If you haven’t watched Animal Planet’s new show “My Cat from Hell,” you don’t know what you’re missing. Jackson Galaxy, the star of the show, knows cats like no other. Cat behaviorist by day, musician by night, bald, bearded and covered in cat tattoos, he’s anything but your typical cat guy.
I had the opportunity to chat with Jackson yesterday while he was in between media appearances (since the launch of the show, Jackson has appeared on Access Hollywood, Fox and Friends, and taped a segment for The Daily Show, among others). It only took a few minutes of talking to him to realize that appearances are, indeed, deceiving: underneath the hip surface lies a sensitive, caring guy who genuinely loves cats.
Jackson is a cat behaviorist who has been called anything from a cat whisperer to a cat shrink to a cat trainer. He actually prefers to be called a “cat listener.” He doesn’t like the term cat whisperer, because, he says “it conotates exclusivity. It says I can do something you can’t.” His goal is to make everyone believe that they can do what he does. According to Jackson, what it really comes down to is a case of “slowing your head down long enough to listen to cats.”
Jackson’s mission is to reduce the number of cats in shelters. Based on Jackson’s experience, most behavior problems in shelter cats are not that tough to solve. He’s found that frequently, an hour spent with the cat and her human guardians can take care of the problem and prevent the cat from being returned to the shelter.
Jackson worked in shelters for many years, and later partnered with Dr. Jean Hofve, a holistic veterinarian. They called their business Big Little Cat, honoring domestic cats’ wild origins, and offered in-home mind body consults.
Jackson solves common and not so common behavior problems. He works with cats either during in-home consultations (in the Los Angeles area) or remotely. Consultations involve taking a detailed history, meeting the cat and her family, and watching the cat interact with everyone and everything in her territory. For remote consultations, Jackson requests that the client provide a video showing the cat’s home, feeding station, and litter box locations. He says this way, he can pick up details that a client might not even think to provide by just filling out an intake form, no matter how detailed the questions may be.
He employs a variety of techniques, some traditional, some holistic, and some, according to Jackson “I’ve been told are completely off the wall.” His approach is all about giving the human guardians a deeper understanding of why cats act the way they do. “I always come down on the side of the cat,” says Jackson. Most feline behavior problems have very little to do with the cat, and everything to do with the fact that as humans, we ask cats to co-exist with us in environments that don’t always support their natural instincts.
“My Cat from Hell” features what most cat owners would consider hard core behavior issues. From spastic cats that threaten to break up relationships to aggressive felines that leave their owners bruised and bloody, these cats are not your average housecats. Each episode features two cases, showing the problem, Jackson’s initial visit with the cat and her guardians, and a follow up visit two weeks later. I asked Jackson whether it was really true that these cases are resolved in what seems like such a short period of time, or whether there was some artistic license to adapt what he does to fit the format of an hour long show. “The improvements really happened that fast,” said Jackson. He credits this to the fact that the cats’ guardians really did the homework he recommended after the initial session. Jackson has no doubt that being on TV provided added incentive for the cats’ guardians: “when you know you’re going to be on TV, you don’t want to look stupid!” In his real life cases, he usually tells clients that improvements may take 4-6 weeks, but much of that timeframe depends on how much the human guardians are willing to follow his recommendations.
Jackson also owns Spirit Esssences, a line of flower essences he developed with holistic veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve. Flower essences are dilute extracts of flowers and plants that work on the body’s energy system to create emotional, spiritual and physical balance. He uses the essences in every case he works with.
If you’re not already watching the show, tune in tomorrow night. Jackson told me that one of the two cases that will be featured in tomorrow’s episode was the most dramatic he’s ever worked with: a completely feral cat who was adopted out by the shelter under false pretenses. The cat’s new guardians were told the cat was 70% domesticated. You’ll have to watch to see what Jackson calls “miraculous results.”