I was lucky enough to have an interview with Jackson Galaxy star of Animal Planet's My Cat From Hell.
If you haven't seen this show, it's an amazing testament to his love of cats and how one person can really make a difference.
The season finale of My Cat From Hell airs this Saturday on Animal Planet, so make sure to tune in. If you're an animal lover, you won't be sorry!
JG: I was working at the shelter; I was the Community Outreach Supervisor. I had a notoriously ADD personality, so if there was anything was going on around the building during work hours I would find that thing to do and not work on the thing I was supposed to work on, which was, in this case, a presentation.
So it was 1:00 in the morning and the place was empty, but the shelter was full of cats. We had taken previously taken in a huge transfer so we were just busting at the seams. It was an old, old building. It was also pouring rain that night and in Colorado that summer it was drought conditions, so I started panicking because we could flood pretty easily. The worst part about it was I was trying to get this job done and these cats were screaming because it was a loud, loud storm. It was at that moment that I said this presentations not going to get done anyway, ‘cause I can’t concentrate, so I’m going to go into the cat impound area and I’m going to start working this technique that I had picked up from Anitra Frazier in her book, The Natural Cat.
That technique was what she termed “the cat I love you,” and they call it the slow blink. She discovered it and she thought outside the box. She met a lot of cats & she discovered if you softened your eyes, don’t stare at your cat, but soften, and do a slow blink. She would put the words behind the blink. With your eyes open you said the word “I”, you slowly close and say “love”, slowly open and say “you.” More times than not, you will get a return blink.
PBU: How interesting!
JG: That’s the cat saying, “trust established”, “yeah, we’re OK.”
And the amazing thing is, that to me, it represented like a Rosetta Stone; the first glimpse of human-animal communication. In the course of the night I managed to get 45 cats and some kittens to be quiet. They all just went to sleep in the midst of this incredible storm and the upshot of that is I refer to it as The Night of 45 Kisses. At the end of that night I had a defining moment, I was no longer a gypsy, no longer a wanna be rock star, you know this is what I want to do; this is what I have an obligation to.
PBU: I heard you mention The Natural Cat…
JG: Yes, The Natural Cat, by Anitra Frazier, and to me it was always my bible of holistic cat care. She is a wonderful person. I just met her for the first time back in New York & we are totally kindred spirits and she was doing this in the 70’s. Talk about the front line of the profession.
PBU: The thing that I’ve found is that I have a miniature schnauzer, a terrier, who doesn’t like to listen, he can be a nightmare when he wants to be, but I can find so many resources for how to interact with my dog differently to help improve his behaviors. Besides your show and a few books, there don’t seem to be as many that teach us how to interact and exchange behavior with our cats in a way that they understand.
JG: Honestly, it’s a gift horse that I definitely don’t look in the mouth, because having been a veteran of the shelter system, the fact that I know for certain that my show will affect euthanasia numbers, even a little bit, is so humbling.
PBU: We were amazed. My husband & I saw 4 episodes of My Cat From Hell back to back & we just sat here and thought, “How could this make this big of a difference?” You’ve seen that kind of turnaround in dogs on TV before, but your show is the first time that we get to see a turnaround in cats…where you can actually make a difference to the point of the cat being allowed to stay in the home.
JG: The beauty of where I came from at the beginning was, this cat is so scared, and so displaced in this cage that she is putting her head to the back of the cage and nobody ever gets to see her face, so she’ll sit around, no one will adopt her, and she’ll get killed. That’s simple, the math is so simple. So just as simple is the reverse math. If I somehow get that cat to come to the front of the cage, she will go home so that’s the only thing I was doing.
So when I’m trying to get somebody, who’s admittedly not a cat person or doesn’t really care or “I’m in the because my girlfriend wants me to be in this”, all they’ve got to see is the equivalent of the cat coming to the front of the cage, and then I’ve got their buy-in. Once I’ve got my hooks in them, then I can try and deepen their relationship, but all I care about right away is that you’re not going to turn this cat out.
