Jackson Galaxy is no stranger to the dark side of felines—and he brings them over to the light!

By Karla Kangleon

What cat fancier doesn’t know who Jackson Galaxy is? Animal Planet’s cat behaviorist was recently in Asia for the first time to promote the premiere of the brand new season of his hit show, “My Cat From Hell” and to give his fans and cat lovers the experience of seeing and hearing from him in person. Jackson is a passionate advocate of adoption, spaying/neutering, and all matters related to the wellbeing of cats everywhere.

He says he was thrilled to be able to connect with various animal welfare groups and cat communities during his trip, and to learn about the culture, practices, and challenges faced in these countries. He sat down with Animal Scene’s correspondent Karla Kangleon to answer our questions with warmth, genuine candor, and compassion as he shared his deep insights on felines with us.

Q: You’re a huge inspiration to millions. What set you on the path to becoming America’s Cat Daddy?

A: I took a job in an animal shelter 20 years ago in Colorado. In the few weeks I worked there, everyone noticed that the cats gravitated towards me. They seemed to have picked me. My fascination for cats grew (so much) that I felt I had the duty to find a way to get them adopted. I’d like to be remembered as somebody who fought for the wellbeing of all animals. Q: What’s the name of your first cat? A: Cats seem to have come in and out of my life, but I would say Rabbi is my first. I was living in Iowa and during that time I was moving back to New York. The day I was packing my cargo, this little baseball-sized kitten appeared on my doorstep and that was it. He is my first.

Q: If there were one thing you would like everyone to know and understand about cats, what would it be?

A: I would like everyone to understand that cats are not what you think they are. They are neither aloof nor feeling superior. It’s not that they don’t care about you. You have to know what a love from a cat looks like versus (what it looks like) with a dog. Appreciate them for who they are. Listen to your cat and do it (on) their own terms.

Q: It’s amazing how dogs and cats can get along in one household. How is that possible?

A: You want to introduce them slowly. You do it with smell first and visual second. Before you introduce a cat into the household, make sure your dog is trained to “Sit!” and “Stay!” A great way to start things is by establishing trust. Trust is earned with positive associations with one another and the only way that I think you can do that is through food.By feeding them in opposite areas, the smell of food while your dog is around shows your cat that there is no threat. Visually, try to make your dog “Sit!” while the cat roams around. Keep the dog on a leash during the first few weeks of introduction because just one attack will make your cat associate your dog with bad things. Show your cat that great things happen when your dog is around, like great food, treats, and toys. Make your cat realize that your dog can be a fun companion.

Q: Over the years, I have rescued cats and dogs. For cat-crazed ladies like me, how can we redefine the term “crazy cat lady,” which has a lot of negative things associated with it?

A: It’s our job to make sure (that) when others think about cat people, they see people of all ages who genuinely love their cats. Taking a selfie with your pet comes a long way. When people see our photos with our cats in a good environment, we are reprogramming the way they think. Just because a lady has so many cats, it doesn’t mean she is single and living alone in a dark room. We have a very important message to send out to everyone, which is, it’s our job is to increase people’s empathy towards all animals and find homes for the cats.

Q: What are your thoughts on feral cats?

A: We consider the feral cats around our home as family and we love them very much. Whenever we travel we have a house-sitter who comes to take care of our 5 cats and 2 dogs. One day while we were away, a stray coyote came into our neighborhood, which made us worry. All we cared about was our feral cats. It’s interesting because people laugh when they hear that but I do consider them as part of my family. It’s important for people to realize that even if they don’t live in your house, their lives are equally significant.

Q: There are so many homeless cats in shelters and roaming the streets. What is the most humane and long-term way to control overpopulation?

A: TNR (trap-neuter-return). It’s the only way. Since we let them overpopulate, we have an obligation to be humane to the living ones and prevent more from being born. Short of that, there is no excuse at this point not to neuter and spay your pets. Many would say they want their kids to see the miracle of birth or they just want (their pets) to experience having one litter but in the end, their pets end up in the streets. It’s time for us as animal lovers to own the problem and be responsible for the lives of the animals we take care of. Q: You have made a positive impact on animal welfare. Do you have a special message for Filipinos who want to have cats? A: Please ADOPT and RESCUE. Don’t shop. With the overpopulation and homeless cats in the streets, I am begging and imploring all those who love cats to go outside your comfort zone and make a significant difference even just by saving the life of one cat.

Q: You’ve given so much detailed advice to cat parents who have what they thought were “cats from hell” who were merely misunderstood. What for you are the most valuable things cat parents need to remember when it seems they are dealing with a “cat from hell”?

A: One important thing to remember is that nothing that your cat does is
random. For example, your cat doesn’t just attack you out of the blue or pee
outside the box. There is a very good reason for everything that they do. Each
cat’s behavior and needs are different. To solve the problem, first get your
cat’s clean bill of health from your veterinarian. Once clear, take a look at
your house and ask yourself if something has changed. If there’s a problem with your cat, take yourself outside the equation because the truth is, what your cat is doing has nothing to do with you.

Instead of asking “Why are you doing this to me?” ask, “What’s wrong?” or
“What’s changed?” The “catification” of your home (by creating feline-friendly
environments that cater to a cat’s natural instincts to climb, perch, rest,
play, and own their space), spending ample play time with, and having a
deep understanding of their needs will definitely make a world of difference for your cat.

Q: Will there be a chance for you to visit cat lovers in Manila and animal welfare advocates?

A: Yes, I would love to! I have heard of so many great things about the cats
in the Philippines. I’m sure Animal Planet has great things in store for the future.

About a thousand fans attended the two live events in Singapore; 500 flocked to the live event in Kuala Lumpur, and over 1,200 came to see him live in Jakarta. “It was immensely rewarding to see the great response from fans who turned up in droves, which shows that the series really connects with our viewers and fuels their passion and interest. We were also pleased that many organizations were eager to partner with us to bring the event and the message of animal welfare to the public,” shares Gayle Tan of Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific. For news and updates, visit the Animal Planet Southeast Asia Facebook page, www.facebook.com/AnimalPlanetSEAsia

Karla Kangleon is the founder of All4PetsParty.com, and she says of the experience, “It was an honor to have the chance to chat with the most loved cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, his beautiful and equally compassionate wife Minoo Rahbar, and the Animal Planet Team in Kuala Lumpur.” She presented Jackson with a digital caricature from the Philippines created by the 2-time Emmy Award Winner Dane Romley, and he was utterly ecstatic.

This appeared as “Handling Cats from Hell” in Animal Scene’s September 2015 issue.