- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
“Herding cats” is a cliche for controlling the uncontrollable, but Samantha Walker has mastered the art, and more. The animal trainer’s 12 furry performers will do circus tricks and play musical instruments in La Plata this weekend, defying their species’s reputation as indifferent and aloof.
For the most part, at least. The creatures cannot be coerced and sometimes simply do as they please, said Walker, the Chicago-based animal trainer behind the Acro-Cats.
The circus cats “climb ladders, jump hoops, roll barrels, push shopping carts. Or sometimes lay on the floor, do nothing and groom inappropriately. Walk the high-wire. … They’ll do things at their own pace. You have to be ready for anything, go with it and have a backup plan in your head for what you’re going to do,” Walker said.
Sometimes, perhaps intimidated by the audience, they don’t even feel like coming out of their carriers to perform. They don’t have to.
“Or if they’re not that interested, they’ll come out and just lay on the floor in the middle of the show. We just kind of go with it,” Walker said.
Walker once aspired to train animals for Hollywood, starting with dogs and rats as a teenager. She tried to launch her career with trained rats, but the demand wasn’t high enough, though it was “higher than you’d think,” she said. Opting to make a change, she switched to training animals for ads, and to training cats, the second-most in-demand animal after dogs.
She started Acro-Cats eight years ago to raise her profile and attract more advertising work, but the show “took on a life of its own,” she said. The troupe travels around in a mobile home equipped with cat perches and other feline amenities, though one or two are generally napping on Walker’s bed at any given time.
But the star performer, a white female named Tuna after her favorite food, is never one of them. A “diva” who doesn’t much like company, feline or human, Tuna is kept by herself to keep her from picking fights with her companions, Walker said.
But with the most impressive resumé in the group, she’s earned the right to keep her own counsel. Once listed in Oprah Winfrey’s “O” magazine as the country’s highest-paid feline performer, the “talented” Tuna appeared in Nutro Max cat food ads as a kitten and also starred in a Petco ad, a short movie and print advertising, Walker said.
She’s the frontcat for Rock Cats, which performs after the circus portion of the show. With the exception of a tambourine-playing chicken, Tuna is the most “professional” in the band, staying on task during performances more reliably than the others, Walker said.
Rock Cats don’t play songs, exactly, but they do bang on their instruments. Walker called them a “’60s band, kind of like a jazz fusion experimental band. Very experimental, the first of their kind,” Walker said.
Tuna plays cowbell, while four others play guitar, piano, drums and chimes, Walker said.
“For the most part,” they get along, Walker said. “Some cats have personal tiffs with each other and the band breaks into little fights, sometimes in the middle of the show. Certain cats don’t like each other. They’re not very professional,” she said.
Also traveling with the group are three foster kittens available for adoption to a good home. Homeless cats from the Humane Society of Charles County will be on display, too.
The Acro-Cats will perform 7 p.m. May 3 and 4, and 1 and 4 p.m. May 5 at the Port Tobacco Players theater at 508 Charles St. in La Plata. Tickets cost $15 for children 12 and younger, and $20 for adults.
For more information or to buy advance tickets, go to www.circuscats.com.