published Friday, October 28th, 2011

The Amazing Acro-Cats at Barking Legs Theatre

IF YOU GO

What: The Amazing Acro-Cats.

When: 8 p.m. today and 1, 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Barking Legs Theatre, 1307 Dodds Ave.

Admission: $15 adults, $12 children ages 12-under.

Phone: 624-5347.

Website: www.circuscats.com.

It turns out, said Samantha Martin, there's really not much of a market for acrobatic rats.

Cats, though? Well, that's a different matter.

"Much as I liked rats, there was no rats-to-riches story," said Martin, who will bring her Amazing Acro-Cats Halloween show to Barking Legs Theatre today and Saturday.

However, following a stint of working with rats, she's been touring the country with a cat-trobatic show for seven years, putting the lie to the theory that cats can't be trained.

The 13 cats -- and one kitten, available for adopting -- she'll bring to town this weekend will man a rock 'n' roll band, jump through hoops, leap over hurdles, ring bells, walk a high wire, push carts, turn on lights and do other tricks Martin's taught them.

They're clicker-trained by positive reinforcement, she said, the training taking from five minutes to six months and the positive reinforcement ranging from boiled chicken to sushi and salmon.

"They have high-end taste," Martin said. "Dogs may work for love, but cats like to be paid."

Cats being cats, though, the shows don't always go off like clockwork.

"They run the show," said Martin, who has an animal husbandry degree. "It's based on the cats' mood."

The cats, she said, arrive onstage in their carriers. When it's time for a specific cat's trick, the door is opened, the cat comes out and does the trick and is whistle-trained to return to the carrier.

Except when they don't want to.

The cats, said Martin, "have the option of not coming out." If "they're not feeling it, we move on to the next cat."

On other occasions, she said, they come out, do their trick and keep going. They might disappear and reappear in the theater. They always come back, she said, but they're sometimes covered in cobwebs.

"[The show] is constantly evolving," Martin said. "There's always something new."

The highlight of most shows is the Rock-Cats band, known for the Halloween shows as the Skele-Cats. They'll play Halloween-flavored hits such as "Don't Purr the Reaper," "Ooh, Ooh Witchykitty" and "Catster Mash."

The band includes, among others, Tuna, "the star of the show," Martin said, and Pinky, the guitarist. The combo has two drummers because the drummer's appearance depends on just which one is in the mood.

"The drummer's always the hold-up," she said.

The Amazing Acro-Cats are based in Chicago, according to Martin, and she, an assistant and the 13 cats travel the country in a 33-foot Catmobile RV. The cats, naturally, have the best accommodations in the vehicle.

Martin, however, said she is living the dream she's had since the age of 7 of training animals.

"There's an adventure around every corner," she said.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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