Jackson Galaxy creates his own planet of admirers
July 10, 2011 6 Comments
Note: This article was scheduled to be published in Connecticut-based Pets Press newspaper. Unfortunately, efforts to relaunch the paper, last published in January 2010, have failed.
My Cat From Hell is the latest entry in the kitty TV sweepstakes, and the one that’s not afraid to tackle tough problems. Aired on Animal Planet, it’s generating the most buzz among cat professionals and those who are simply cat-centric.
Jackson Galaxy is a tattooed, tough-looking guy; he’s got piercings and a goatee. And occasionally wears a shirt that says “Cat Daddy.” Clients (who were selected by open audition, Galaxy says) on the three shows aired thus far are quick to remark that he’s not what they expected when he walks in with his tricks of the trade stashed in a guitar case – he moonlights as a musician. We spoke to him at length by phone from Los Angeles. He is not one to minced words about himself and his chosen profession.
“That’s happened for 15 years,” Galaxy says of their reaction.
The cats featured on the show have – at the risk of sounding clichéd – serious issues. Yes, Jackson works with the cat itself to overcome its fears, but more importantly he educates the humans in regard to the cat’s specific needs and feline behavior in general. He believes human emotions feed into bad behavior.
“People are ego-based,” he says. “All I care for is the well-being of the cat.”
Some basic Galaxy tenets:
- Create a cat-friendly environment. It can help redirect unsuitable behavior and expands the cat’s territory. Some cats are tree dwellers and some are bush dwellers, he says
- Cats need vertical space; it enables them to survey their world from a safe perspective. Since many cats spend so much time indoors, we need to make their world as big as possible and vertical space enables that to be done.
- Play is importance in helping a cat work out its energy. It also helps in forging a bond.
- Environmental enrichment in the form of puzzle toys and clicker training, helps in deterring inappropriate behavior.
- It’s important to learn to read a cat’s body language. Instead of reaching out and grabbing your cat, relax nearby. Extend a finger, do a slow relaxing blink (kitty kisses). Galaxy often offers his eyeglasses – they are non threatening and have his scent. He often talks soothingly to the cat (“Pumpkin” seems to be one of his favorite terms of endearment.)
- Learn the signs of over-stimulation (a good way to avoid getting scratched!): dilated pupils, swishing tail, airplane ears are all warnings that the cat wants to you to stop whatever you’re doing to it.
- The litter box needs to be place in an accessible, yet safe, location, not hidden away.
Galaxy worked for many years in a high-stress shelter environment and discovered that he had the ability to make a deep connection with the cats. In 2002, he went into private practice with Dr. Jean Hofve, founding Little Big Cat, then Spirit Essences, which are Bach-based flower remedies that help with emotional and behavioral problems. He moved to California in 2007 and continued his practice. In terms of the television show, he says he never pitched anything and was “discovered” when he went to an adoption event with friends. He describes the experience as “the Dog Whisperer meets Dog the Bounty Hunter.”
He freely admits that he’s not the be-all and end-all of cat behavior. “Sometimes, we have to say ‘I don’t know.’ I don’t give any guarantees.”
He was especially touched by Minibar, a feral kitty featured on the show. Minibar’s owner, Carré, worked very hard with her and was desperate to create a bond. Galaxy spent a lot of one-on-one time as well, and, he confided, wasn’t sure if there would be a break-through. However, at the very end of the episode, Carré was able to pet Minibar for the first time. “It made me all choky,” he says.
He was also successful in resolving situations in which the cat was coming between a couple in their relationship: one in which the guy just didn’t like cats and was annoyed when the cat kept meowing and trying to get into the bedroom, and another where the woman’s allergies affected how she related to the cat and her partner. In both cases, enhancing the cats’ environments helped to improve their attitudes toward the cats.
Given the fact the Animal Planet’s biggest sponsor is Purina, Galaxy says his recommendations regarding nutrition ended up on the cutting room floor, as did any reference to his Spirit Essences holistic remedies. But he says, if you look closely, they’re in his guitar case.
The three initial episodes have been rebroadcasted frequently and thanks to his growing legions of fans, a casting call is now underway for Season 2.
That means he can foster an even closer relationship with the signature ’63 red Chevy Nova convertible he drives in the show. That, in itself, is a whole other story.