Alex Casey sits down with cat behaviourist Jackson Galaxy, star of My Cat From Hell, to get all your important cat questions answered.
Jackson Galaxy is the cat whisperer of modern times. Part Dr Doolittle, part Star Burns from Community, he graced our cat-laden shores this week despite Gareth Morgan’s plea to bar his entry. Promoting the new season of his smash hit show My Cat From Hell, I got to sit down with Jackson for a precious half hour. Luckily enough, a kitten has joined my life this year, and I was ready to ask all of the cat-themed questions I could shake a box of biscuits at.
With a name like Jackson Galaxy, you’d expect him to have a particular sort of presence – which he most certainly delivered. Festooned with a fascinating amount of dangly jewellery, I couldn’t help but think that part of his allure to his feline friends might be that he looks a lot like a giant cat toy. On his finger, an enormous opulent cat head ring with giant garnet eyes. If you didn’t know he was on the telly, you’d be very, very confused and probably slightly scared. He was a little jet-lagged, but maintained an incredibly calming aura. I sat transfixed by his earrings, grasping my hands together as to not bat at them lazily like a playful kit.
So, why cats?
I realised early on that they picked me. I didn’t pick cats. I started working in an animal shelter and would be sitting in a room and they would come to me. Everyone else recognised this and started calling me Cat Boy. Anything that I could do in that shelter to make those animals more adoptable was a big deal to me, so I just ran with the cat thing. I never thought of it as a profession. Nor did anyone else.
What is it about you that makes all the cats like you? Because I want that thing.
I don’t know what it is. I suppose I’m naturally empathetic and attuned to energy. I’m respectful of all energy whether it’s feline, or human, or rhino. I’ve never met a rhino, but if I did, I would respect it. Cats respond to that in particular because they want to be respected, they want you to know what it’s like to be a cat. They don’t want anything imposed upon them.
What’s the number one mistake that cat owners make?
The number one mistake people make is that they think their cat is a dog in cat’s clothing. They treat their cat with dog-coloured glasses and that’s the mistake. We expect cats to show love like a dog does, or show hunger like a dog does.
Even Paul Henry was talking about his cat this morning, and complaining that his cat got angry at him when he poked it. He had this rant like “I feed you, I put a roof over your head, and this is what I get?!” We have this thing as humans, when a cat does something, to ask “why are you doing this to me?”. Everything cats do come off as an insult
My cat likes my boyfriend more than me, can you tell me what’s wrong with me?
The thing is, whether you are a cat or a human, sometimes you just bond with others for some reason. When my wife and I came together, her dog chose me on day one. And she was all upset because she had saved the dog from the shelter. I don’t know what your problem is, you just might not be right. Get another one.
You think I can just get another one?!
Collect them until you have every personality trait under the sun and one of them is bound to like you.
So there’s no quick fix, one secret cat whisper?
There is one thing that works well called ‘The Santa Claus Effect’. You make an agreement to do all the feeding, all the playing and all the good stuff for a week. That way your kitten will associate you with good things. But I would say there’s probably something that your boyfriend is doing, something in his manner that she finds comforting.
I like to do a thing called “kiss attack” on my cat.
Oh hell no. Hell no. And you’re wondering why she doesn’t like you? I guarantee you she hates that.
Okay, no kiss attacks. I’ve brought some questions from our Twitter followers:
Simple: stop opening the door for the cat. The cat has trained you to do that, it’s looking around thinking “watch this, I can make the human open the door”. All you have to do is stop. We all learn the same way. If something happens, we’ll try to make it happen again. That’s the same from cats to humpback whales. There will be a few weeks where the cat will drive you crazy, but they will stop when the fun stops happening.
Toe attacks: That’s a sign, you’re not playing with your cat enough. When they see your toes, they see prey. They see a little mouse scurrying across the floor they’ll go for it to tell you “you need to play with me”. Take out a feather toy and play with them, that will drain that natural hunting energy and they won’t go for your toes anymore.