PBU: Are there places that people can go in different cities, are there other people like you if they’re looking for help?
JG: It’s not a very large community, no. I’m sure there are some, but to be completely honest I’m not really synched into that community, we’re fairly fragmented, and hopefully through shows like this we won’t be. It’s hard because quite honestly, there’s a lot of methods out there.
PBU: It seems like you’re totally unique when it comes to the cat world…
JG: I’m not totally unique, there are people out there who do what I do, and it’s just that we’re all individuals, we believe sometimes different things. But that being said, it’s all about the results. As long as you do no harm to the animal, I’ll listen. I would love to learn from you if you get results, because the bottom line is we’re all, I would hope, going for the same end game, which is no homeless animals having to die. It frustrates me sometimes that we can’t develop a consensus, but we will.
PBU: I think this show will help people see that cats can be changed behaviorally and your show puts it out there that cats don’t deserve less of your time and effort than a dog, if the cat needs you then you need to find a way to meet it on its terms…
JG: Very well put, that’s the bottom line about cats; if you don’t meet them on their end of the fence, then you don’t stand a chance and it’s our egos that prevents us from solving these problems. People think “really, you want me to go to their end of the fence when I just spent $2,000 replacing my furniture?” That’s the initial level of buy-in that I’m constantly working towards.
PBU: It looks great on the show; it looks like you’ve done wonders for a lot of these cats. Was your research mainly a lot of trial and error?
JG: There’s tons of trial & error, sure. One of the beautiful things about working in a shelter is that, I would immerse myself in anything ever written about cats and anything that I could translate into a theory, boom, I’m in the back of the shelter trying it out. Talk about win-win, because I get to further my studies and these cats are enriched. It was a great way of solidifying a method. But with that being said, you don’t want to throw out what I consider to be some amazingly ground breaking writings, some of it had to do with cats and some of it just had to do with the inner life of animals and how to understand their world more fully, not just understand it, but if you can walk a mile in their shoes so to speak, then your empathy goes to a place where why would you ever think of “getting rid of” your cat.
PBU: I see that you do seminars, have you ever thought of doing webinars?
JG: Yeah, and I probably will, I’m looking to affect as many cat people as I can in one fell swoop. Right now my concentration is on the book that’s coming out. I’m still putting finishing touches on the edit.
PBU: Now you have to tell us more about the book!
JG: The book is called Cat Daddy and right now the working subtitle is My Life Working With The Cat From Hell, and that book is coming out on May 10th. If you Google it on Amazon, it is available for pre-order.
It’s about my life with my cat Benny and how he was my most esteemed teacher and most frustrating companion. Every time I thought I had cats figured out he’d just flip me the bird. That was just his life’s mission to frustrate me it seemed. But I learned so much from him and it’s just about our lives together sort of a journey about two broken things fixing each other because we were both pretty busted up so it’s just the years I was with him. The cool thing about it is that as I spent time with him, I also developed a lot of these methods I talk about, so we highlight these methods in there. We hit on a lot of different things. That’s the next big thing, we’re going to put out the book in May, so we’re going to go on a book tour and we’re going and also we’re going to shoot another season of the show coming up soon.
All of the bloggers I’m working with are going to get a copy of the book and then we’re going to hit you up in May.
PBU: That’s great; I’d love to read this story, because Oskar, my miniature schnauzer, is my heart dog. He’s the one that brought me out of myself during some hard times, so I love reading stories about the special connection between people and their pets.
JG: I’m literally not exaggerating when I tell you that had it not been for cats in general, and Benny specifically, I really don’t think I’d be here right now. The debt I owe them is huge.
PBU: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
JG: Thank you.
I can't wait to review Jackson's Book Cat Daddy and don't forget to tune in this Saturday for the season finale of My Cat From Hell!