...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Over, Under, Around, and Through—Solving the Mystery of Cat Agility!*

By Sheila Webster Boneham

When I announce that Leo, the lead cat in my Animals in Focus mystery series, goes to his first competitive agility trial in my new book Catwalk, people respond with everything from disbelief to uproarious laughter. But it's true!

Most people know about canine agility by now, since it’s become popular enough over the past twenty years to be televised regularly. Although the most spectactular runs tend to be by lightning-limbed Border Collies and other speedy mid-sized animals, dogs of all sizes, breeds, and mixtures compete successfully. Check out these videos:

* Yes, that’s a Chihuahua!

* All kinds of dogs, and people, too! 

It looks fun, doesn't it? Well, it's not just limited to dogs--cats compete in agility, too!

In cat agility, the handler directs or—more often--lures the cat through tunnels, up and down ramps, over jumps, and through weave poles and other obstacles. Although it's a fairly new sport, it's growing in popularity in The U.S. and Europe. Here’s a dose of cuteness—a kitten beginning to learn about agility on a kitten-sized course. 

My lead mystery dog, Jay, and his Labrador buddy Drake get to indulge in lots of sports in the series—obedience in Drop Dead on Recall, retriever training in The Money Bird. In the interest of interspecies fairness, Leo insisted that it’s his turn in Catwalk. So Janet MacPhail, animal photographer cum amateur sleuth, has entered him in their first feline trial just a week after a doggy trial with Jay. She’s running her socks (if not those extra twenty pounds) off! The trial takes place at a cat show, and the mystery in Catwalk involves the politics of feral cat colonies and trap-neuter-release programs, so it all fits together. Oh, and Leo’s furbrother Jay is a hero when some newborn kittens are lost. Good dog!

Too many people still believe that cats can’t be trained. Not true! Cats are smart, athletic, and fun-loving animals, so the trick for would-be trainers is to find something that the individual cat finds motivating. Clicker training (operant consitioning) is a very effective way to teach new behaviors in a positive, reward-based way. Here are some more happily trained cats:

 * Spectacular clicker-trained agility cats

* Getting started

* Beginners in competition

Like all good training, feline agility provides a wonderful way to strengthen the bond between cats and their owners. It also gives participating cats a fun way to keep their bodies and minds in shape.

To be successful in agility, your cat must have an outgoing, confident personality; be in excellent health and physical condition; and love to play. The sport is open to all kinds of cats, so it might be just the thing for you and your feline athlete. Even if you aren't ready to participate, why not visit a trial when the leaping, tunneling cats come to town and see what it’s all about. You can learn more at http://agility.cfa.org/index.shtml

When animal photographer Janet MacPhail gets a frantic call from champion dog owner Alberta Shofelter about a "cat-napping," she and her Australian Shepherd Jay jump in to assist. Fur flies when the search turns into a nasty run-in with local big shot Charles Rasmussen, a bully who enjoys throwing his weight around. As Rasmussen makes good on his promise to cause trouble, Janet tries to keep up with her mom's romantic travails, figure out her own relationship with Tom, and train her animals for the upcoming agility trials. But when a body is discovered at the Dog Dayz event, it stops the participants dead in their tracks—and sets Janet on the trail of a killer.

"Animal photographer Janet MacPhail's latest adventure will delight dog lovers, cat lovers, and mystery lovers. Janet is excellent company, and although Leo the cat plays a starring role, I'm happy to report that Leo does not eclipse Jay the Aussie, who has become one of my favorite fictional dogs. Indeed, if Jay ever needs to move out of the pages of Sheila Boneham's mysteries and into a nonfiction house, he'll be more than welcome in mine. Five stars for CATWALK!" ~ Susan Conant, Author of BRUTE STRENGTH and other novels in the Holly Winter series of Dog Lover's Mysteries 

Sheila Webster Boneham writes the Animals in Focus mystery series. Drop Dead on Recall, the first book in the series, won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America and was an NBC Petside Best Ten Dog Book of 2012. #2, The Money Bird, was a Maxwell Finalist in 2014. Sheila is also the author of 17 nonfiction books, six of which have won major awards from the Dog Writers Association of America and the Cat Writers Association. For the past two decades Boneham has been showing her Australian Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers in various canine sports. She has bred top-winning Aussies, and founded rescue groups for Aussies and Labs. Boneham holds a doctorate in folklore from Indiana University, an MFA Stonecoast/University of Southern Maine, and lives in Wilmington, N.C. 

Sheila writes literary nonfiction and poetry as well, and teaches writing. You can keep up with Sheila’s latest news at  www.sheilaboneham.com and www.facebook.com/sheilawrites, learn more about animal-oriented writing—with some of your favorite authors!—at her Writers & Other Animals blog at www.writersandotheranimals.blogspot.com

*An earlier version of this post appeared at Melissa's Mochas, Mysteries, and Meows on September 26, 2014

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