Pillow trotting: It’s about training your cat. All you have to do is get your cat on your rhythm. The way you do that is feeding meals, make sure that last meal is 2-3 hours before your bedtime. Then have a big play session. It’s what I call “hunt, catch, kill, eat, sleep”. If you provide that for them, they should sleep when you sleep. Again, it will take about two weeks. Ignore them completely.
I make people a guarantee that if they stick to that programme for two weeks, and their cat is still waking them up early in the morning, I’ll give them my phone number and they can call me. That’s how sure I am.
What about cats going outside vs. inside?
It’s really interesting, once you go outside the US, it’s pretty much a given that cats are going to go indoors and outdoors. The average lifespan of an indoor cat is 14 years, the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is five. That’s a huge difference. A lot of people think that choosing to keep cats inside is choosing quantity over quality, and that it’s selfish. The reality is that it’s not a perfect world and there are so many things you can do indoors to enrich their lives. Play with them everyday, engage the hunter within. If you have a balcony, screen it off, plant some grass and let them hunt bugs. They get all the vitamin D they need and they stay safe.
Have you ever met a cat that you thought was actually from actual hell?
Never. I’ve met a few humans that I thought seemed irredeemable, but cats I have infinite patience with. All animals. Oh wait, I’m lying. Back at the shelter I worked at there was a bigass pig called Newton who we saved after he jumped from the factory truck as a piglet. We took him in and he was the meanest S.O.B. When I went to feed him in the mornings he would charge at me. He’s the one animal I didn’t like. Newton the pig.
I hope he doesn’t read this, he’ll be steamed. I was wondering if you have thought about pairing with Cesar Milan and other notable animal whisperers to form an animal-taming Avengers?
I have Skyped Cesar once, but we’ve never actually met in person. That would be funny though, what a boring movie that would make. All of us just sitting there in silence with our brainwaves and energy. I’d love to think that I can tune into almost any animal. Horses are very similar to cats. But no, there’s no underground ring.
Have you ever thought about doing live shows?
I would love to. I have a background in theatre and live music so when I’m in front of an audience, I’m more at home than anywhere else.
Can we bring our cats? You could take your dog to Cesar Milan.
Hell no. God that would be a nightmare. You aren’t listening to me are you? Dogs are not cats. There’s a reason we don’t have cat parks and cat play dates. It’s interesting though because it does tend to make someone like Cesar look more social than me, and dog people more social than cat people. Our love for these animals is based in homes, not out in the world.
What’s your take on cat leashes?
I do it all the time. If a cat wants to do it, go for it. Take it slow, get them used to the harness. It’s a safe way of doing things that gets them outside – as long as the cat wants it. That’s the only rule of thumb.
Do you enjoy any famous TV cats? Garfield? Felix? Cat Dog?
I grew up with Felix the cat and love him. For a while a had a penchant for those Japanese good luck cats, I dig those. I collected them for a while but my wife hates them. I’m an odd representative for cats because I’m not interested in turning them into these pop culture icons. I’ve never jumped on board with the whole internet cat explosion.
We have a viral cat video show here called LOLCats that sometimes outrates the news.
I have no idea why we all want to watch a cat jump in a box millions of times or play on a keyboard. I don’t get it. I’m not against it though. In the States, we kill millions of cats a year because they don’t have homes. If people watching cats jump up out of a box 50 million times means that five million will get a cat – whatever turns you on. I’ll be the mayor of any parade that gets more cats into homes.
… what about Grumpy Cat?
Not a huge fan. The only internet cat I truly love is Lil Bub, because I know her owner Mike. He treats her so amazingly well and she’s just such a miracle cat. Her body was a mess and he spent unbelievable money to get her better. Now he donates all the money she makes to charities, they are a really cool pair.
I remember when Grumpy Cat started getting really huge, and I started this secret competition in my head with him. I watched his Facebook likes skyrocket, hoping they wouldn’t get past mine. That lasted about a week, he lapped me about 40 times. Then I turned into the real grumpy cat.
The new season of My Cat From Hell premieres Saturday 1st August at 7:30pm and 8:30pm on Animal Planet