by Arna Cohen

With a little encouragement and a tasty treat, your cat might amaze you with her athletic abilities. Photo by Richard Drew/AP Images.

Scamp the cat stood in front of the
first obstacle, waiting for the signal that
would send him speeding around the agility
course.

Typically, the 4-year-old ocicat, the Cat
Fanciers’ Association’s 2017 national agility
champion, would polish off the course
in 30 seconds to a minute, flying up stairs,
racing through tunnels, slinking around
weave poles and clearing hurdles with air
to spare. And that’s just how it went this
time—until the very last jump.

Scamp (whose full name is Rock n Spots
Hot Tamales) sat down and refused
to move. No amount of coaxing, toy
wiggling or promising of future treats by
Peter Deal, Scamp’s “dad,” could change
his mind. He was done. Scamp earned
points for the obstacles he completed but
not for finishing within the 4 ½-minute
time limit.

That’s how it goes in the dog-eat-dog
world of feline agility competition. The
cats run the show.

And sometimes they steal it. When
International Cat Agility Tournaments
held an event at the 2016 Westminster
dog show (a history-making moment in
canine-feline relations), the cats garnered
as much attention as the dogs, including
a mention in The New York Times.

Why are cats treading on territory
long held by border collies and sheepdogs?
Don’t they prefer to snooze away
eight of their nine lives on a cozy couch?
Yes, and that’s the whole point of agility:
Get them off the couch to stretch their
legs, burn calories and stimulate their
brain cells.

It turns out that cats are well-suited
for agility. ICAT notes that they can jump
six times their height, run up to 30 miles
an hour and have excellent short-distance
visual acuity and 16-hour short-term
memory capacity. Combine these with
natural prey drive and flexibility, and
every cat has the potential for stardom.

Here are some tips for unleashing your
cat’s inner athlete.

  • Crawling through tunnels is just one part of a feline agility course. Photo by Jake Turner/JRTurnerPhotography.co.uk.

Equal op-purr-tunity sport

Agility competitions are typically held at
judged breed shows, but participants
don’t have to be purebred; all felines are
welcome to run the ring. “We see a lot of
household pets,” says Niki Feniak, a certified
feline agility ringmaster who lives
in Hillside, New Jersey. “This season
there were two or three household pets
that got national awards for agility.” At
a show a couple of years ago, she recalls,
a blind rescue cat ran the course in 32
seconds. “She followed the sound of her
owner’s voice. The owner had taught her
‘up’ for when she wanted her to jump. It
was amazing.”

While competitions can be fun for pets
who don’t mind travel or the bustle of the
show hall, your cat doesn’t need to join
the show circuit to benefit from agility
training. Shy types can achieve glory in
the comfort of their own home.

Getting started

First, have your veterinarian examine your
pet for any physical conditions such as arthritis or heart problems that would
preclude strenuous activity. The ideal
time to start agility training is in kittenhood,
taking advantage of a youngster’s
boundless energy and built-in hunting
instinct. Scamp was just 7 months old
when he first competed. He did so well
he earned a regional award. “Kittens are
easy,” says Elizabeth Deal of Hampton,
Virginia, Scamp’s “mom.” All they need
is a little confidence, and “they’ll chase
anything.”

If your cat is older or needs a bit more
encouragement to get off the couch, you
just need to find the right motivation.
That would be his favorite toy, whether
it’s a feather on a string, a laser pointer,
a jingle ball, a sock, whatever floats his
boat. Get his attention, then simply run
him around the house with it for several
minutes, stopping if he’s panting or losing
interest. If your kitty is game, repeat the
sessions a few times a day.

Homemade hurdles

Next, you want to add obstacles. You can
buy all sorts of fancy equipment, but it’s
more fun to make your own. Feniak suggests
placing a broom between two chairs
to make a jump or creating a course that
incorporates your couch, coffee table and
bed. “There are so many things you can
do with just your routine furniture” and
different toys, she says. Add cat trees and
scratching posts, leading your cat to jump
up and down the different levels. Keep
things fresh by switching up the routes,
says Deal. “That way they don’t know
where you’re going. They have to focus on the toy, which means they have to
focus on you.” Reward your cat with a
treat or let him gnaw the toy when the
run is over. It is, after all, a hunt, and
he needs to catch something.

When you and your kitty are ready to
advance to the next level, check out the
tips and videos at catagility.com and
agility.cfa.org. YouTube can be another
source for inspirational videos (see “The
Best of Cat Agility,” in which teenager
Daniel King puts his cats through their
amazing paces—hurdles, hoops, weave
poles, backflips and more).

“You know your animal best,” Lisnik says. “And if they really get stressed out when they’re in a crate, if they really hate being confined in small spaces for more than a little while, they may not be a good risk for flying.”

Nurturing natural talent

Laura Strickland’s newly adopted kitty
Wilbur, a 2-year-old brown tabby, is showing
all the signs of being an agility standout. He already runs with his toys, zooms up
and down the hall, leaps into the air to grab
a wand toy, zips through fabric tunnels and
leaps 5 feet from the kitchen counter to
the top of the cabinets. “He’s not intimidated
by anything,” says Strickland, who
lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.

With an eye toward wearing out her
wild child, who also likes to leap on her
back when she leans over to scoop his
litter box, Strickland has begun teaching
Wilbur a few tricks. First up, jumping in
and out of a laundry basket.

He may not be challenging Scamp’s
title any time soon, but one day Wilbur
could be a serious contender.

Michael Sharp is a former staff writer for All Animals magazine.


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Article source: HSUS

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