Ever since I first heard of the Amazing Acro-Cats, I have been a fan. The Amazing Acro-cats was founded in 2006 by animal trainer Samantha Martin and features a troupe of rescued cats that perform tricks in response to a clicker. According to the Amazing Acro-Cats website, when Samantha realized the benefits of clicker training cats, she wanted to share her experience with the public. She began educating and entertaining cat lovers in small venues around Chicago. Since that time, Samantha has continued to rescue cats and integrate them into the show, which was touring nationally in almost all 48 states prior to the pandemic. Each show typically closes with a performance by the Rock-Cats, which according to Wikipedia, is billed as the “only cat band in existence”. The Amazing Acro-Cats promotes animal welfare, educates audiences on cat training, and offers foster cats and kittens for adoption. I talked through email with Production Manager Polly Smith.
ALLISON: Why did you want to work for Acro-Cats?
POLLY: Uhm, cats! in 2009, before I knew about Acro-Cats, I’d always try to find the strangest things to promote and support. I didn’t have a cat at the time but really wanted one. When I saw the website I was immediately a yes! Cats and something completely different!
ALLISON: When did you become production manager for Acro-Cats? I feel like I earned that title about three years ago, so in 2017. I had toured with Samantha for four years, we lived on a bus together, and knew the show and cats inside and out by that point. The work just became what I did, if that makes sense.
ALLISON: What does a typical day look like in your position?
POLLY: Well, it used to look very different, before Covid. If we are to look at it before covid, its basically dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s so to speak. Making sure that “nothing is missing.” If that means a prop needs fixed, so be it. If that means someone needs to be fed or medicated, so be it. If it means I need to make calls and raise money, then that is what I do. These days, since we cannot tour, it is all about fundraising. Most of the money to take care of the cats and to continue our mission came from doing shows, and now, we can’t.
ALLISON: How did Tuna inspire the start of Acro-Cats?
POLLY: She was so special. She loved to train, loved to perform. She was very smart! She would ring a bell for over 15 mintues to get Samantha’s attention. That’s longer than a normal training session!
ALLISON: What does a typical day look like for Samantha?
POLLY: These days? Emails, training cats, more emails, trying to raise money for our cause. That eats up a lot of time. Her primary goals these days are to take care of neonatal kittens. There are a lot of what we call “bottle babies” out there that need special care that only a very few have the patience and knowledge of handling successfully. Samantha is one of those people. Right now she has six bottle babies! That is a lot of tiny kittens that need around the clock care.
ALLISON: Share a memorable road trip moment?
POLLY: My favorite is Phoenix, Arizona, 2012ish. A small, white haired, older lady sat next to a punk-rock looking younger guy. You know, spiked belt and colored hair, piercings, tattoos. They didn’t know each other. I am running around in the audience getting ready before the show starts. I see her lean into him and ask, “How many do you have?” He responds, “Three.” I giggle with joy! This show brings people from all walks of life together….I will never forget that.
ALLISON: How does everyone relax when not doing a show?
POLLY: The cats don’t! They’re stir crazy right now, bored. They really need enrichment and the clicker training helps that. We do mini shows at the house and they train a lot while we aren’t traveling. Oh, do you mean the humans? We get by….
ALLISON: What is the best stage you’ve been on?
POLLY: We really love the stage in Athens, Georgia, at the Morton theater. The audience is great there, the stage is the right size, and the staff is amazing. It’s purrfect!
ALLISON: Why should cat owners clicker train their cats?
POLLY: I can tell you so many stories, but let me tell you my own experience here. The relationship I have with my cats is so much stronger! This means that I would never, ever give them up in a situation where if I have to move and might not be able to have cats, or something like that. Obviously, sometimes you can’t change circumstances, but having this relationship makes them members of our family. I could go on and on about this. Behavioral issues, socialization, the list is endless of the benefits and clicker training only takes 15 min a day!
ALLISON: What is the most challenging thing about training cats?
POLLY: I think it is the human learning how to do it. I toured with Samantha and the cats for four years before really just getting the hang of it. You don’t just know how to train cats one day. The trainer learns what to do, how to read the cats, when to start/stop, and finding out what the cat likes to / prefers to do. There is a lot involved.
ALLISON: What is the most popular trick that the Acro-cats do?
POLLY: I think its JAX on the skull, because she just decided that is what she does, not the other way around, and we are completely cool with that.
ALLISON: What have learned about cats from working with Acro-Cats?
POLLY: They bring us humans together and they dissolve the boundaries we have with other humans that separate and divide us. Other humans couldn’t teach me that!
ALLISON: What have you learned from cat owners from doing these shows?
POLLY: You can’t label this person or that person a “cat person” there are cat ladies, cat guys, cat non gender specific. Young, old, rich, poor. But one thing they share in common, besides cats, is a capacity to be patient with their animals.
ALLISON: Tell me more about the training kit you sell to cat owners at the show.
POLLY: We upgraded it last year! It comes with instructions, a clicker, a whistle (because you can whistle your cat to a carrier which in emergency situations is vital) and a target stick. Oh and a cute bio booklet of all the cats in the show!
ALLISON: How has the pandemic impacted Acro-Cats?
POLLY: We are sooo broke! As I mentioned before, touring was our main source of revenue to continue our mission, we are a 501c3 so we don’t “make money” doing this. It has been a real struggle to keep afloat.
ALLISON: Tell me about how Acro-Cats helps feline rescue.
POLLY: Rock Cats Rescue has found homes for over 300 cats and kittens. We also have our neonatal care, which I mentioned above, that has been really active in the light of the Pandemic.
|To watch a documentary about the Acro-Cats, order here.
To watch a live video of the Acro-Cats show, order here. Minimum cost is $15.
To support the Acro-Cats, participate in its Meowathon. From now until 12/23, your contribution will be matched dollar for dollar, along with receiving thank you gifts based on your donation amount. You can donate online or by telephone. See details here.