Jackson Galaxy is a busy man these days. He just finished recording the audio version of his upcoming book, Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean. He’s gearing up for a book tour to promote the book, which will come out on May 10, and he is currently shooting the first of ten new episodes for Season Three of his wildly successful Animal Planet show My Cat From Hell.
I managed to catch up with Jackson last week while he was on the set of My Cat From Hell. We chatted a little about his busy life, and his book, but what I really wanted to talk to him about was cats. His own cats. Who are the felines he goes home to each night? Do they have behavioral problems, or are the Cat Daddy’s fur children problem-free?
Jackson shares his life with four cats.
Velouria is the grande dame of the family; she is somewhere between 18 and 20 years old. Velouria came into Jackson’s life when he was working at a shelter. He had just lost his beloved boy Grolsch, who was rescued from a barn in Iowa in the middle of a blizzard, to FIP. One day, someone left a box with two kittens outside the shelter’s door. One of the kittens looked just like Grolsch.
“No way,” said Jackson. “I didn’t want to adopt a kitten. That’s just not a cool thing to do when you work at a shelter, and there are all these older cats looking for homes.” But Velouria reminded him so much of Grolsch that he realized that resistance was futile. When he adopted her, he thought she was a kitten, but she was actually somewhere between one and three years old. She was, and still is, tiny, weighing in at barely six pounds. Despite her advanced age, she’s still full of energy and runs laps around the house.
Chips, also known as Chippie or Chuppie, is seventeen. She was part of a litter of kittens thrown out of a car in a garbage bag. A friend of Jackson’s saw what happened and rescued the kittens. Chips is a somewhat solitary cat. She’s a little wary, and very reactive. “She will kick your butt,” said Jackson, “but she always comes right back.” She loves Jackson to a degree that he almost preferred she didn’t. She has a unique way of showing her love for him: she will wake him up in the middle of the night by biting his lip. When he opens his mouth, she sticks her entire head inside.
Zeke is the only male cat in the group. At six years and weighing close to twenty pounds, he’s not only physically imposing, he’s the bully of the family and has to be kept separate from the other cats. He grew up with dogs, and he acts and plays more like a dog than a cat. “He’s been my template on how to work with bullies,” says Jackson.
At three years old, Caroline is the youngest of the group. She was one of a litter of kittens fostered by a friend, who sent Jackson photos of Caroline via Facebook. He really didn’t want another cat, so he said no. Eventually, all the other kittens in the litter were adopted. His friend sent one last picture. “Just come and take a look,” she said. So he did. He scooped Caroline up, she started purring in his arms, and it was all over.
“I just adore her,” says Jackson. She is a shy cat, and her first reaction to anything is to retreat. “She is proof positive that if you give a cat room to grow and breathe, she will thrive,” says Jackson. He used his famous challenge line concept with her. The challenge line is the line between allowing cats to hide where they feel safe, and challenging them to move out of their comfort zone in order to give them a richer life. Caroline bottomed out after Jackson’s recent move to a new home. She was scared, and retreated again. He stepped up his challenge line work with her, and eventually, she leveled out again.
Jackson’s house is every cat’s dream home. “Catified” by Kate Benjamin of Moderncat, the home’s main feature is a “cat superhighway” of cat shelves at multiple levels with “on and off ramps” to allow the cats to access their favorite perches without any kitty traffic jams. It took three months before all the cats discovered and used the shelves. Jackson always tells cat guardians to give it time when they make changes to a cat’s environment and not to expect instant feline acceptance. Once again, his own cats provided the living lab, and proof that his methods work.
There’s one more member of Jackson’s family that may come as a bit of a surprise to Cat Daddy fans.
Jackson is “bi-petual” – his furry family is rounded out by Rudy, a female Jack Russell/Beagle mix. I teased Jackson about picking a Jack Russell of all things (the breed is not known to be friendly toward cats). “Oh no,” said Jackson. “She picked me.”
Rudy was found wandering down the middle of a very busy street on Christmas Eve two years ago. Covered in motor oil, intact, with ingrown toe nails and in horrible shape overall, this little dog looked like she had reached the end of the line. “I didn’t even want to do due diligence with her and try to find out if she belonged to someone,” says Jackson. “I just figured let her keep running from whatever she was running from.” He agreed to foster her and had no intentions of keeping her. Rather than naming her, he called her “little dog.” She became the classic failed foster. “After a month of torturing the cats, and the cats torturing her in return, everyone settled down,” said Jackson.
Rudy has a very strange relationship with Chips. They act like herding dogs with each other. Rudy keeps Chips in check, often scruffing her neck and holding her down. Chip will hiss and run, but then come right back and head butt Rudy. According to Jackson, “they can keep going like that for hours.”
I asked Jackson to tell me one favorite thing about each of his five fur kids. These were his answers:
On Velouria: “Her resilience. She’s shown me how to teach others that a cat can change and go from victim to being an amazing, confident cat.”
On Chips: “I love all the things about her that annoy me!”
On Zeke: “The combination of dog cat that he is.”
On Caroline: “I love that she trusts me 100% even though it goes against every fiber of her being.”
On Rudy: “Rudy is a reminder that dog mojo is an important thing to have in your life. It’s a balance of cat love and dog love. “
Jackson went on to say: “When I’m away from home, I miss my dog so bad that it hurts. I miss my cats, too, but cats represent the home. Dogs represent the home outside the home.”
Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviorist and star of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell, has been reading about, writing about and working hands-on with cats for 15 years. For more information, please visit Jackson’s website. Jackson’s first book, Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love and Coming Clean, is available for pre-order. For every copy of Cat Daddy pre-ordered before May 10, 2012, Tarcher-Penguin will donate $1.00 to help homeless cats cared for by Neighborhood Cats, Best Friends Animal Society and Stray Cat Alliance. To make your pre-order count, simply e-mail your receipt (or a photo/scan of your receipt) to CatDaddy@gmail.com.