A 45-foot tour bus carrying a cat trainer, two assistants, 18 performing cats, thousands of pounds of props, four bottle-fed foster kittens, two rats, a groundhog and a chicken came to Renton this week.
The nonprofit Rock Cats Rescue performed Tuesday, May 21 through Thursday, May 23 at Renton’s Carco Theatre. This bus has toured the nation and features felines riding skateboards, performing the record-longest cat leap and playing music. The show includes Chief Executive Human (CEH) Samantha Martin explaining the training, the Acro-Cats and the Tuna and the Rock Cats band as the finale.
“It’s definitely a lot of work, but I can see the countryside, meet interesting people and never leave the animals I love behind,” Martin said. “And also help save some lives along the way.”
This was the team’s fourth trip to Washington and first time performing in Renton.
Opening night attendees Justin Bahraini and Frieda Chan, who showed up in tiger cat ears, were all smiles after the purr-formance. They were visited by one of the cats who jumped off stage and explored the audience.
They both said they also enjoyed the sound effects played throughout the performance. Bahraini said he heard about the event on Facebook.
“It was a cat show! It was very cute,” Chan said when asked what she thought of the event.
In 2002, Martin got a cat named Tuna. She said Tuna was talented and the cat-alyst for her career training cats. It led to creating a cat band with a few non-cat members, and then later the full circus in 2005.
According to a press release, the current band lineup features Roux on guitar, Asti on drums, Nue on keyboard, and some new members: Ahi and Albacore on cowbell and woodblocks, Buggles on trumpet, Oz on saxophone and a chicken named Cluck Norris on tambourine.
The cats in the show are all Martin’s. They’re orphans, rescues or strays and she trains each cat based off what they naturally do around the house.
The training is a positive-reinforcement training that uses clicking and treats to get cats into the tricks. The talents can take between five minutes to several weeks to teach each cat, depending on the complexity.
Right now the oldest performer is 14 and the youngest is 6-months-old. While Martin only trainskittens so they are used to traveling, she said cats of all-ages can be clicker trained to do simple tricks.
Martin said while it’s easy to train cats, it’s hard to get them to perform on-cue. She said she considers the show almost an improv performance, because a cat might decide to sit around instead of do their trick.
“Cats are like ‘I’ll do it in a second, or not,’” she said. “You just have to throw your arm out and keep smiling.”
She said it actually is beneficial that the audience can see the cats are in charge, as some are skeptical of the treatment of performing animals. It’s such a concern that Martin is working on changing the website name away from Circus Cats to Acro-Cats.
She said a lot of circus abuse is from the “old-school days”, before positive reinforcement was an established training method.
In 2009 Martin started fostering through a rescue organization. When she went to pick up her first litter, the facility staff told her the cats in the room would all be euthanized. So she took 13 kittens home.
“It was a game changing moment for me. I’ve learned a lot more cats end up in shelters than dogs,” Martin said. “The least I can do is take in a few and offer them a safe haven and try to find them homes through my show.”
Since then, Martin has found homes for 256 homeless cats and kittens. The cats are already socialized and clicker trained.
Martin said the show has also changed people’s relationships with their cats by encouraging them to bond with pets through clicker training.
“You’ll never give up a cat that high-fives you when you get home from work,” she said. “Your cat will become your best friend.”
More information is available at RockCatsRescue.org.
Some of the cats are also available on social media
•Tuna and The “Rock-cats” (@RockCatsRescue)
•Amazing Acro-Cats Fan Club
•JAX Acrocat (@JAXACROCAT)
•Captain Patch (@captaintheoneeyedwondercat)
•The Amazing Acro-Cats (@acrocats)
•JAX ACROCAT (@jaxacrocat)
•Captain Patch (@captain_patch_the_cat)
•Baby Bobby (@baby_bobby_the_cat)
•The Amazing AcroCats (@AmazingAcroCats)
•JAX ACROCAT (@JaxAcrocat)
•Buggles D. Cat (@Bugglesdacat)
•Ozwald Martin (@OzAcrocat)
•The Amazing Acro-Cats (amazingacro-cats.tumblr.com)