FELINE ACROBATS

Karina Paape's picture

Note to readers: The following blog post is an adaptation of two of 42 columns titled "For the Love of Cats" and originally published in the "Coastal Breeze" between December 2013 and March 2016. The by-line on those columns was shared by myself and a cat named "Naomi" who was officially known as "shelter supervisor" at a no-kill cat shelter in Marco Island. Since Naomi lacked the requisite thumbs to write her slices of catty wisdom, she narrated her many humorous anecdotes, heartwarming stories of rescued felines, and tips on how to live with a cat so that I could get them typed into the computer and off to the publisher by deadline! The full series can be found on this website under "Naomi's Blog." She hopes you enjoy her "reporting!" Naomi retired from her shelter supervisory duties in January 2014 after excusing her 70 volunteers from further service.

Dear Fellow Felines:

About four years ago my ghost writer Karina Paape (owner of Island Pet Sitters) took her first vacation to Key West where she saw the most breathtaking display of feline fleet-footedness ever witnessed this side of a big top tent. She immediately called to tell me about a circus-trained tortoiseshell cat who was drawing crowds of one hundred or so spectators every night. Well let me tell you a thing or two: anyone who knows anything about torties will tell you we are complicated, difficult, stubborn, and bossy gals (99.9% of torties are female). And we would never agree to be "trained!" But Karina insisted so I got myself down to Key West post haste to see what she was talking about. And sure enough, when I got down to Mallory Square that first night I was greeted with the most magical words: "Cat show for cat people...Starts in five minutes...Any dog lovers go back to your rooms!"

And sure enough, five minutes later out came a tortie named Georges who, at 14-years-old, would leap through a flaming hoop while the crowd oohed, ahed, and cheered her on. Georges' siblings – “Chopin” and “Mandarina” – were equally impressive gymnasts. All three were kittens when hurricane Georges swept through the area in 1998 and rescued by "Catman Show" founder Dominique LeFort. The trio displayed grace and athleticism while climbing a thick rope, leaping from circus stands, walking along a ten foot balance beam elevated five feet above the ground and, of course, leaping over hurdles. One feline acrobat was even catching flying fish (a.k.a. sushi tossed in his direction). And, as yours truly expected, Georges was clearly the star of the show! “Without Georges there is no show," ringmaster LeFort told the crowd. "She is the cat-alyst!"

Feeling somewhat miffed at the concept of a "trained" tortie, I snagged a front row seat and waited to see what Georges had up her six-toed, "Hemingway cat" paws. When she displayed some classic tortitude upon being commanded to jump up on the balance beam I did a back flip and meowed a string of "bravos!," beaming with pride that Georges had not, in fact, sold her tortie soul. She was simply strutting her tortie stuff, demonstrating the superiority that resides in the hearts and minds of self-respecting torties worldwide.

Since the heresy of training a cat, especially a tortie, was still bugging me I took ringmaster LeFort aside between shows and asked him how one trains a cat. He explained that it takes 18 months to teach his cats to climb ropes and jump through firery hoops and snug rings, and another 18 months to get the cats comfortable around crowds of partying adults and rowdy children. For safety reasons LeFort doesn't want his cats to get distracted from their work and head for the bars lining Duval Street! He added that it's really no different from how one handles the difficult and time consuming task of training lions so they are comfortable and de-sensitized around crowds of people. The rest is pure athleticism.

I recently received a lengthy voicemail from Karina who was in Key West just last week; naturally she took in one of her beloved "Catman" shows. It seems that the trio ringmaster LeFort rescued after Hurricane Georges in 1998 were retired from show business three months ago. Georges is now 18 years old! At this time the show is down to just one feline who is in the early stages of getting his paws performance ready. Named after a predecessor, "Mandarina" selectively obeys LeFort's commands and apparently generates more laughter than applause. But the show must go on! LeFort's goal these days is to acclimate a pair of young bobtail siblings to the show environment from the safety of their carriers. They'll continue watching and waiting for another few months after which LeFort will begin introducing them to the show ring and its props.

That trip down memory lane brought to mind the importance of play and exercise to the well-being of cats. I ask you, who wants to chase geckos during monsoon season when we can just hunker down indoors, sprawled out on the folks’ chairs, beds, couches, and all those nooks and crannies in the closets. As much as we all love these lazy days of summer, there is a limit to just how lazy one should be. Afterall, more than 50% of cats these days are considered "obese." Shame on us, and our human staffs!

While our staff (reminder: dogs have owners, cats have staffs) is encouraged by their own doctors to get thirty minutes of exercise a day, we kitties can get by with just fifteen minutes of daily interactive exercise. Of course to reach this goal we need to educate our humans in the ways of kitty play. Just throwing down some catnip isn’t going to cut it. Felines thrive on interactive play because it so thoroughly challenges our predatory instincts; it also enhances our bonds with our humans. Great toys are “da bird” and the “cat dancer,” available at most pet stores. Both toys encourage stalking and pouncing behavior which is great for our reflexes and waistlines. I have heard tell of some amazing acrobatics while chasing down the feathers: leaping, lunging, backflips, big air and somersaults. You’ll need to make a list for your staff so they can find the right toy and ask the right questions. Some of you might want to add a laser toy to that list, as well as pingpong balls, and some of those cute felt mice and crinkly foil balls. If you have already tapped out the monthly budget, snag a paper grocery bag or empty cardboard box from your local food or beverage purveyor. It is, however, crucial that you put the more dangerous toys away when the day’s playtime is over. Otherwise, you’re well being is in jeopardy.

I recently heard tell of a beautiful Siamese girl who swallowed a three-foot long fabric ribbon she was playing with. Fortunately, her owner immediately discovered the disaster; a trip to the pet emergency hospital saved the day. “I feel really bad that a good intention went so wrong,” opined her nameless staff. Other dangerous household items include: dental floss, Christmas tinsel, polyester fiberfill from torn plush toys, needles and thread, knitting yarn, plastic bags, foil balls, and the plastic eyes and bells attached to your dog's or child's stuffed animals. It goes without saying that under my deft supervision, my charges are well schooled in the do’s and dont’s of cat fitness and athleticism.

On the shelter front I have had my paws full with supervising and discipling this year’s crop of kittens. I’ll start with our young mom “Tara” who was found giving birth on the side of the road by a Naples veterinarian; mom finished having her babies at the Animal Specialty Hospital (ASH). She was pretty nervous when she got here but with my help has become a love sponge. Next on the list is Samantha, the poor kitten who came to us without eyelids (a genetic defect). After a couple of surgeries she is doing great and loves to wrestle and tumble with Tara. Just like I said earlier, that playtime thing is really important to us felines

Love, purrs, and meows!

Karina Paape's picture
About Karina Paape
Karina grew up in Annapolis, Maryland and is a full-time, professional pet sitter. Karina wrote a column about cats for the "Coastal Breeze" from 2012-2016, all of which can be viewed on this site under "Naomi's Blog."