporating space for five Ruff Tough Kennels. Here is Jana from Circus Stella to tell us more.
Please tell us a bit about yourself, your traveling circus, your new van, and your super cute pups.
My name is Jana Colgin and I travel with my husband, Dextre Tripp, and our five rescued dogs. Together we perform a family circus show called Circus Stella, named after our oldest dog. We both traveled full time when we were younger, but now our schedule is a balance of six months on the road and six months in our GIANT tiny house (800 sq. ft.) in North Carolina.
We recently purchased a Nissan NV 3500 cargo van to safely transport our dogs and to take them on adventures in between jobs.
Our dogs travel in crash tested Ruff Tough Kennels and we could only fit five in our old truck, but this new van could comfortably carry so many dogs! We also have an All American Sport 5th wheel toy hauler trailer, and it has a big garage section in the back big enough for all of our circus equipment. It’s the best of both worlds. We can have weekend warrior trips in the van, then return to our trailer when it’s time to get ready for work!
You and your five rescue dogs run Circus Stella, a touring circus act. How did you get involved in performing as a team? Is this your full-time work? Did you perform as a couple before the dogs joined you?
Circus Stella is, indeed, our full time work and takes up more of our time than you might suspect. It’s funny because the show itself is not like work at all – it’s the transport, set up, tear down, contracts, practice and more that is the real work. Dextre and I met in 1997 when he was already an established touring act and I was still in high school. He helped me develop my own performance, and I was able to audition my own show at summer events while I was in college. After I graduated, we tried to book the same events whenever possible but we were long distance a lot because we had separate shows.
In 2008 we got married, but continued to tour separately, each of us hauling around our own show, truck, trailer, etc.
We’d rescued Stella at this point, followed by Louise and Adrian. Dextre began teaching them tricks. They were so smart and had so much fun learning, he couldn’t help but put them in the show, which was an immediate hit. The dogs are what brought our two shows together in 2010 and we became Circus Stella. Dextre performs ropewalking and balancing, I perform aerial acrobatics, we both juggle, and of course, the icing on the cake, our furry friends have their own act. We’ve all been booking and touring together ever since.
Stella, Louise, Adrian, Mabel, & Clarice are all rescues. Did you always know you wanted five dogs? What does the process of training a rescue dog for a circus look like?
We want more than five dogs! We had six, but we lost Rozi last year. She lived to be an incredible 18 years old, which is a very long life for a dog of her size. The van is actually in service of our long term goal to retire our own acrobatic acts and become exclusively a dog show. For that, we’d like to rescue more dogs, totaling 7-10 dogs eventually. Dextre is the primary dog trainer. We use positive reinforcement of behaviors, which the dogs enjoy to teach them their tricks. For instance, a dog that likes jumping will be rewarded for that behavior and coaxed into jumping through a hoop, or jumping rope. Dogs who are agile and sure footed will be taught balancing tricks, dogs who like puzzles will be praised for solving them, etc. It’s important to encourage the talents your dog naturally possesses and to challenge their minds.
When you travel on the road for shows, do you usually incorporate travel for pleasure as well?
Yes! We love to hike and our dogs need the exercise. Local trails are a must! When I was younger I wanted to do every silly touristy thing advertised on the interstate, but now I just want to be in the woods and the dogs agree. We don’t really adventure en route though. We usually get from point A to point B with as few stops as possible, settle in, and then take off on adventures in the van.
As you said, you recently purchased a Nissan cargo trailer to travel and incorporated room for five kennels. Can you describe the layout of your build?
These kennels are so cool! They have doors on the front and the side, so you can arrange them multiple ways and the dogs still have easy access. We call them the dog apartments. Right now we have three at the sliding door and two at the rear door. There are two narrow beds, L shaped and stacked over each other for maximum interior space, so Dextre’s feet will be under my feet! You can watch the first video of our van conversion here and the second half of it here.
What has been the best part of building out your own van? The most challenging aspect?
Working together is fun for us. We’re a good team and we’re used to dividing tasks and conquering projects. Dextre’s brain does tetris much better than mine, so I’ve enjoyed watching him design the perfect layout to keep the van functional for cargo and for living. We had a mechanic handle the solar install, which he finished in just one day. Magical. I am in total awe of the people who do their entire van build themselves!
You mentioned your build includes a ventilation system and internal temperature monitoring so your dogs can travel safely with you. Can you please explain this a bit to me?
We’re still figuring out our venting situation. Dextre installed the exhaust fan, but because our van has no windows we needed floor vents to make an air exchange possible. We’ve also added two more vents for further ventilation, since they are cheap to install. You just need to cut strategic holes in your floor, so the shaded air from beneath the van is sucked up and the hot air expelled with the exhaust fan. We chose the Maxxair Deluxe because of the rain shield, which cost $230.
Here’s the thing, we can’t walk all five dogs at once so we walk or hike with them in shifts. Ideally, we’d be able to leave some dogs in the van while we walk the others. The overall goal is to be able to leave the van closed and locked with the dogs safely inside. Obviously temperature control is crucial. We won’t truly know how well (or not well!) our ideas work until we test them out this summer. As for the remote temperature monitoring system, we purchased the SensorPush Wireless Thermometer and Wifi Gateway. The thing is, you need internet access for this to work, so while it will be great for most locations, some hiking areas will be too remote for it to work.
You’re currently in the midst of your 2018 tour. Please list your upcoming show dates and locations for people to come see you!
Our tour started in April, with all local shows. We leave for the touring segment of the season in May and return in November. You can see all our show dates on the calendar flier. We would love to meet fellow travelers and if you have dogs (or cats, or bunnies, or snakes, whatever), we want to pet them!