More cowbell, Tuna. Oh, c’mon.
“Tuna, more cowbell,” coaxed Samantha Martin as the proud, white cat raised her paw, looked Martin straight in the eye and then put her paw back down. “No cowbell for you,” the feline’s face seemed to convey.
At least not right at this moment.*
Tuna and her cohorts, the Amazing AcroCats were in Grand Rapids Oct. 16 and 17 for three performances at the Wealthy Theatre in Eastown. The troupe comprises regular, down-to-earth house cats rescued by Martin and trained to perform tricks of their choosing.
As Chief Executive Human, on any given day Martin oversees the well being of about 14 performing cats — and sometimes an abundance of kittens. On Martin’s cue, the cats perform tricks with skateboards, roll balls over parallel ropes, play the piano, strum the guitar and even read signs.
With a background in animal training, Martin has a natural affinity for animals, especially felines. She uses clicker training techniques to build better relationships and solve behavioral problems. Her career as animal circus master began in the ’80s with an act called the Amazing AcroRats. After a few years, she realized she wanted to do something more challenging when she decided, why not cats?
“Cats have a reputation for being notoriously difficult to train,” said Martin. “But I love a challenge.”
To Martin’s delight, she discovered that cats are highly trainable. The training method differs from that of dogs — cats prefer real treats (chicken, salmon) versus a paltry “good kitty!” after performing a trick.
There’s much more to the show than music and acrobatics, and each cat has an amazing rescue story. One was found behind a dumpster. Others were abandoned as tiny kittens. All are well cared for and loved by Martin and her colleagues.
“We’re devoted to promoting cat-training awareness,” Martin said. “We support feline adoption and rescue across the country. We usually travel with foster kittens and cats. Right now, we don’t have any as we’ve adopted the last group out.”
Martin brought some of her AcroCats came to WKTV’s studio on Saturday to share some tricks and tips on why it’s important to train your cat.
In the studio with Martin was Smudge, a kitten who came on board with a sibling just yesterday. Already he is in training to become an AcroCat.
“I start training them as soon as they can eat solid food,” said Martin. “I observe to see what each cat likes to do and then build upon that using clicker training.”
Already Smudge is exhibiting some great paw action. Surely he has a promising future.
*Seconds later, Tuna did more cowbell. What a tease.