Gentle Care Animal Hospital

Gentle Care Animal Hospital

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Agility contests for cats? It's purr for the course

They work their way through a daunting course of tunnels, jumping and weaving through poles. All on cue. Sort of.But whatever they decide to do, it's more than most normal-thinking people would expect.For these animal athletes are cats, doing their owners' bidding — more or less — in competitions patterned after canine agility contests.
The felines are enticed, cajoled and sometimes just released like bullets to maneuver over or through six to 14 obstacles. The best make it in about 10 seconds or so; the less eager take, well, a few minutes.For pet owners stunned when their own cat deigns to jump off the kitchen counter in the same week she's ordered to do so, the idea of an on-demand feline performance — in public, of all things — seems implausible.

But evidence is appearing at cat shows all over the world, and interest is growing."Many people show up at our events saying, 'I heard there was cat agility, and I didn't believe it. I had to come and see it with my own eyes."They're blown away," says Vickie Shields, a cat-agility pioneer who with three friends put on the first-known contest in Albuquerque in 2003.They founded International Cat Agility Tournaments. The tournaments were held at about 25 shows put on by The International Cat Association clubs in the USA last year and at about 100 worldwide.

"Cats are very smart and very trainable, but they're not dogs. They don't take orders," Shields says. "They will do things you want them to for praise and for fun — and if they want to do it."It's a simple matter of training, she says. Most people use clicker training (a click sound is made when the cat performs the desired action) and toys on sticks as lures to indicate where to go next.

"This whole thing about cats being untrainable is ingrained in society, and it's a myth," Shields says. "Agility is all about showing how smart and trainable they are, the bond between cat and owner, and showing the cats in active, athletic ways that you don't see when they're posed and judged at shows. You can get chills watching the speed and coordination of some of these cats." And not so much with others.

"Some cats will get in there and then quickly decide 'I'm just not doing that' and sit in the middle and take a bath," says Carol Osborne, a certified ringmaster for agility competitions put on by the Cat Fanciers' Association.About 40 shows will feature agility competitions this year, including two this month in Maumee, Ohio, and DelMar, Calif., and three in February in Portland, Ore., Oak Lawn, Ill., and Cincinnati.

"Some of the cats finished in two minutes, some didn't finish at all, some got distracted in the middle and went off on their own adventures,' says Bengal cat breeder Ree Hertzson, who saw her first agility competition at The International Cat Association show in Syracuse. "And the Persians would stop after a few seconds and lie around looking pretty."

At the urging of others at the show that day, Hertzson put her show cat Packer into the agility ring without preparation or training on the part of either owner or feline.

Packer was like a Thoroughbred at the gate. When released, he blasted through the course in 14.5 seconds, directed by a toy Hertzson held. "Some cats are instinctively driven to do it, apparently," says Hertzson, who was astonished by Packer's performance. Also, he's very toy-driven, which prompts him to track wherever the toy goes.

Packer ran the course repeatedly that day and was eager for more. "By the 11th time, he didn't need the toy anymore to know what sequence to follow. He ran me ragged." Most cats require a larger measure of preparation. And shows generally offer opportunities for "practice runs" for newcomer cats and owners."You can observe the new cats going through this, and then, suddenly, the light comes on for them. They get it. They know exactly what they're supposed to do," Shields says.

Says Oborne: "The cats that figure it out and do well love it and finish the run and cry to go back." Then there are the ones that don't."Not all cats reach that light-bulb moment," Shields concedes.Osborne recalls one feline that everyone called Perimeter Cat because each time he got onto the course, "he would not go over, under or through anything, he'd simply trot all around the ring, on the outside of the obstacles, avoiding every one of them. He ran the course many times, and he never did things any differently."

This was not a disappointment to the audience, she says. "Everybody loved watching him."
Indeed, part of the appeal is the possible train-wreck aspect that proves cats are independent thinkers. Another is that any cat can be entered, not just bluebloods. So house cats and shelter kittens have done agility. A three-legged cat has competed and done admirably, as has a blind one.Some things have become evident, Shields says. "Males get distracted more often. But they're also the more powerful jumpers."Another: "Persians will do a couple of obstacles, then rest."
By: Sharon L. Peters, from USA TODAY.


Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment - we love hearing from our readers!

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home