"What the World's Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean"
If you've seen "My Cat From Hell," the Animal Planet T.V. series Jackson Galaxy hosts, you already know that Jackson's appearance does not fit the stereotype most people expect to see in a cat behaviorist, much less in a "cat whisperer." He looks more like someone who has huddled in the dark corners of the world, which today he readily admits. But look closer. Those tattoos that cover his arms include tattoos of cats, and the brown eyes behind the glasses shine with warmth and compassion for the cats he loves and serves, not with the glazed stare of a drug addict (which he once was.) They may at times seem to burn with anger toward the cat owners who punish their cats for "misbehavior" in acts that may be more medically related. But he tempers that anger with compassion as he teaches his inimitable brand of cat (and human) behavior modification.
After all, as I've pointed out many times in the past, Cat Men do not fit any stereotypical molds, but may be straight, gay, or bisexual. They may be doctors, lawyers, janitors, veterinarians, drive garbage trucks, or be rock musicians as once was Jackson Galaxy. The tie that binds them together is their dedicated "'til death do us part" bond with cats, except this bond is not severed by death.
"Cat Daddy" is the story of Benny, the cat who was saved by Jackson Galaxy, and who in turn saved Jackson's life. It is a story of the highest highs and lowest lows of a man's life; the story of a man who rose like a phoenix from the ashes, to become oone of the most respected cat behaviorists in today's world of cats, a cat whisperer of the first order; a Pied Piper of cats.
Along the way, you will also learn many ways you can save other cats' lives - perhaps your own cats, or possibly you will even be inspired to vounteer at animal shelters, or otherwise help save the lives of other cats of the world.
Disclaimer: Because this book was written by a man who once lived a life in rough tenements, surrounding himself by other drug addicts and alcoholics, the language throughout the book is sometimes coarse and vulgar (as are some of the quotes in this review). If it were a film, it might have been rated R, PG, or "Iffy Under 13."
Jackson Becomes a Shelter Worker
Although Jackson Galaxy's band, "Pope of the Curious Gods" was doing "okay," he needed a backup source of income to make ends meet (and to support the balance between the costs of his addiction and those of subsequent treatment.)
Jackson tried several different jobs: delivering baguettes for a bakery at 4 a.m., working at a pawnshop, a barista in a coffee shop. I inferred that he was looking for a job without too much mental commitment so he could write music in his head for his band. The downside was that he could not turn off his imaginative visions about those "entry level jobs.
"At the pawn shop I became the dreamer--I had visions of turning it into Boulder's first classic and collectible instrument store. At the coffee shop it wasn't good enough to be a barista; I had to be an artisan, a roaster."
Jackson Galaxy describes these visions as insanity, at least partly induced by the substances he ingested in an attempt to keep it at bay. Possibly true, but there had to be a trace of his innate genius in the mix.
After an unfortunate event in the kitchen of a reputable restaurant, Jackson decided he was finished with serving people. In a serendipitous event, the following week he read in the paper that the Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV) was looking for an Animal Welfare Associate.
"I was, after all, in search of simplicity. Write my songs, be with my band, serve the animals--I nodded vigorously as I ran this by my inner board of directors--a workable idea!"
Dreadful DreadlocksIn Jackson's mind, the initial interview with Audrey, the shelter manager. He was confident of who he was, and made no attempt to hide the trappings, including his tattoos, big jewelry, and dreadlocks died in rainbow colors and adorned with African trade beads and other colorful items woven throughout.
"Take me for my passion," I thought. Take me for my experience volunteering with animals (absolute invented.) and take me because nobody will scoop shit and pressure wash cages and care for the animals in your charge for very, very little money better than I will."
So Jackson had to prevaricate a bit during the interview. He lied about his volunteer position in a New York animal shelter. He lied about his experience with aggressive animals. The most telling moments were when Audrey told him that euthanasia would be a large part of his job. Although this prospect would be daunting to anyone but an out-and-out sadist, Jackson understood the need for a compassionate soul to be there for those animals going to a far better place than their previous "homes."
