A traveling band of performing cats has given more than 200 strays and rescue kittens a shot at adoption -- or, for a lucky few, the chance to ride a skateboard or play the drums.
The Amazing Astro-Cats is a touring circus troupe of house cats, based in Chicago. In 2009, while searching for a kitten to train, Astro-Cats founder Samantha Martin ended up adopting 12 strays destined for euthanasia at a crowded Chicago shelter.
Martin, who partners with local shelters while on tour and donates a portion of the show's proceeds, told the Huffington Post the mass kitty adoption proved a “life-changing moment.”
Since then, Martin has rescued 209 kittens from shelters and adoption centers around the country. She's found homes for them all, including several who are now Astro-Cats performers, who ride skateboards, roll barrels, climb ropes, push shopping carts and jump through hoops.
Each Astro-Cats show closes with a performance by The Rock Cats, an ensemble led by a white short-haired cat named Tuna until she died earlier this year. A 2012 review of The Rock Cats concluded that what the band "lacked in technical skill, they certainly made up for in rock 'n' roll catitude."
Martin relies on positive reinforcement techniques to train her performers. She uses clickers to teach the animals to associate a desired behavior with a treat, usually a bit of chicken or tuna. While felines are notoriously less pliable than dogs, Martin says her methods upend the widespread belief that cats can't be trained.
“They need interaction,” Martin said. “They need a way to use their brain."
The yearly event is hosted by the North Dakota Humanities Council.