Pet Tales: Acro-Cats: Mars native can make cats fly -- and like it

Many songs and memoirs have been written about the joys of “ramblin’” down the open road. Charmaine Baldt takes the genre to a whole different level: For eight months a year, she travels and lives on a customized bus with three other people and 17 cats.

The bus pulls into Downtown next week, bringing “The Amazing Acro-Cats with the Rock Cats” to the Bricolage Theater for seven shows from Wednesday to Oct.15 ( Humane Animal Rescue will receive part of the proceeds, and adoptable felines from its Homewood shelter will be in the lobby.

In each 80-minute live stage show, cats run an agility course that includes hoops, a balance beam and ropes. One cat pushes another in a little car, another pushes a barrel and a couple of them balance on a ball while rolling it across the stage.

The crowd-pleasing grand finale features the Rock Cats playing musical instruments, including trumpet, drum, piano, cymbal and  tambourine.

Ms. Baldt, 34, a native of Mars, will be on stage with the cats. Hired two years ago as a cat caregiver, she has been promoted to graphic designer and now helps with training, which involves using clickers and very tasty food rewards.

Right before every show, Ms. Baldt prepares fresh treats, including lightly seared ahi tuna, boiled chicken and salmon. Traveling with cats is not necessarily her most unusual job. Ms. Baldt spent a year as a caregiver at an Ohio cat sanctuary and has worked as an artist, musician and fire performer.

“I can breathe fire and I can eat it,” she said, noting that she performed at birthday parties and community and corporate events. Two years ago, she was “looking for a job that would make me happy” and found Acro-Cats on Craigslist. 

The cats have been rescued by Samantha Martin, who describes herself as an animal trainer and Chief Executive Human of the show she’s had on the road for 12 years.

The tour bus always has several foster cats and feline understudies aboard. More than 200 cats that didn’t have what it takes to perform in the show have been placed in good homes, Ms. Baldt said.

Oz, a gray tabby who plays guitar, was orphaned when his mother ate a rat that had eaten poison. Oz and Jax are two “bottle babies” hand-raised by Ms. Martin.

“Jax is one of the most talented  cats and knows every trick in the show,” she said. “But over time she has picked what she wants to do — or not do. Her big trick now is coming out of her carrier and refusing to do anything. She runs off the stage, and the audience cracks up.”

The show is not always perfect,” Ms. Baldt said. “It’s like improv with animals.”

When cats decline to do a trick, it sometimes becomes a part of the show. “The cats help to rewrite the show. They are very smart.”

This has been a difficult year for the Acro-Cats troupe. A white cat named Tuna, the original Acro-Cat who got star billing for 12 years, died of cancer. 

“Tuna was happiest when working on stage. She had the strongest stage presence. She was a diva,” Ms. Baldt.

To keep up the white cat tradition, three white felines, including one named Big Eye Tuna, are being groomed for her role. 

Six to eight local volunteers are needed to keep the show rolling. In Pittsburgh, that will include Deb Smith of Churchill and Steffi Bruninghaus of Squirrel Hill, who are both very active volunteers with cat programs at Humane Animal Rescue. They’ll oversee the local shelter cats and the HAR adoption table. Other volunteers will sell merchandise, which includes T-shirts and cat ear headbands.

Ms. Smith, who works as a teacher, loved the Acro-Cats when she saw multiple shows two years ago, and she lobbied shelter staff to partner with it. Ms. Martin usually borrows a kitten from a local shelter and brings it up on stage to demonstrate how to clicker train a cat, Ms. Smith said. 

For four months each year, the Acro-Cats and Ms. Martin live in Griffin, Ga. Ms. Baldt returns to Mars. Her father, Michael, cares for her pet cats — Jillian, JoJo and Vinyl — while she’s on the road.

Tickets are $23-$38 and can be ordered online at; some tickets may be available at the door at the Bricolage Theater, 937 Liberty Ave. The curtain goes up at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and next Saturday. Matinees are 4 p.m. Oct. 14 and 1 and 4 p.m. Oct. 15. The Wednesday night show is sold-out. 

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064 and on Facebook.

First Published October 6, 2017 9:00 AM