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Interview: Jackson Galaxy on Treading Lightly, Being Taken Seriously, Saving Cats and Cats Saving Us

Image courtesy Jackson Galaxy

Being a cat behavioralist isn’t always easy—and it certainly wasn’t back in the ’90s, when Jackson Galaxy got his start down the path to becoming one after volunteering at shelters and adopting his own cat. People seem to come with a healthy dose of skepticism when you talk about Galaxy and his work on things like Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell series. But stop and think about it, if you haven’t before, and you’ll realize there’s no reason to question it. Cats are everywhere in pop culture, and neck and neck with dogs as far as pet ownership statistics. They’re a part of so many people’s families, and sometimes the only ones they come home to. Pet care is a billion dollar industry and if you meet five random people on the street, at least four are likely to pull out pictures of their cats or dogs to share. It only makes sense that if they’re this important to us in our daily lives, there’s someone to go to to help us work out our problems with our feline friends then, doesn’t it?

Obviously, Galaxy agrees. And tonight, he’ll be bringing his knowledge of cats to the stage at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan, for Total Cat Mojo Live–a show that aims to give its audience a better understanding of the relationships we have with cats, and how to help us make our lives with our pets the best possible lives for both of us. We got a chance to talk to him before tonight’s show, and found him passionate, easygoing and excited to share what he knows with fans, as well as to work with local shelters in communities across the country to help them become educated as a resource for their respective communities with the Jackson Galaxy Project.

 

Third Coast Review: I know you do a lot of work with shelters with the Jackson Galaxy Project–what’s something shelters can do to foster healthier, happier cats?

Shelters are important. Cats can’t control where they are, they all still need homes. I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done with the Jackson Galaxy Project, that Greater Good has done, especially with the cats and with the program, and we’ve got more coming up. It’s not just giving out grants. It’s really changing shelters and filling in the gaps in their knowledge when it comes to cats. Some shelters are totally up to speed, the majority are not–and they’d be the first to admit it. Cats have always lagged behind dogs in terms of enrichment, in terms of adoption counselling…so it’s about holding people accountable for their knowledge of cats.

If they put a cat into a home and they haven’t given pet parents the basics–like, What is a cat? How do cats adapt to territory? What do I do in the first 48?–then you’re setting yourself back up to get that cat back. I think that, and I’m seeing in the shelters, that we’re taking ownership of the fact that we set the tone in terms of our community involvement and knowledge of cats, and that being said we’ve gotta keep ourselves honest, you know? Everyone who works in shelters should have a basic knowledge of what to tell somebody–if there’s a litter box problem in the house, how to get your adopted cat prepared for your home so they’re not as much of a threat. That comes with the territory of being a steward. That’s one thing I’d add in–that respect to just ask yourself the question ‘How  up to speed are we, cats versus dogs?’ and get yourselves to a level space.

I don’t have a lot of experience with cat behavioralists, so I used the link on your website to find one in our area, and I was surprised to find there aren’t that many–do you find that to be true a lot of places?

Yeah–I think there’s definitely more people working with cats than there was when I got into it, for sure. I still think it’s not enough. That said, I do think that a lot of shelters have been jumping on having a cat behavior specialist in the shelter, or at least one person in the shelter who takes that lead. You might not be able to find somebody like me that comes to the house right away, but a lot of shelters in the area are really stepping up.

I do wish there were more out there. [Cat Behavior] is a growing field. I think it’s a supply and demand thing.

When I started, people were like “Wait wait, that’s a job?” and then they expected me to dish out advice and not pay my rent, and I think that’s still sort of the status quo. Think about it: If your dog is acting out, the idea of hiring a dog trainer is pretty commonplace, but if your cat is acting out, you know, you’re just ‘looking for help,’ you’re not looking for someone to do a job, and until it’s established that you can make a living doing it, it’s going to be hard to get more people into the field.

 

Image courtesy Jackson Galaxy.

You do a lot for cats, of course–so I wanted to ask, what’s something cats do for you on a daily basis?

