Summer has turned my cat into a fat, lazy asshole. His range of expression has dwindled to cranky growls and the occasional half-hearted attempt to bite me; it's only a matter of time until he mauls a neighborhood kid who tries to pet him while he's lying belly-up and motionless on the sidewalk.
The cats in the traveling circus The Amazing AcroCats really highlight how worthless my own cat has become. Has he ever leapt to death-defying heights at my signal? Ridden a tiny skateboard? Played in a cat band? Has he ever so much as come when he was called?
According to AcroCats ringleader Samantha Martin, with just a little training, my cat, too, could achieve such feats of daring—she makes a pitch at the show's outset for clicker training, a kit for which is conveniently available at the merch table. There are a handful of other animals in Martin's traveling circus (I won't spoil it by saying which kind) but cats take center stage, from full-fledged AcroCats to three adorable foster kittens that Martin hopes to find homes for while she's on tour. (She's placed five in "forever homes" already so far.) From the kittens to the pros, the feats of cooperation and attentiveness Martin coaxes from the cats are really quite remarkable.
For all their training, though, cats will be cats. When I saw the hour-long show, one cat took a tour through the audience, scurrying blithely under our seats; another took some serious persuasion before he deigned to play his tiny drum set.
"Cats are the most unprofessional animal to work with during a live stage show," explains Martin, an experienced animal trainer. "They are easily distracted and tend to do things at their own pace, leaving many awkward points I try to fill with humor." (The show is quite funny, though Martin goes thankfully easy on the cat-lady schtick—no ironic sweaters here.) She recounts an anecdote about a cat aptly named Buggles: "I had trained [Buggles] for a film to retrieve a rubber roach and drop it on a bed. It was a behavior I spent a lot of time training. Once in a venue in Texas, she disappeared under the stage and reappeared with a big live roach in the middle of the show, and continued to frolic with it for several minutes, tossing it up in the air and batting it around. She was having a great time. Half the audience thought it was hilarious and half were mortified, I think. I had to finally grab the roach and toss it in her carrier to get her off stage."