Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cat Agility Proves It's Not Just a Dogged Sport

Cat Agility Proves It's Not Just a Dogged Sport
By Brian Stillman on Zootoo PetNews

Cat Agility Proves It's Not Just a Dogged Sport: Feline agility competitions show cats are not only trainable, but that they can run an obstacle course just as well as their canine rivals. The growing sport is changing the perception of cats everywhere.

NEW YORK -- They say there's nothing harder than herding cats, but that old adage falls by the wayside after only a few minutes spent watching Jill Archibald lead her two Japanese bobtails through a feline agility course.

Armed with nothing more than a sparkly, fluffy toy at the end of a long stick, Archibald entices her frisky friends to climb over rails, run through tunnels, and leap through hoops.

"Cat agility is really a test of the skill of the cat and the skill of the handler," says Archibald, the Feline Agility chairperson for the Cat Fanciers' Association. "The cat's ready to play, and the handler just directs that play."

Archibald is standing inside a fenced in obstacle course that's been set up at the first annual Meet The Breeds convention at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. Sponsored by both the American Kennel Club and the CFA, the event is designed to bring hundreds of different dog and cat breeds together under one roof.

It's also a perfect spot to showcase feline agility, says CFA Executive Director Allene Tartaglia. "People don't know cats can be trained," she explained. "I think this shows cats truly are great athletes, that they are trainable."

The rules governing feline agility competitions are simple: cats must complete the course in under 270 seconds, and they have to overcome each obstacle in the prescribed manner. This means, for instance, that when navigating a set of three stairs, a paw must land on each stair. The course is run counter-clockwise, and handlers can't to use food to lure their cats.

"I once played a practical joke on a friend of mine," said Archibald. "I got her cat to run the course in about eight seconds, and she couldn't even come close to that. She didn't know I was using a cat treat!"

Archibald hastens to add that she'd never do that in competition. What she modestly avoids mentioning is that she doesn't need to: her cats are champions, and have completed the course in less than 20 seconds.

While feline agility competitions have been around for about a decade, they've only recently gained a wider audience. They're often held at larger cat shows, where there's room for the course. Today, these events can attract 40 to 50 competitors.

"Of course, many of them are new to the sport," said Archibald, with obvious pleasure. "I'm happy seeing people being active with their cats. That's what matters the most."

Archibald hopes the demonstrations she's been holding at Meet The Breeds will attract more people to feline agility competitions. She says no breed is better than any other, and success can come to any cat that's energetic and has a handler who knows how to read its body language.

Practice obstacles can be made at home from easy to find materials like PVC pipe, which is available at many home improvement stores. "They don't have to be regulation size in the beginning," she said. "Make them small for kittens, and then make them taller as the cat gets older."

Standing outside the course at Meet The Breeds, Divida Weber, a cat owner from New York, watches one of Archibald's demonstrations with wide eyes. "It's amazing to see," she said. "My cats have taught me a lot: To come, to feed. It's nice to see the shoe on the other foot!"

Perhaps even more impressive are the reactions that Archibald has gotten from the dog owners attending the convention.

"We're more familiar with seeing border collies and such doing this sort of thing," said Dorice Stancher. "I have new found respect for kittens!"

For more information on the Cat Fanciers Association, visit

[Article and Photo by Brian Stillman]
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