For the past several years, a group of rescued cats have taken center stage in Chicago and on the road doing something foreign to most cats – performing on stage. The Amazing Acro-Cats and the Rock Cats are the passion of Samantha Martin, an animal trainer who has worked her training charms on many types of animals.
“I started with the Amazing Acro-Rats and I also had this whole education show with exotic animals,” says Martin. “I realized that I couldn’t make a living on just rats and I also realized there are a lot of dog trainers out there. Since I’ve loved cats and have always had cats, I thought I would focus my energies there.”
Cats take center stage
Martin began by booking art galleries and moved into a theater and sold out for weeks on end. She started traveling to pet expos, booking theaters along the way and sold out there too. Martin’s show is about so much more than entertainment; it’s about showing cats in a different light.
“This is not your polished Vegas show,” says Martin. “Sometimes they jump into the audience instead of through the hoop. I’ve learned to go with the flow because they are cats and the audience just loves it.”
Although cats are the most popular pet in America, they are also the pet most abandoned in shelters and on the streets. Martin hopes the Amazing Acro-cats changes perceptions and people’s relationships with their own cats.
Feline education and rescue
“Cats are the disposable pet for so many people. They really are a latch key pet and too often people leave out food for their cats and just don’t interact with them,” says Martin. “Cats are very intelligent and love to play games and have their mind stimulated. Training builds confidence in cats and it also changes the relationship between cats and their owners. When I walk through the door at my place, it really is a three ring circus.”
Martin has 12 rescued cats of her own that all perform in her show. Because she knows too well the statistics of cats left behind in shelters, she also rescues cats and kittens from high-kill shelters, fosters them and includes them in her show. Her goal is to help these cats find a forever home. So far, she’s found homes for over 100 kitties since April of 2009.
“When I went to pick out my first fosters, I left with 11 cats and kittens because the shelter was going to put down whatever animals I didn’t take,” says Martin. “Training the cats to be part of the show really does give them a leg up. They are more sociable, they have simple behavioral training and they can do tricks. Who is going to leave behind a cat that waves or does tricks?”
Finding new homes
Martin admits that the first show with rescued kittens was a bit harried. They came onto the stage and ran around like it was playtime. Before Martin could panic, the kittens started to take their designated spot on the stage – one by one. Audience members may adopt the kitty after seeing a show, but can’t take that cat or kitten home until after the show wraps in that community.
“There’s two reasons for that. First, that cat or kitten has a part in the show and I don’t want rework the act after every show,” says Martin. “Second of all, I don’t want any adoption to be an impulse. They fill out an application after the show, but they have several days usually before we leave for this to be permanent. I want these rescues in forever homes.”
Human animal bond
Martin says it’s easy to train your cat at home, even if the cat is shy. She recommends spending 10 minutes a day on training and it will make your cat interactive. It also increases your own bond with your cat and helps you more closely monitor their behavior.
“We lost our guitar player from Rock Cats, Pinky, to feline breast cancer this year,” says Martin. “She loved playing in the band and the first thing that I noticed before we knew anything was wrong was that she stopped coming to band practice. It just didn’t interest her. In the past, I’ve had cats that have gotten ill and I noticed because their behavior was off, they just didn’t react like normal.”
The Amazing Acro-Cats and Rock Cats will be on the stage at the Stage 773 Theater at 1225 West Belmont in Chicago through October. Tickets are available online. Then, they’ll hit the road for their winter tour season. You may learn more about them online or follow them on Facebook. Martin is also raising money through a Kickstarter campaign for a new tour bus to keep the show purring along on the road. Read about the campaign here.
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