San Francisco

‘Amazing Acro-Cats' Pounce on San Francisco's Fort Mason to Do Tricks for Sold-Out Crowds

The trained felines, whose photos appear on packaging for pet food and kitty litter, have amassed a following on social media for their tiny circus performance and rock band

What to Know

  • The Amazing Acro-Cats started with a white cat named Tuna and her human, Samantha
  • Tuna's descendants and disciples formed a traveling troupe of performers, some climbing and balancing, while others play musical instruments
  • The Acro-Cats tour the country when they're not starring in movies, and came to San Francisco for a two-week stay at Fort Mason

When the emcee is a groundhog wearing a top hat, and the opening act is a troupe of trained rats, it's a pretty good bet the circus performance ahead isn't an ordinary one.

Playing to over a hundred people in a small theater at San Francisco's Fort Mason, The Amazing Acro-Cats features only three humans, herding an entire family of felines.

"You can train your cat to do everything you see our cats do," Samantha Martin told the audience, high-fiving a white cat named Albacore Tuna who sat at attention on a stool next to her.

Jonathan Bloom
Samantha Martin says she uses positive reinforcement training to get her cats working their magic. It's similar to training strategies commonly used for dogs, but she says cats are even more insistent on high-quality treats after every stunt.

Albacore, Martin said, is a protegé of the late, great "Original Tuna," the white cat that started it all.

"She was a brilliant cat that was just focused on learning," Martin said. "She was kind of the inspiration and the 'cat-alyst' behind the whole show."

Over the years, the performing company has grown from one cat to about a dozen — all former orphans, rescues and strays — and all trained using the same sort of positive reinforcement that's used to train dogs.

Jonathan Bloom
Some tricks, like jumping through a hoop, can be taught to a cat in a single session. But stunts like balancing on a ball as it rolls across the floor can take weeks to teach.

"Some tricks take just a few minutes to teach, like jumping through a hoop," Martin said. "Rolling on a ball or a barrel — that takes weeks to teach."

Indeed, several of the Acro-Cats performed death-defying balancing stunts, from record-breaking leaps through the air to running on top of a ball as it rolls across the stage. Of course, they are cats — which means they always land on their feet, and occasionally just do what they want.

"They know all the right things to do, but whether or not they choose to do it at that time, it's kind of up to them."

Jonathan Bloom
The Acro-Cats do a lot of climbing and rappelling — death defying stunts that aren't really that dangerous, given cats' innate talent for landing on their feet.

During one Sunday night performance, a cat left the backstage area and trotted across the stage and out into the lobby, eliciting thunderous laughter from the audience.

"The crowd loves that part," Martin said.

Martin's latest venture is a rock band — the RockCats — made up almost entirely of cats and cat-friendly musical instruments. There is one non-feline member: a chicken named Cluck Norris whose beak is a perfect fit for playing the cymbals.

"They're the only cat band in the world, and that makes them the best!" Martin told the audience.

Jonathan Bloom
Training a cat to play a guitar isn't that hard, says Chief Executive Human Samantha Martin. After all, they're born with their own set of finger picks, and love to claw at everything.

The band is steadily growing, with a tiny drum set, a cowbell with mallet attached, a set of chimes and a toy piano — plus, of course, a kid-sized electric guitar.

"You know, the cats have natural picking, they've got claws, so they can actually pick a guitar string," Martin said.

In its latest incarnation, the band has trumpet and saxophone players — after all, there's nothing like a little food in the mouthpiece to get a cat to look like it's playing a horn. And therein lies the difference between training cats and dogs: Cats need lots and lots of treats.

"For cats, there has to be something in it for them," Martin said. "Dogs might work for love or a tennis ball, but that's because they're suckers."

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