Acro-Cats at Evergreen Theatre. 

click to enlarge Acro-Cats
  • Acro-Cats

You can't teach an old dog new tricks. But you can teach a cat to play guitar.

Or at least Samantha Martin has managed to. Since 2006, Martin has been training rescued kitties to do tricks for her traveling Acro-Cats show. The 14 fantastic felines in her cat circus have been on a nationwide tour, and they'll be stopping at the Evergreen Theatre in Memphis for two weekends beginning November 13th.

The cats execute barrel rolls, jump through hoops, push shopping carts, ride skateboards, and more. One of the Acro-Cats is the Guinness Book of World Records holder for the longest leap (six feet!). And the grand finale is a performance by the Rock Cats, complete with cats playing guitar, keyboard, and drums. Oh, and there's a chicken on cymbals.

Martin says that training cats isn't as hard as one might think. The Acro-Cats were clicker-trained with treats, the same positive reinforcement method recommended for training dogs.

"In some ways, it's easier than training dogs. Cats are more agile and can do a lot of different things that dogs may not be able to do. And cats learn really fast. I can train a kitten to do something basic in just a few minutes," Martin says. "But dogs are more eager to please and will work for various motivators. Cats are more savvy in their negotiations. There needs to be something in it for them. And you can't do it after mealtime because they just want to take a nap."

Martin uses the show to promote cat rescue, and she'll have four kittens up for adoption while the show is in Memphis.

"A woman dumped them off in the middle of the night near the animal control facility [in a town in Illinois], and an officer saw her and charged her with animal cruelty," Martin says. "Now the kittens are with me until they find a forever home. And we're teaching them to do some cute things. Hopefully, they'll find their forever human and home while we're in Memphis."

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