Teaching Cats New Tricks

If you take the speed and thrill of dog agility, and remove the speed … and the thrill … and the dogs…

What you're left with is the seemingly impossible, yet increasingly popular sport of cat agility.

CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman talked with several cat owners about the contests. "He enjoys life so that's why I think he would love agility," one said.

Another, holding a cat said: "She's a little nervous right now. I can feel her shaking."

Competitions are popping up at cat shows around the country. Here's how it works: a contestant's time starts when their cat touches the first step on the stairs. Assuming that happens, the cat must then complete a series of obstacles … which, of course, it has no inherent desire to do.

"Dogs, you can tell them what to do," said Doreann Nasin, who helped launch the sport back in 2003. "Cats you kind of have to persuade them to do things."

"See, all it takes is a toy to do it," she demonstrated.

Her cat Chester can do all 10 obstacles in less than 30 seconds.

"The trick is stay ahead of the cat," she said.

Other cats will run the course flawlessly one day, and then just refuse to cooperate the next. It happens often enough and long enough to make it a very poor spectator sport.

But the woman who helped pioneer cat agility says this isn't about entertaining spectators. Doreann says cat shows began offering agility largely to help cat show people get off their tails.

"The owners take better care of their cats than themselves. In an affectionate way I'm saying this," she said.

Apparently some had become quite Garfield-esque.

"It's designed for exercising both the cat and the exhibitor," she said.

And in that sense, the sport is a win-win situation … even if the competitors refuse to play.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.