Very good question. I think that more than anything, they keep you grounded in the present. They–all animals, but my context is so much more with cats–They keep me present. They know if I’m not present. They know if I’m occupied, they know if I”m stressed or anxious and then their energy reflects it back. You can never be fully distracted around a cat, you know? And it just keeps me mindful. 

It’s something I’m really grateful for on a daily basis. I’m a terrible meditator. Cats are meditation

That’s number one…number two, they give me a reminder of what being in a relationship is all about. Because, and this is one of the tthe main talking points of Total Cat Mojo Live is the feeling that –this isn’t an ownership situation, this is a relationship situation. Sometimes you have to compromise, and with cats you have to compromise on a regular basis. In order to meet cats in the middle, based on the fact that they’re not as domesticated as we give them credit for, we put ourselves aside, and that’s not easy–we have a hard enough time doing that with other humans, let alone another animal. I would think that it’s a lesson in keeping humble in a relationship. I’m not saying that glibly at all–I really feel that.

I’m sure everybody has various types of stress or fights, where you’re having a fight in the house, and then the cats turn around and they fight, or somebody pees, or there’s some imbalance that they mirror right back at you, and it’s amazing. At least in our household, because of our cats and dogs, we’re aware of when our behavior, our energy just messes up the whole house, you know, and it brings me back to center and makes you go “Crap,” you know, and own it, and move on. It’s like you’ve got a constant marital referee sitting right there.

Speaking of people–you work with people as much as cats, and from watching the show, I notice oftentimes it’s the people who need to be told they’ve been doing something wrong or need to change. How do you handle that situation so well so often?

You always gotta put yourself in their position. If I’ve got a stranger, even someone I know through TV or whatever, coming into my house to make judgments on my family and my family dynamic–you have to tread carefully, and I usually do. I just want to respect the family.

You’d think at this point, a hundred episodes down the line, that people would know what they’re in for when I come over, but a lot of times they don’t. They don’t realize that their cat’s behavior is a reflection of the routine and energy in the home. Once I start citing examples–you just gotta do it very carefully and lovingly, because a cat scratch isn’t the worst I’m gonna get if I don’t do it that way, you know?

The other thing is, I don’t get frustrated too easily. I get more frustrated when people don’t do their homework, and they don’t do the work than when they’re making excuses and fighting with me. The idea is though, I’m here. I’m offering solutions. If you’re just lazy, that’s what I don’t have patience for, and that’s the only time I think I’ve gotten really testy.

Do you ever feel like people don’t take you seriously? When you’re in a new field people tend to be like “That’s not a thing.” Do you feel like that’s still happening or is it getting better?

It’s still a pretty hung jury. There’s so many times people ask me what I do and people either laugh or they’ll raise eyebrows, whatever, that still happens. But that said, I do think that it’s becoming a little more known that you don’t just have to shrug your shoulders if a cat is doing something–that there are resources.

There are things that you can do. My goal at the end of the day is for me not to be the only source of information. I want there to be a very large contingent of people that will keep cats out of shelters, because at the end of the day, that’s why we do this. We’re killing cats. This is something that has been true since the beginning of my career: The easiest problems to solve were the things that thousands and thousands of cats were dying for because people got sick and tired of dealing with pee, or fighting or whatever and the shelters–if shelters don’t know what to do with them, cats die. With the knowledge, if we can address and resolve a vast majority of these problems, we could end the killing and so, it’s a vital thing to be embracing and spreading, so, y’know–I hope more people will get involved.

Thank you so much!

 

Image courtesy Jackson Galaxy.

Jackson Galaxy will be addressing crowds of cat fans tonight at the Genesee Theatre, and if you’re interested in catching Total Cat Mojo Live there are still tickets available, with curtains at 8. We look forward to learning more about how to help our cats, as well as celebrating the ways cats help us with a group of like-minded people. For more on Jackson Galaxy and the Jackson Galaxy Project check out his website by clicking here.

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