Cat owners need to become more literate ... about reading cats.
Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy wraps up his fourth season of Animal Planet's My Cat From Hell on Saturday (8/7c) and boils down why people misunderstand their feline friends. "We really try to read them through dog-colored glasses and are trying to look for these very specific types of responses that are very much human-based," Galaxy tells TVGuide.com. "And if we don't see them, we assume that they don't care.
"I think that the biggest misconception about cats is that they're aloof, that they're independent to the point where they don't need others, that they're not as social as any other species," he continues. "I think that's the point where people tend to fall apart a little bit in terms of reading their own cats. If they think that their cat doesn't need them, then they think, 'Well, why would I put the investment into working with them? Why would I emotionally commit to them — who doesn't need or like me?'"
Fortunately, that's where Galaxy, a self-styled Cat Daddy, comes in. He visits the homes of people with problem cats, reads the situation and then assigns "homework" for the owners. His methods work, and wherever he goes, fans inspired by his successes on-screen assault him with questions to help demystify their cat conundrums. "It's amazing," he says. "I could be at someone's home, I could be at the supermarket, at a doctor's office — it doesn't matter. It will be, 'Oh I love this show,' and then they'll either ask me a question about their cat or they'll ask me a question about somebody from the show. It's pretty consistent."
Check out more of our interview with the Cat Daddy:
A lot of times on the show, the solution to a cat problem will involve A) play and B) boosting their confidence. Are those the cornerstones of helping a cat?
Jackson Galaxy: When I talk about cat mojo — that's the kind of thing that you're addressing right now — what we're doing is saying, "What are the main building blocks of confidence?" In a cat, it is appealing to their hunter self. That is the raw essence of who they are. So if we appeal to that, then confidence will be built. One of the things I try to get my clients on board with is seeing their animals' needs in a more empathetic way. Basically, I've got to play with my cat. Much like... you take your dog for a walk, not just so they can go out and pee on the street, but so they get social experiences and stimuli that they don't get in your backyard. So, that's what you do with cats. When you play with them, you're actually speaking to a very important part of them. With that, you absolutely build confidence. Teaching people cat mojo, that's my first job. Everything else falls into place from there.
Sometimes these cat behavioral problems are so serious, people consider euthanization. Have you ever encountered a case so heartbreaking or a cat you couldn't help?
Galaxy: I appreciate the fact that you didn't use the term that so many people use: "Have you ever met a cat that you couldn't fix?" A cat's not broken. ... I've pretty much always succeeded in making the cat's life a little better. The first thing is: Is it environmental and chemical and social? We can break it down and speak it to each one of those. That may result in saying, "You know, this is not the right home for this guy." That is one thing that we haven't approached on the show yet. We will. There are times that, if we're looking in the best interests of the animal first and foremost, they hate other cats. And no matter what I do, at the end of the day, the cat is just like, "You know what? I just hate you." You've got to listen to that. Just as if you had a roommate that you couldn't stand, at some point you would move out. We just have to listen to that and help them. In that way, I don't think that I've ever failed the animal because I'm always trying to speak for them.
Going into the finale, are there going to be cats we've seen before?
Galaxy: Right after we're also going to have the Where Are They Meow? special coming, where we're going to highlight a lot of those cases like Xena. And we're going to show what they're doing now and how they've been. For me, it was fantastic to go back. I actually got to go back and see Jen and Chris and Xena and see how life is going with them. It's a rare chance that I have in my practice to go back. ... Sometimes cats relapse, and you would never have known unless you went back to their home.
One of my favorites returning for that is City the Kitty, right?
Galaxy: City the Kitty, yes. City was great. Sure, he had his problems, but the people in that episode were really off the charts. They were super. They're definitely on as well. It [features] was a lot of the cases that I get asked about consistently, and we got to highlight some of them.
Are you still friends with any of the people who owned cats on the show?
Galaxy: Every single one of these people I still consider one of my clients. So if anything ever flies backwards, then we're on the phone. I never want these guys to think that they're just a subject of a TV show. I want them to know that this is what we would do in real life. I'm still there for them.
What about the special needs cats, like the one that was attacking the other?
Galaxy: Oh yeah, Pip, the CH cat who was attacking Red. He was amazing, but he suffered from cerebellar hypoplasia and normally what you would do is go, "Oh, poor guy, poor cat." It was pretty severe, but at the same time, he could still be a bully. And poor Red was living this alternate life outside on the streets. One of the things that you didn't see on the show was that they neighbors actually had a different name for [Red]. They didn't even know that he belonged to Louise. They actually thought he was a stray and they named him "Cake" because he was sweet like cake.
Special needs pets don't act like they're handicapped. Do you ever use them as role models to teach people about resilience?
Galaxy: Of course. One of the things that we deal with special needs cats and dogs is learning from them in terms of moving forward in our own lives. I know plenty of cats with three legs that don't think about themselves as having only three legs. They're thinking, "I'm sitting here, and there's something over there I've got to get to. I want to get to it." They move through life with so much more present ease. They don't get to make excuses, they don't get to feel sorry for themselves.
You're super-recognizable, from the way you dress to even your glasses. Is there a specific brand of glasses you buy?
Galaxy: No. It's funny because, when I first started wearing glasses like this, it was back in the early '90s and I didn't have two pennies. I would literally pick glasses out of the 99 cent bin and just stick lenses in them. So I always have four to five to choose from. I just go with what I love, but I've always had this dueling thing — ever since I was a kid, I do whatever I can to stand out in a crowd, and then I get all paranoid because people are staring at me.
Are your shirts custom made? I think I've seen cats and guitars on them?
Galaxy: I work with a couple different companies. Daddy-O's did a shirt for me with "Cat Daddy" on it. So yeah, I've been pretty partial to those guys for years. But it's funny. You see a shirt like that, and all of a sudden, it's like [people think] it is what I wear every day.
The "Jackson Galaxy" Halloween costume will be all the rage this year!
Galaxy: You know what? I have started seeing a lot of them. I'm incredibly flattered and embarrassed at the same time. But I do love it when I've seen them on kids. I think it's just so fun. One of them, is Chris who was the child who was on our show [his cat was Xena] and they sent me a picture of him last Halloween with a little guitar case I gave him. It was the sweetest thing. I have that framed picture in my office.
Here's the hard-hitting question: Why do cats like to watch us use the bathroom and/or shower?
Galaxy: [Laughs] I haven't the slightest idea! I think a lot of those times they realize [it's] one of those ritualistic alone times. "Hey, it's me and you, we get to do our thing." You know, it's like you shut the door, you're with them alone, and it's something they'll take advantage of, especially if you have other cats, dogs, kids. "Hey, I have that opportunity to be alone with you." And then, I could be completely wrong.
Check out this exclusive sneak peek of Saturday's My Cat From Hell, beginning at 8/7c, followed by the Where Are They Meow? special at 9/8c on Animal Planet: