Saturday, July 28, 2012

Jackson Galaxy, I Love You

So, who is Jackson Galaxy and why do I love him?  

First, Jackson is a man who LOVES cats.  Second, he is a man who understands and respects cats.  Third,  he helps people resolve seemingly impossible behavior problems with their companion cat.  Jackson isn’t formally trained as a behaviorist.  There are no initials of higher learning following his name.  His knowledge is based upon personal experience (he worked for many years in a kill shelter), his skill as an incredible listener and observer, and his very strong desire to prevent the needless killing of cats who are viewed by their guardians as impossible to live with.  

Jackson Galaxy is the host and expert on Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell, which airs new episodes on Saturday evenings.  I must admit, as someone who is catcentric, I was leery of watching this show when it premiered.  The demonization of cats is everywhere and I am, frankly, sick to death of that mindset.  Add to that the fact that many of Animal Planet’s latest new series focus more on the bad/nasty/evil side of animals or truly stupid reality shows, I figured this show would fall into that category as well.  Oh My Cat was I surprised, pleasantly surprised.  Jackson’s show should be mandatory viewing for every living person on the planet.  

Each week, Jackson visits two different homes and helps the people better understand their cats and the reason for the cats’ behavior.  Nearly every person he works with, while glad to see him initially, are skeptical and often rebellious toward the advice he gives them.  He is amazingly patient with these people.  I, on the other hand, want to yell, scream and punch these people for their utter stupidity.  While not directly saying it to the people, he shows them that they and not the cat are the PROBLEM!  It is obvious to me that, unlike me, Jackson keeps his eye on the prize – keeping the cat alive and happy in a good home.  None of the people appearing on the show are bad or evil people, they are just utterly uninformed and have unreasonable expectations for their cats.  Often they attribute characteristic human behavior to their cat because they simply know nothing about non-human animal behavior and are especially ignorant of cat behavior.  

Each new episode becomes my new favorite.  The July 21st episode was no exception.  The first cat we meet is Finn, a handsome gray and white domestic short hair.  He cries incessantly during the night, preventing Lara and David from sleeping.  To remedy “the problem”, they close him in the guest bathroom, which they call putting Finn in “kitty jail.”  The couple is arguing over Finn and they are on the verge of splitting up.  In the second half hour, we meet Molly who lives with a very stylish couple and a young Abyssinian cat.  The husband is frustrated with Molly’s behavior and talks of possibly having to “terminate her.”  

In addition to Finn’s nighttime vocalizing, he urinates on the rugs in front of two bay windows.  The woman tells Jackson that Finn goes outside on the patio and recently stopped venturing over the wall surrounding the patio.  He no longer disappears for hours at a time.  They attribute Finn’s vocal “misbehavior” to Finn “not getting what he wants”, and David says Finn is simply “a spoiled brat.”  David feels they are bending over backwards to accommodate Finn.   

Jackson suggests putting litter boxes in both of the areas where Finn is urinating.  He also suggests building a catio (an enclosed area outside) while also adding a motion sensor sprinkler to deter intruders.  Jackson’s diagnosis is that Finn is exhibiting territorial behavior due to a cat or cats “invading” his territory on the patio.  Lara assures Jackson there are NO ANIMALS coming into the patio area.  The fact that Finn is “marking his territory” in response to an invading challenger is greeted with skepticism from both David and Lara.  Despite the protestations of Lara, Jackson baits a trap to catch the outside cat or cats.  His intention is to trap, fix and return whoever he traps.  And that’s just what he does.   

When Jackson returns in a couple of weeks, Finn is using the litter boxes instead of the rugs and David and Lara have put up a screened enclosure for Finn to enjoy.  Jackson is pleased with the progress and makes a final suggestion:  mimic the natural hunt, catch, kill behavior of cats by playing with Finn to burn off some energy, feed him and then let him groom and then sleep.  With his final visit, Jackson sees a happier and more relaxed Lara, David and Finn.  Once again there is another happy ending, thanks to the insightful counseling of Jackson Galaxy, The Cat Daddy.

In the second half of the show, Jackson visits Nancy and Jim whose 10 year old cat, Molly, has become a terror to both humans and their younger cat, Mimi.  From the beginning, it is obvious that Nancy loves her cats but she also loves her stylish home just as much.  Jim defers to Nancy’s design style, but is barely tolerating Molly’s unpleasantness and talks of termination as a possible solution to the problems created by Molly’s disruptive and nasty nature.  It is a classic case of “the cat” not meeting human expectations.  Molly scratches and bites, she chews on cords and she poops outside the single litter box.  In a tightly controlled environment, Molly is clearly “out of control.”   

Jackson listens to the list of violations, inappropriate behavior and then takes a tour of the home.  He observes Molly alone and then with Mimi.  He gets scratched by Molly.  Jackson sits down with Nancy and Jim and gives them a “homework” list to complete before his next visit.  To stop the cord chewing, Jackson tells them to get flexible plastic tubing to cover the cords.  He suggests getting several new scratching posts, towers or surfaces to substitute for scratching on the furniture.  Jackson also wants the litter box moved from the hallway, and says to add a couple more boxes as well.  Finally, he wants to rule out any physical or health problems that could be causing Molly’s aggressive behavior and inappropriate potty habits.  

When Jackson returns, Nancy and Jim have only done two of their assignments.  There are no new scratching surfaces, nor has the litter box been moved.  They did take Molly to the vet where she was diagnosed with arthritis, which caused her to be in pain and exacerbated her aggression.  She also had impacted anal glands, which added to her pain when defecating.  They have witnessed some improvement in Molly, but the situation is still untenable for all involved.  Jackson is clearly unhappy with their unwillingness to follow his instructions fully.  As is usual with the caregivers Jackson tries to help, this couple is balking at instituting changes in their behavior.  Jackson, however, is not about to give up.  He goes to his car and returns with a litter box, which he puts in the living room.  Nancy visibly recoils at seeing a litter box in their space, not hidden away in an unused hallway.  He also brings in two modern looking scratching surfaces.  Both Jim and Nancy are surprised and delighted when they see these more aesthetically pleasing pieces of cat furniture. 

Jackson returns in a couple of weeks and is greeted by a smiling Nancy and Jim.  It’s obvious that their seemingly irresolvable problem has been fixed.  With the addition of extra scratching surfaces and litter boxes along with Molly’s medical problems being treated, everyone – including Molly and Mimi – are living a much more harmonious life.  Jackson does it, once again.

There are recurring themes throughout the episodes of My Cat From Hell.  You can almost hear the clients thinking “but I’m the human and this animal should behave as I see fit.  I am the boss here.”  Jackson helps his clients realize several things:

     - Every cat has a distinct personality, meaning just like humans each cat is a unique individual.
     - Cats do not behave in certain ways for no reason.  It is important to understand natural cat behavior to determine the cause of the seemingly inappropriate behavior.
     - Living in harmony with your cats is not a battle where the  human must seek to triumph by subduing their opponent, the cat.
     - Jackson knows what he is talking about.  LISTEN TO HIM!

Even if you don’t have a cat, watch this show.  You just might learn some lessons about personal relationships.  It’s all about listening, observing and trying to understand each other.  If we all took Jackson’s advice, we might be well on our way to world peace.  At the very least, it’s bound to be a better world for cats.  

Oh, and check out Peter Wolf's coverage of Jackson & TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) on his blog, Vox Felina: TNR in Prime Time