At the end of the interview, Audrey seemed to imply that the job was his. She indicated that the final decision might be made as early as the end of that day. Jackson left the shelter full of enthusiasm, unaware that his dreams would burst in the near future. It was not to be - at least not quite yet. Those dreaded dreadlocks had been the proverbial straw that delayed Jackson's entry into the world of animals. The period that followed was so horrifyingly realistic that I'll jump ahead for the sake of my more fragile readers. it is sufficient to say that after reading that the HSBV was again hiring, and after a secreamingly funny scene with Galaxy and his band pelting a yuppie couple across the way with nasty dreadlock bombs, Jackson presented himself newly shorn at HSBV.
"'I was in the neighborhood' was, I believe the line of shit I fed Audrey when she looked at me, with a not-coontained smile plastered on her mouth."
"And this time, goddamit, that job was mine."
Jackson's training at the shelter was exhausting, often demeaning, but filled with nuggets of rewards along the way. At first, he was given the most menial tasks, cleaning out cages and mopping up pee and feces from the dog kennels area. His stint assisting a staff veterinarian with the abortion of puppies in a "late-term spay" was heart-breaking and eye-opening. She was pulling the embryos out of the mother cat's uterus, handing them to him, and he would inject them with the killing drug then drop the body into a metal bowl. When he asked the vet if the puppies couldn't be adopted if allowed to go to full term, she turned on him, snapping that this was the result of people failing to spay and neuter. He was ready to take offense when he remember his friend telling him about compassion fatigue.
"Linnie told me that it was really common among shelter workers and, in his experience, would just sneak up on someone and bury them..."And eventually you can get to the point where you're all cared up, and you look for somebody, anybody to blame all of this suffering on. It creeps up on you, day by day, and you never even notice it."
Spay and NeuterAlthough the Spay and Neuter message is being spread far and wide, there are still some people who just "don't get it." If you are one of those who thinks all female cats deserve to be mothers just once, that your kids should have the chance to witness the birth of kittens or puppies, or you don't feel you can afford an "optional" spay right now, you owe it to yourself to read the entire chapter starting with page 25. The experiences related set the tone for Jackson's entire focus on spay and neuter for pets, and there would be far fewer reasons for cats and dogs to be killed in shelters ever year, if more of us would act more responsibly toward our pets.
Jackson Galaxy Meets Benny
Jackson was on the fast track toward greater responsibility with HSBV in his new position as Community Coordinator,along with his duties of front desk supervisor. He was also on his way to being a cat behaviorist. One morning at 2 a.m., faced with 45 cats in cages screaming in terror during a thunder and lightening storm, Jackson put to the test the "Cat I Love You" slow blink, originated by author and cat behaviorist Anitra Frazier, in "The Natural Cat." Cat-by-cat, slow blink after slow blink, after several hours all the cats had stopped screaming and were back in their state of "confidence and stillness," which Jackson refers to as "cat mojo."
The Jig is Up, Jackson!Sometime later, Jackson was attending the monthly orientation meeting for new shelter volunteers, led by Stephanie, the foster care coordinator. Jackson was almost zoned out, waiting for his turn to talk about community outreach, when he suddenly heard, "We wouldn't urge you to foster if we hadn't put our money where our mouths were. Everybody on this staff has fostered," and Stephanie started reciting all the staff members' names. She saw Jackson's look of horror when she gave his name, and finally was able to drag forth his admission that he had never fostered a cat, then dragged from him the reluctant agreement to become a foster cat dad in front of all those witnesses. It wasn't that he didn't like cats. He found the band cats likeable enough, and there were already four cats in his current living arrangement. It was more that he did not want his personal living space invaded by another living, sentient creature.
The foster invader came in the form of Omni, a cat dumped at the shelter by a woman because he'd gotten badly injured after being forced to go outdoors, and she "couldn't afford" the veterinary bills to treat him, and she'd considered him "unbondable." It wasn't long before Jackson decided that Omni was a stupid name, and named the cat Benny after an old friend. One of the first techniques he used to gain Benny's trust was a "triple whammy" he had devised, which he calls "The Three Step Handshake." The first step, is of course, the "slow blink" described previously.
