“Cats are brilliant. They really are,” says Samantha Martin, trainer and lead human of The Amazing Acro-Cats, a traveling feline spectacular. “They aren't the most motivated, like dogs, who are like, I want to please you. Cats are more like, What's in it for me?”
Martin started off training dogs nearly 40 years ago as a child and eventually switched to cats. Her felines have appeared in a music video for Megadeth and grace the Tidy Cats litter package. She says it’s possible to train just about any creature. Even a goldfish will swim through a hoop.
“They aren't the most motivated, like dogs, who are like, I want to please you. Cats are more like, What's in it for me?”
Her first stage venture was trick-performing rats. It was successful, but there are more cat people than rat people. “I couldn't make a living on just rats,” she says. “There's not enough rat lovers out there.”
Martin was recently vacationing in Puerto Rico at a pet-friendly resort. She found a couple of cats roving the grounds and had them sitting pretty in just a couple of minutes.
“You kind of go with what the cat does naturally,” Martin says. But “some tricks take longer. Jumping through a hoop takes two minutes. A cat strumming a guitar took six months.”
Also on the bill are Tuna and the Rock Cats, an (almost) all-cat band. Martin says she’s trained them to play guitars, keyboards and drums. There’s also one chicken in the band. (Martin perfected some of her methods at a chicken training camp in Hot Springs, Ark.)
“The chicken is the most professional member of the band,” she says.
Martin also performs rescue work and usually brings some of her adoptable cats to the shows. In addition, The City of Albuquerque’s Animal Welfare Department will hold a cat adoption event at The Cell during the show's run.
Of course, the cats won't always perform. They’re very temperamental, Martin says, and anything can set them off. A door creaking. Someone in the crowd eating. Crinkling paper. A person in a giant blue bunny outfit (this has actually happened). She says the cats aren't fond of people arriving late.
Fortunately, a feline throwing a rock-star fit doesn't seem to detract from the fun.
“If the cats do every trick, the audience loves it,” she says. “If the cats screw me over, they love that, too. There's no guarantee it will go perfectly. In fact, it never goes perfectly.”