Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Cat mojo'

Feline behaviourist finds it easier to deal with pets than owners

  • Print

LOS ANGELES -- Many cats are tail talkers. If those tails start to twitch and wag, watch out for fangs and claws, warns cat behaviourist Jackson Galaxy.

If you try to pet a cat when its tail is wagging and get bitten, "You had it coming," says Galaxy, who helps solve behaviour problems, both human and feline, on his Animal Planet TV show, My Cat From Hell.

When a cat's angry enough to wag its tail or the fur on its back stands up, its ears flatten and eyes dilate, the owner needs to figure out what's wrong, he says.

Galaxy figures cats and owners equally share the blame for relationships gone wrong, but when it comes to changing behaviour, cats are the easier students -- by a wide margin.

His house call kit is a guitar case loaded with cat toys and treats. But there's no magic wand in the box, he says. It takes time and hard work. "You get what you give."

Galaxy, 46, has an usual job -- and he's an unusual guy. He's 6-foot-5, bald, wears specs and ear hoops, sports a long goatee, prefers bowling shirts and sneakers, has tattoo "sleeves" and has started tats on his legs so that he'll one day have a "full suit."

He plays the guitar, has a degree in acting and has been addicted to drugs, alcohol and food. He's also written an autobiography, Cat Daddy.

Galaxy was working at an animal shelter in Colorado more than 15 years ago when a man walked in with a cat in a cardboard box. The cat, named Benny, had been hit by a car and was "unbondable," the man said. Benny and Galaxy spent the next 13 years bonding and developing what Galaxy calls "cat mojo."

He had a practice with a holistic vet before moving to Los Angeles in 2007 and opening a private consulting firm. He was at a pet adoption fair when he met the friend of a friend who introduced him to reality TV producer Adam Greener (Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition). My Cat From Hell began airing on Animal Planet in spring 2011. In each episode, viewers witness owners struggling to find domestic harmony with their cats.

Emilie Bandy and Mike Petriello are fans of Galaxy's show. For seven months, they tried to turn their New York City apartment into a peaceful place for their cats, Olive and Pepper, but Olive attacked Pepper every chance she got. They went to the vet, gave Olive doses of Prozac, searched for answers online and in bookstores, slept in separate rooms so they could each care for one cat, and put planning for their September wedding on hold.

"We were genuinely afraid for the cats' lives if we left them together," Bandy said.

When they learned Galaxy was filming season 3 of My Cat From Hell in Manhattan, they made a video and submitted it. Their problem with Olive and Pepper became the summer's first episode. In it, Galaxy:

 

-- Gives Olive a food dish with a middle bump so she has to eat around it, ensuring that Pepper finishes and leaves first.

-- Shows the couple how to build trees and platforms where Pepper can escape if Olive starts to attack. "Build a vertical world," Galaxy says.

-- Tells them to stop running every time Olive whines, scratches or throws a temper tantrum. "Don't positively reinforce bad behaviour," he says.

It's been three months since the last catfight. Bandy and Petriello are back in the same bedroom, wedding planning is again in full swing, and the couple spends hours each day playing with both cats in the same room.

The cats may never be fast friends, but they are co-existing -- and Pepper's confidence is growing.

Karen "Doc" Halligan of Los Angeles calls Galaxy "fabulous," but acknowledges that he's playing to a tough crowd.

"People do not understand the need to train cats and that they need socialization just as much as dogs. Since they have not been domesticated that long, people just think they are independent and don't need it," says the veterinarian, author, TV consultant and director of veterinary services for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles.

Besides the show and his consulting work, Galaxy sells his own line of essence oils and is a board member for Stray Cat Alliance and FixNation in Los Angeles and Neighborhood Cats in New York.

Early on, there were a handful of cases that stumped him, but Galaxy believed then that psychotropic drugs were inappropriate for pets. He's changed his mind.

"Why not use holistic, homeopathic measures? Why not use empathic measures? Why not use traditional western measures? Why not use acupuncture and Prozac on the same cat?" he asked.

Cats have an attention span of about three seconds, so Galaxy believes punishment is pointless. "Count to 10, clean up, forgive and move on," he says. Air in a motion-detecting can is great for disciplining cats the instant they misbehave, he says.

Despite cats' short attention span, there is nothing wrong with their memory, he says. Most cats can be taught almost anything, he says, but he doesn't believe a cat should be taught to walk on a leash or jump through hoops just to satisfy an owner. Most cats will feel the same way, he says, but some will enjoy the lessons and the activities.

Galaxy's tattoos include 15 cats (Benny will be on his leg) but he also has three real ones, along with a blind dog.

Does he think cats will one day become doglike and gather in parks, take obedience classes, share play dates and go surfing?

"I totally hope not," he says. "I love cats for who they are. I want everyone to embrace what I call the raw cat."

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2012 C5

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Family of Matias De Antonio speaks outside Law Courts

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Jia Ping Lu practices tai chi in Assiniboine Park at the duck pond Thursday morning under the eye of a Canada goose  - See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge Day 13- May 17, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google