Last Sunday, I got to meet Samantha Martin and the Amazing Acro-Cats. I had seen videos of their performances for several years, and I was delighted that I finally got to see the hour long show, featuring over a dozen beautiful rescue cats who perform tricks ranging from walking on tightropes and balls to jumping through hoops to bowling and ringing bells.
Even better, before the show, I had a chance to talk with Samantha, and to meet the cats. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m well aware of the controversy that surrounds circus performances, but after talking to Samantha for almost an hour and watching her with her cats, I was able to put any misgivings aside. From the moment I met Samantha, I knew that I had encountered a kindred spirit. Samantha is passionate about cats and their well-being. She knew from the time that she was ten years old that she wanted to work with animals. A renowned animal trainer with a degree in animal husbandry and studies in animal behavioral sciences, Samantha has worked with all sorts of animals, from rats to chickens to groundhogs.
But Samantha’s heart belongs to cats, and in 2009, she started her Acro-Cats show. The show is a wonderful blend of entertainment and education: Samantha’s desire to educate others on how training can enhance the bond between cats and humans and solve behavior problems drives everything she does.
All of the cats in the show are rescue cats. “These cats are my pets,” said Samantha. “They’re my family.” And her family doesn’t end with her own cats, it extends to foster kittens as well. Samantha works with rescue groups across the country by taking adoptable kittens on the road. Since 2009, she has found homes for 159 cats. Since the Acro-Cats are in the same town for a few days, there are no same-day adoptions, and potential adopters are thoroughly screened by the local rescue before they get to take a kitten home.
Samantha trains the foster kittens as soon as they join her crew, and they even get to be part of the show. One of the quite possibly most adorable parts of the show was watching four kittens scurry across the stage to demonstrate how they are trained to go into a carrier.
Samantha uses clicker and whistle training to train the cats. An important part of her mission is to educate cat lovers that training is not just for circus cats. “Training your cat can be the difference between life and death,” says Samantha. Additionally, training challenges cats both mentally and physically.
The cats range in age from kitten to senior cat. Tuna, the star of her show, is 13 years old, but watching this beautiful white cat in action, you wouldn’t know that you’re looking at an elderly cat.
The cats travel in their very own bus, a 1963 model retrofitted with cat condos and even a cat play room. Samantha also has a van with a fiberglass likeness of Tuna on top. Everything on the bus has a purpose for either cats or humans, and every area of the bus was spotlessly clean.
All of the cats receive regular veterinary check ups, and are fed a premium diet. “We have almost no health problems,” said Samantha, something she attributes to the quality of the diet she feeds. I was particularly impressed by the record Samantha keeps of each cat’s weight: the cats are weighed once a month. Even subtle changes in weight can be an indicator of a health problem, and she wants to stay on top of things.
We got to visit the cats’ dressing room at the theater, where they were relaxing between performances (the cats perform twice a day.) Befitting her status as the star of the show, Tuna has her own dressing room, the other cats share one. Okay, so the reason Tuna gets her own room is because she doesn’t really like other cats, but everybody else gets along.
Everything about Samantha Martin exudes her love for cats: for her own cats, for the cats she rescues, and for the cats she’s never even met, whose lives she wants to make better by educating people about the important role training can play in the life of both cat and human. She is one of these special people you can’t help but admire and love to be around: someone who genuinely loves what they do, and someone who makes a difference in the lives of others.
I could have talked to Samantha for hours, but she had a show to do! The performance completely captured my heart. I find it surprisingly difficult to put into words what I felt during the show. I laughed a lot – because it’s just funny to watch cats perform, because, well, they’re cats. And they’re not always going to perform on cue. But I also felt something I can only describe as pure happiness: happiness at watching these cats do something they truly seemed to love. Each cat had his or her tail straight up in the air running from and to the carriers they stay in on the side of the stage as they were called on to perform. These cats were having fun!
Sometimes the cats didn’t exactly follow directions. A couple of the cats decided to take a walk around the theater rather than follow the cues given by Samantha. All of this only added to the utter delight of the experience.
The show ended with a rousing performance by the Rock Cats, the world’s only feline rock band with special guest Cluck Norris, the chicken.
At the end of the show, Samantha invites the audience up on the stage to meet the cats and to take pictures. I found it impressive that the cats remained completely calm, even with all of these strangers around them.
Samantha Martin has created a truly remarkable experience with the Acro-Cats. I believe that education is always better received when it’s presented in an easily accessible, entertaining way. The Amazing Acro-Cats will make cats’ lives better – and that’s ultimately what Samantha Martin is all about.
For more information about the Amazing Acro-Cats, please visit http://www.circuscats.com. Don’t miss this amazing experience if they’re coming to a theater near you!
Would you like to be part of the Amazing Acro-Cats experience?
Samantha is always looking for volunteers in the cities the cats perform in. Volunteer duties include helping out with setup and merchandise, providing a room in your home for the cats to stay while they’re in town, offering a parking space for the bus, and more. For more information, contact Samantha through her website.
Photo at top of post and photo of the Rock Cats ©The Amazing Acro-Cats, used with permission. All other photos ©Ingrid King, all rights reserved.