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Animal Planet star Jackson Galaxy visits WesternU

by Rodney Tanaka

September 20, 2012

Read 3 mins

Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, host of the Animal Planet show “My Cat From Hell,” gave veterinary students and community members practical advice about living with and working with cats.

The talk, held at Western University of Health Sciences’ Pomona, Calif. campus on Sept. 19, 2012, was organized by the WesternU student chapter of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, otherwise known as the Cat Club.

Galaxy explained the concept of cat mojo – what propels them through space, what makes a cat historically — and your cat specifically — motivated to move, and what gets them through the day.

“Cats are on the planet to kill things,” he said. “Anybody who thinks they’re on the planet to cuddle with you, you have high regard for yourself.”

Cats are here because they killed rats and other vermin, protecting us from disease. They were only brought into our homes as guests in the past 120 years, during the Victorian era, which is just a blip on the evolutionary timeline, Galaxy said. Yet we still get mad when cats don’t defecate in a box.

“They’re doing you an amazing favor by going in the same place every day,” he said. “Their job is to mark their territory. It’s not supposed to be in the same place every day.

“You made a pact with an animal that is this far from not being domesticated. They don’t do things for you. That’s kind of why I love them so much.”

Cat mojo starts and ends with ownership. A cat that is comfortable with the territory they’re in is a confident cat that will have few behavioral problems. The two places in your house where your scent is strongest are your couch and your bed.

“They know how to mark you. They own you that way,” Galaxy said. “When the confident cat scratches your couch, it’s not a behavior problem. They’re going to mark it with scent and a visual marker. This is how we reframe it. It’s not a problem. It’s a cat compliment. Me and you, we belong to each other.”

So if you have an expensive couch that you don’t want scratched, you need to find an alternative.

“Behind every ‘no,’ there has to be a ‘yes,’ Galaxy said. “Put a scratching post next to the couch that has a texture they dig and they can make a dent in how it looks.”

He has to teach nearly all of his clients how to play with cats. Even if they buy the right toys, most of them aren’t using them properly.

“Unless you present it as prey, they could give a rip,” he said. “I talk about ‘being the bird,’ ‘being the mouse,’ ‘being the prey,’ actually playing in a childlike way.”

Cats are an elegant, perfect mechanism for hunting, yet we treat them like furniture, Galaxy said. They sleep a lot because they’re gearing up for the hunt, yet we expect nothing to happen.

“That energy has to come out,” he said. “They don’t need to be brushed at that moment. All that is going to do is engage in overstimulation. You have to engage your cat in play.”

He encouraged those who work in shelters to provide cats with more than just comfort when they arrive.

“At some point you have to become a challenger,” Galaxy said. “Cats have to be brought out of fear, brought out of trauma. They’re not going to do that by themselves. We can make these cats confident, and with confidence they’re adoptable.”

Cat Club President Phoenix Watt, DVM ’15, said she wanted Galaxy to visit campus after watching his show.

“Here is a person who could positively impact so many cat lives, which is what I want to do,” she said. “So many cats are abandoned because of ‘behavioral issues.’ Between his talk tonight and his show, we learned the cat is not the problem. Owners need to learn how to live with a cat. The more we realize and recognize that, the more our patients are not going to be taken to a shelter and not given up on.”

The talk also attracted community members with an interest in cats and Galaxy’s show. Pomona residents Tony and Kathy Mikkelson said they enjoy watching “My Cat From Hell” and appreciated the talk.

“As smart and knowledgeable as I thought he was, I’m even more impressed now,” Tony said. “What he said was simple yet profound. If you take a cat in your home, you have to take care of it. Let’s work with the cat, not just toss it away.”

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