Cats are fascinating and quite often silly creatures. For one reason or another, their almost human-like behavior and personalities hold a soft spot in the hearts of many cat lovers.
One human in particular has made it her mission to travel around the U.S. with her ring of cat-performers to prove that all animals are capable of learning a few tricks.
“My cats are kind of like everybody’s cats,” Samantha Martin, creator of the Amazing Acro-Cats, said. “They’re a little bit indifferent at times, but awesome at other times.”
On Feb. 12, Martin and the Acro-Cats performed at Beaumont’s Jefferson Theatre. Martin said it was skeptics who didn’t believe in her cat-performers that pushed her to create the show.
“People are like, ‘You can’t train cats,’ she said. “Look, cats can be trained. People come because they are skeptical. And, of course, that cats don’t do perfectly, so it kind of makes them laugh. But then they do things awesome as well, so it’s kind of a win-win.”
Martin said she knew that she wanted to be an animal trainer since she was 10. In her 20s, she started her own company with rats, which was called Acro-Rats. It wasn’t until later when met a very special cat, Tuna, that her vision took shape.
“It evolved into kind of an educational zoo, because I couldn’t just make a living on just rats,” she said. “About 14 years ago, ‘Tuna’ came into my life, and I started working with cats. I put together a show based on the rats show. Acro-Cats, seemed like a good idea — it just kind of snowballed from there.
From balancing acts to activating applause levers to playing in the band, the Rock Cats, the performers are all taught through clicker training, Martin said.
“It is a type of training that involves positive reinforcement only, so if they do something that we like, we click and give them a treat,” she said. “We kind of ignore the bad stuff. It’s a great way to bond with your cat.”
Martin said through clicker training, cats get a mental stimulation and physical activity, and it can even save their life.
“A lot of people don’t understand how this whole cat training thing works,” she said. “The first and most important thing you need is a tasty treat. Dogs might work for love or a tennis ball, but that’s because they’re suckers.
“Cats like to be paid, so we pay our cats up here. We actually cook a fresh chicken, salmon, tuna, even grilled chicken liver before every show. That gives them quite a bit of extra motivation. Next of course, you’re going to need a cat.”
All of the performers are her own pets that live with her. In 2009, she started fostering for local rescues in Chicago.
“Since that time period, I’ve fostered and found homes for 193 cats and kittens around the country,” she said.
Martin’s cat-performers are graceful, combative and, more often than not, unpredictable. Each performance takes a lot of preparation, with many of the props coming from her own home.
“The cats are sometimes the only thing that gets me through because I’m really tired a lot of times,” she said. “It’s a lot of work. But, once I’m working with the cats, I kind of lose myself within the moments of the cats, so there’s that fulfillment there.”
Martin said she hopes to inspire people to train their own cats, and sells a training kit at her shows.
“You can train your own cat to do everything you see our cats do, or not do depending on their mood — because they are cats,” she said. “If my cats can do these things, your cat can do these things. It just takes 10 minutes a day, and you can have a cat doing some amazing things.”
The cat-troupe travels all around the United States in the Acro-Cats Mobile Foster and Kitty Tour Bus, which was funded through Kickstarter in 2015.
“I love traveling, so it’s kind of like the perfect life,” Martin said. “I get to be with the animals I love 24/7 and travel the country.”
For more information, visit circuscats.com.
UP multimedia editor