If you didn't guess from the subtitle of the book, Jackson took Benny as his own cat and housemate.
Getting Clean, Developing a New Role of Cat Behavior Consultant
Through a series of events, Jackson found himself with his friend Jen at an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting. He considered himself as a guest only, but reality struck when he took a "yes-no" test on some material, and he found himself in the "90 meetings in 90 days" initial phase of the program, but not without a struggle. Jackson got "loaded" the night before Dmitri was due to take away all his booze and drugs.
The next day, with a raging hangover, he was working with a seriously traumatized cats, doing his own brand of therapeutic cat touch, when they suddenly both had a breakthrough of huge proportions. Jackson described the feeling as "the great cosmological wall outlet I had suck my fingers into. And I took someone with me and asked him, silently, in a language of compromised gestures, to accept. This could have only happened to someone coming back to life, allowing his synapses to fire and his emotions to grow their own nerve endings." Jackson had found serenity, for the first time in years.
One Door Closes; More Doors OpenJackson had been two weeks clean when he was fired from the shelter. His innovative work with the more seriously damaged shelter cats had already gotten press coverage, and Danielle offered to send him referrals - both to help him build a private practice, and perhaps to potentially save the life of a cat who might otherwise have been dumped at the shelter.
The day he was to meet his first client, who had one of those cats described, Jackson's truck broke down and his computer was fried. He arrived by taxi, looking like the dregs of the gutter, but the client was so worried about Smokey, her own "cat from hell," that she overlooked his appearance. After being bloodied and battered on the staircase leading to the babies' bedrooms, Jackson applied his "cat detective" skills and outlined the steps to becoming a detective for Donna (and readers of this book.)
The remainder of the book continues with Jackson Galaxy's personal challenges and successes. He builds on the highs and lows of his own experiences with his cats to add to his repertoire of expertise for his clients. Lessons I hope readers will take away from this book:
Responsible Cat Parenthood
- Adopt, Don't Buy
Adopting a shelter cat or a cat from a rescue group is the humane thing; you'll be saving the life of the cat, and you are not contributing to kitten mill profits. If you're crazy about a certain breed of cat, there are breed rescue organizations, and plenty of mixed breed cats in shelters
- Spay and Neuter Your Cats
The fact is that ALL pet cats should be spayed and neutered. Failure to spay and neuter is the single largest reason for the overwhelming cat overpopulation problems.
- Don't Declaw
The only possibly valid reason to declaw a cat is if the cat's owner suddenly acquires an immune deficiency. Even then, there are humane alternatives to declawing, such as Soft Paws.
- Treasure Your Cat
Love your cat as a family member for life, but also know when it's time to let go. Quality of life trumps our selfish reasons for wanting to keep a terminally ill cat.
Tips for Acceptable, Realistic Behavior
- Cat Mojo 101
Things cats need to be happy and feel safe
- Clicker Training
To emotionally connect with your cat, to help the two of you get along better, and to teach the cat confidence
- Defuse the Cat Bomb
Learn the daily spikes so you can prevent overstimulation in your cat.
- Cat Projection 101
Don't try to read your cat's mind. Disengage when he's misbehaviing, step aside and document his actions so you can find a pattern.
- Tree Dwellers and Bush Dwellers
My eyes lit up when I read this section. The patterns of territorial aggressions were so similar to the problems I have with Jaspurr and Jenny, that I think I can use Jackson's advice to help calm the troubled waters.
Cat Daddy is a moving book from beginning to end. Yes, there are areas where disgusting or repulsive scenes might have been left out. However they were necessary to impart the fears, angers, and other emotions that led Jackson's path to the future. I guarantee that the last chapter cannot be read with a dry eye. I can easily make that claim because it's unlikely that a sadistic cat hater would pay the price of the book. It is one of the most valuable books in my library of cat behavior books, and I know I will be referring to it many times in the future.