AcroCATstic: Acro-cats and other animals perform


Oz "plays" the saxophone at the Acro-Cats show in Phoenix. Performers use chicken-flavored baby food to entice the cats to "play" the wind instruments during the Rock Cats portion of the show. (Nicole Neri/DD)

One of the Acro-Cats jumps over a stick at the Phoenix Acro-Cats show. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Audience members laugh at the Acro-Cats show in Phoenix Feb. 26. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Wiki the cat returns to the stage after wandering off through the audience, as some of the cats did. Audience members were encouraged to slip tips under the collars of any wandering cats. (Nicole Neri/DD)

One of the newest Acro-Cats jumps through a hoop at the Phoenix Acro-Cats performance. (Nicole Neri/DD)

One of the Acro-Cats presses owner Samantha Martin's hand against her face. Martin owns all of the Acro-Cats and Rock Cats.

One of the Acro-Cats rides a ball down two parallel tight-wires. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Audience members were encouraged to take photos and video during the performance. (Nicole Neri/DD)

The Acro-Cats walk on and weave between small posts during the Phoenix Acro-Cats show Feb. 26. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Olympic athletes sometimes find it difficult to land on their feet. For cats, that ability is built into their genetics.

Cats and other creatures leaped through hoops and flipped skateboards in The Amazing Acro-cats show at Playhouse On The Park Monday night.

Audiences can prepare for what the show bills as the world’s only cat band, the Rock Cats (featuring Cluck Norris, a chicken). Instruments like keyboards and trumpets are modified for animals without opposable thumbs.

The Rock Cats were featured in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!”, a book series documenting odd trivia and facts.

Samantha Martin, who runs the show as its Chief Executive Human, started The Amazing Acro-cats in 2006. Martin said she was inspired to start the show while training her cats for work in movies and TV shows.

“I needed to train them in different environments, and then people started showing up in droves to see these cats do things,” she said.

Samantha Martin with one of the Acro-Cats during a Phoenix show. (Nicole Neri/DD)

The show travels around the country on a tour bus and generally runs for six to eight shows per stop. Martin said the show visits about 20 cities per year.

She said she trains the cats with the clicker method: after a cat completes a task successfully, a small device that makes a clicking noise is used. The cat then receives a treat.

Despite positive reinforcement training, Martin sometimes has trouble taming animals’ behavior on set.

“They’re really unreliable … the cats’ll do things at their own pace,” she said.

That brings some charm to the show, according to Melinda Nicholson, one of the audience members.

“Honestly, the funniest part is when the cats don’t listen,” she said.

Nicholson said she attended the show in the past after receiving tickets as a gift. This time, she bought tickets and attended with her friend, Ashley Wolcott.

In addition to putting on shows and training animals for the film industry, Martin said she found homes for 216 cats and kittens picked up during her travels. She said a portion of the show’s proceeds are donated to various animal shelters.

Martin said she enjoys her job that allows her to travel and meet cat lovers all over the country.

The Amazing Acro-cats perform in Phoenix through Feb. 28.