Feline agility competitions, in which cats run through a miniature obstacle course full of hurdles and tunnels, have become fixtures on the cat show scene. Modeled after canine agility competitions, the tournaments feature a ring in which cat owners — some of whom have trained their pets from kitten hood — brandish a feather or sparkly wand to try to coax a cat to climb stairs, weave around poles and leap through hoops in as little time as possible.
Some cats tear through the course in seconds. Others make it clear to the eager onlookers that they could not care less. About 30 percent of the cats finish the course in the allotted four and a half minutes, said Russell E. Reimer, a ringmaster in Mesa, Ariz. “Most of them have a hard time with the weave poles,” he said. “The tunnels, the steps, the hurdles are no problem.” Under the Cat Fanciers’ Association’s rules, which differ from those of the International Cat Association, a cat is awarded 15 points for each obstacle it navigates successfully, Reimer said.
“You have to get the cat to focus on the toy,” said Anthony Hutcherson, who raises Bengal cats in Port Tobacco, Md., and whose oldest cat, Justin, has run the course in nine seconds. “Cats will pretty much chase a feather on a string anywhere.” Most people send their cats into the ring cold, where they often get spooked by the crowds and unfamiliar setting. But others train their cats — usually with a regimen of kibbles, praise and neck rubs — and find that they will do tricks, albeit on their own terms.
Is it the cat’s own work ethic or its training regimen — nature or nurture — that makes an agility champion?
“I think it’s more the personality of the cat,” said Reimer, who breeds Burmese. “There are some Maine Coons that won’t do anything in there, and there are others that’ll tear the course to shreds. The same with the Abyssinians.”
Feline agility got started about a decade ago when two couples who met on the cat show circuit went out to dinner and started talking about the tricks their cats did. They modified some dog agility obstacles and showed them to their cats; from there, a group called International Cat Agility Tournaments — or ICAT — was born.
Read more on this article from 'The New York Times' Here.