If your kitty gets destructive and has a bad attitude, she’s not bad, she’s just bored. The cure? Train her to do tricks and play in a kitty rock band!
We may think cats spend their entire day sleeping only to awaken once or twice for food and litterbox usage, and to let us know we have failed in creating the purrfect life for them.
In “real life” if your cat was not under the care of a human she’d be very busy, always vigilant for predators and prey, scrupulously keeping house to remove any trace that she existed, producing and training kittens as often as possible, constantly hunting for food and catching a nap when possible. We may think we’ve given her the best life she could have, but with centuries of training behind her she doesn’t give it up easily and sometimes that need for stimulation and a task turns to bad behavior.
It’s this energy that Samantha Martin uses to train her Acro-cats and Rock Cats to purrform on cue, mostly, and not just for your entertainment on stage. As an expert animal trainer Samantha also trains cats and other animals for performances in movies, TV shows, commercials and in print ads in her business Samantha’s Amazing Animals. The performances came about in 2005 as a way to keep her troupe of trained and talented actors in practice between gigs, and they began touring in 2009.
Training animals begins with finding what they like to do and working with that preference through “clicker training”, a method that uses a sound and a treat to reinforce behavior. Not all animals are meant for stardom, but clicker training can also be used to manage activities at home, like defining mealtime. Think of cats and can openers—they already come running, and you can combine a click with the can opener sound to let cats know when the cans being opened are for them.
Cats love routine, harkening back to that biological training they’ve received through the centuries. Unknown smells, sounds, activities indicate potential danger, and routine sounds and smells help them feel safe. The training can also be used for emergencies where cats may run off and hide if a storm comes or you need to evacuate quickly, but a familiar click and a treat tells them the carrier is the safest place to be.
In the shows cats don’t always perform as expected, but what they do instead is usually good for a laugh. The fact they are up on a stage and don’t just run to hide is “amazing” on its own, but the tricks they do as expected with the ease and grace of felines is breathtaking: jumping through hoops would be expected, but pushing each other around in carts, walking a tightrope, skateboarding, and balancing on balls? As part of the performance Samantha will clicker train an adoptable kitten from Humane Animal Rescue to show how quickly and easily cats catch on to the technique and actually enjoy it. The show ends with a jam session by the Rock Cats playing real instruments.
Obviously not every cat is meant for this life, but Samantha regularly rescues kittens and cats and gives them the chance to learn something they can add to the show while fostering them in her home and on the tour bus. If they don’t end up as part of the troupe she finds an excellent forever home for them and goes on to rescue more.
And that kitty with the behavior issues? The important part of all this isn’t the performance itself or what the cats learn to do as entertainment, it’s the change in the perception of cats from aloof, stubborn and sleepy to show what cats are capable of when you interact with them in activities they enjoy. They don’t need to do tricks. They just need to be happy with their life, just like us.
I’m looking forward to seeing them this Friday night in Pittsburgh. They are performing nightly with a few matinees October 11 – 15 at Bricolage’s Theater on Liberty Avenue. Visit http://www.circuscats.com/schedule.html#.WdytkDtrzcs for information about shows and tickets. A portion of the proceeds goes to Humane Animal Rescue, and kittens and cats for adoption through HAR will be at the show.
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Mewsette emerges into the sun with the blue fuzzy she has chased around and around and around my room until finally she captured it and presents it to me.
I am honored.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
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Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
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