Mirf Tales: How it started
I have started to write this dozens of times only to select all and delete, never happy with the results. I can be a perfectionist sometimes to my own detriment. Sadly, I also admit that I am writing this story mere hours before the deadline. I'll start at the beginning with two admissions. First, I vowed I would never work with livestock in a show and secondly, I loathed domestic cats. I always admired large cats like lions, tigers, panthers, cougars, etc... not domestic cats.
I'll start with the second admission first. My loathing for cats began as a child. I was 5 years old when my cat Tiger was run over by a grain hauler. It's the first memory of death that I have where I actually understood what death meant. I didn’t really know how to deal with this loss, I was a young child and I felt it wasn't fair. My way of dealing with it was I didn’t want another so it could get run over too. That's a five-year old's logic, I still grew up around cats anyway. We had barn cats that controlled the rodent population near the grain we fed the horses. Growing up in rural America, one of my chores was cleaning horse stalls. The barn cats were feral, their population controlled by nature. Periodically there was a litter of kittens, and the mother would hide them up in the hay loft. Periodically they would get too close to the stall opening and fall in, which scared the horses and horses stomp on that which scares them. I don't need to articulate the result. I became very detached from domestic cats for reasons of emotional self-preservation for years to come. My wife and kids are cat lovers, they successfully converted me into a "cat person" over the years; that's a different story.
Secondly, my first admission: I am breaking my vow to never work with livestock. I have not performed with any animals on stage yet. When I started working as a magician, I swore I would never work with livestock. In my lifetime I have trained a number of horses, dogs, and 3 cats. I remember the logistical hell of attending horse shows and 4H competitions. I also remember how much of a hassle it was taking dogs to the Coon Dog Trials in Ohio. Working with live animals always compounds the difficulty of everything. Traveling with livestock, regardless of size, is not to be taken lightly. First and foremost, care and treatment of livestock is paramount, negligence is intolerable. The whole reason I vowed not to work with livestock was I didn’t want to be responsible for anything other than myself when I'm on the road. I have a great friend, whom I admire, that has been performing a dove act for over 20 years. In my own mind, I unfairly judged his husbandry because of my ignorance of birds. I had seen his birds while they were molting and completely misunderstood what was happening. I never questioned him nor said anything negative about him, I kept it to myself. I used it as a modern reminder to not work with livestock. After becoming minimally educated in the subject I realized I was wrong. My friend's life is enriched by his birds and his love for them, they are also his companions at home and on the road. His care for his birds is impeccable. I should have asked him then, he would have happily and kindly taught me it was not neglect, carelessness or the stress of over performing. Molting is a natural occurrence, is healthy and expected. That lead to the next logical question for me, what else was I wrong about?
Another person in particular I have met and become friends with started training tigers (yes very big cats) at the age of 9 with his mother. I had a cat named tiger; he had a "tiger". In our conversations he planted the seed of traveling with a furry friend. Multiple times he offered to help me procure a tiger if I wanted one…I didn't then and I still don't. When I was young and didn’t think ahead, I may have said yes…I think I'm smarter now. I've also met many other performers of differing styles and varieties of entertainment that perform with livestock successfully on the road. Before I made the final decision to break my vow of never working with livestock, I needed to do more in depth research.
In the wonderful world of magic, I have been fortunate in the number of talented people I have met and learned from through organizations such as the IBM and the SAM. In my effort to research the invisible, everything you don't see or think of until you're in the middle of it,
I reached out to those people. I started contacting the people I knew, asking who they knew and if they would contact those people for permission for me to contact them. I didn't want to impose on anyone, but I needed to talk to professionals that live the life. Remember my friend with the doves I mentioned above, I contacted my friend and he kindly put me in contact with his friend in Las Vegas that has a big white fluffy cat in his dove act on the strip.
His friend in Las Vegas was one of the best conversations that I had regarding traveling with cats specifically. He's someone who's making a great living performing with doves and a cat living in harmony, that speaks for itself. He does admit traveling some places can be difficult if they do not like cats. He said he has a harder time booking lodging with the birds than his cat. Birds make a mess. Cats are pretty clean in their nature but can be very destructive if you don't meet their destructive instincts. The basics, like a travel litter box, toys, food dishes that seal and a short scratching post. He puts the litter box in the bathroom and a scratching post in the room. The way he does it.
While the iconic image of the rabbit in the top hat may be synonymous with magic, it is my irresponsible speculation that the rabbit is the least used animal in performance. I could be wrong, there is no research to back up my speculation, just my personal observations. I have seen more birds, rats, chinchillas and sugar gliders and yes, tigers than rabbits. During my quest I found two other magicians working with cat's...sort of. I did come across a street show in the Key West performed by a guy that some would think is off his rocker. His cats are well trained and fairly responsive. I think it's a good show. (I did not talk to him)
Enter stage left, Mirf the Magnificent Mouser. He's a very handsome, loveable Smokey Blue Maine Coon kitten that is my bestest fuzzy friend and I'm sure is a lot more manageable than a tiger. Mirf was born August 12, 2022, and I took delivery on October 14, 2022. My tiger trainer friend gives me advice and tips on working with and training Mirf to get him ready for the stage. Many of the same tactics used to train tigers work on domestic cats. Mainly, be consistent, persistent and fearless. I'll admit it's easier to be fearless with a Maine Coon than a tiger.
I knew that crossing an international border would have restrictions and required paperwork, I learned that applies when crossing State lines also.
My veterinarian informed me that I will need to maintain an interstate health certificate and accurate vaccine record while traveling with my fuzzy assistant. There are also additional vaccines that are recommended because of the varying environments indoors and out.
In the months to come, I will detail our journey together as Cap'n Sean & Mirf the Magnificent Mouser through this column, Mirf Tales.
Thank you for reading,