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Norwich Bulletin - 3/9/2008

Agility - Not Just For Dogs Anymore

Linus was born a feral cat and lived on the streets before he went into a rescue organization. There he was adopted by a lady in Wisconsin that showed Household Pets in The International Cat Association. She worked hard to bring Linus to the point where he trusted people and to like being a show cat.

But, his owner wanted him to do more, as well as get some great exercise, and so she decided to train him on cat agility, when it was a brand new concept. Instead of toys or food, Linus responded to kindness from his human and his owner would get down on all fours, pat her hand in front of the obstacle she wanted him to tackle.

He learned to do the courses strictly by her voice and hand commands and kisses for rewards. Linus won his first agility tournament in Novi, Michigan. A household pet who once struggled to find food and shelter, was now a tournament champion!

What exactly is an agility competition for cats? It is an obstacle course in a fenced in area, which includes jumping through hoops, running through tunnels, weaving around obstacles, climbing ladders, walking across planks - much the same as you will see when you watch a dog agility competition.

The equipment is just cat size and the obstacle course is fenced in. The clean run is more valuable than fast times, but both are important in determining who the winners will be. Clean runs (a run with no fault or refusal on the course) will also count toward agility titles. So you now have interactional activity in which your cat needs to have talent rather than just beauty.

And where are these agility competitions held? At the beauty shows, of course! The International Cat Association along with local clubs present the agility competitions at the same time as their cat shows, whenever there is room. Many of the northeast showhalls are too small to be able to offer both, but the Midwest and western areas seem to have the agility tournaments at quite a few of their shows.

The Great Lakes Cat Enthusiasts are in Rosemont, Illinois (just outside of Chicago) on March 29 and 30, 2008 from 9 am to 5 pm, at which time purebred cats and household pets will compete at the cat show and at the agility competition. And if you happen to be in the Oklahoma City area, Thunderkatz will be hosting a show and agility tournament on April 26 and 27, 2008.

Who puts on these competitions? ICAT is the big name in cat agility. There are official courses and Agility Officials, such as Susan Lee from Okemos, Michigan. Mrs. Lee has officiated at numerous agility tournaments in Canada, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota and Oklahoma.

While she admits that cat agility is still in its infancy, she foresees a great future for the interactional sport. Mrs. Lee states that cats behave more like horses on the agility course than dogs. They look ahead to the whole course and do not take it obstacle by obstacle, like dogs.

It is very exciting to watch a cat on the agility course with its owner for the first time. When they get the idea of what's expected they can fly through the course, always knowing what's next. Of course, like dogs, not all cats are going to like the structure of the competition; however they all seem to enjoy being in what they view as the cat playpen.

Can you train a cat for agility? Well, you can coach your cat. ICAT officials give plenty of time for practice runs at their tournaments. First you need to let your cat adjust to the course itself before you ask him to do anything. When he is comfortable with what he sees, and that tail goes up, it will be time to show him the course by using an interactional toy with him.

Don't get anxious or frustrated if your cat does not immediately take to the obstacles, especially if the cats are enjoying the course. There are lot of reasons your kitty might lose interest in between obstacles. A whole male might be checking the area for a female or just decide to stop and preen for the audience in all his splendor. No matter how your cat reacts to the course at first, try to relax and have fun. That's what ICAT is all about.

I'm lucky enough to have been asked to judge both shows coming up in both Rosemont, Illinois and Oklahoma City. Wouldn't it be a great time to experience both a TICA cat show and an ICAT agility tournament? For more information on the shows, please visit www.tica.org and click on show schedule.

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