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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cat Daddy Jackson Galaxy Sees Your A**hole Cat, Raises You 45 Kisses

Posted By on Wed, May 23, 2012 at 8:30 AM

THE T-SHIRT SAYS IT ALL.
  • The t-shirt says it all.

Anyone who has lived with an asshole cat knows the look: pupils dilated, ears folded back, tail snapping from side to side like a metronome. Without warning, this fearsome (but soft and cuddly and so fucking cute) predator hunkers down behind a chair in your living room, waiting to strike. And you're never prepared when he sinks his fangs repeatedly into your tender calf meat with the speed and precision of a sewing machine before stalking off as though nothing has happened. Meanwhile, you -- and your ego -- are confused and bleeding.

In his 15 years working with animals, cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, the tattooed-and-pierced host of Animal Planet's My Cat From Hell, has repaired many such damaged relationships between cats and their humans. By abandoning the need to rationalize problems and instead looking at the world from a cat's perspective, he has developed therapeutic and environmental techniques he likes to call "cat mojo."

And it works. He has brought peace to two warring cats who used to run shrieking across the bed at night, for example, or a stubborn fella who peed on the air conditioner instead of the litter box, or a crazy calico who fucking hated the new roommate.

In his new book Cat Daddy: What the World's Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean, Galaxy details the long, sloppy road that took him from self-conscious animal shelter employee, wannabe rock star, and addict to nationally known Cat Daddy, as well as what he learned from Benny, his very own asshole cat.

Like many of us who grow up awkward, oversensitive, or shy, Galaxy has always related better to animals than people. For most of his life, he has also battled addictions to booze, pharmaceutical and recreational drugs, and food.

"Not to fall into the trap of artistic cliché," Galaxy says, "but you do have to access some deep, dark and unknown shit in order to get to the truth, to get from the point of looking through the cosmic windows of understanding to the point of pushing through them."

True enough, but it's these "tortured artist" statements, along with Galaxy's repeated mentions of his sleeve tattoos, giant silver earrings, and multicolored dreadlocks (which he hacked off one day in a fit of rage), that initially caused me to plunk him in the "vain" section of my "The Other Humans" Venn diagram. This category is also inhabited by hipsters who won't STFU about the vintage snaps on their flannel button-down as well as suburban "punks" of the safety-pin and studded-belt varieties.

cat_daddy.jpg

But through his cat tales -- particularly those about the curmudgeonly Benny, the titular incorrigible kitty who was abandoned at the shelter with a broken pelvis and later adopted by Galaxy -- he slowly reveals himself to be genuine. Having spent most of my own childhood playing with cats instead of the other kids and much of my adulthood screwing myself over with my own addictions, I found myself empathizing with and rooting for Galaxy.

He won me over for good with "the story of the 45 kisses." On a stormy night at the shelter, all 45 cats in the room closest to Galaxy's desk were screaming in that heart-wrenching, ear-liquefying way the species seems to have mastered. Armed with nothing but the "Cat I Love You," which involves making eye contact with the cat and blinking slowly while literally thinking "I love you," Galaxy slowly made his way from cage to cage in the small room until every occupant was calm and quiet.

"The importance of the Cat I Love You ... cannot be overstated," he says. "This is our 'in' as humans into the communicative world of cats. They reach out with many of their vocalizations, which were obviously designed for humans. Cats do not meow at one another, by and large; they use it for us, to get something from us. So when you think about it, we owe them an attempt to listen, even when it means hopping to their side of the communicative fence."

Later that night, I tried the Cat I Love You on Phoenix, my own high-strung calico. And sure enough, she returned the blink and visibly relaxed, almost seeming to sigh. Other recommendations I'm planning to utilize are switching to recycled litter from clay, which can cause asthma and cancer, and introducing wet food and raw meat into my little predators' diets.

Like all animal lovers, Galaxy dreams of a world in which no animals will be needlessly euthanized, but he recognizes that it will take lots of education on the necessity of spaying and neutering to make that happen. He also knows that in order to help distressed cats, he must stop holding them to human standards, which he was able to accomplish with his own troubled Benny.

At first he likened Benny's perpetually bewildered stare to that of a fat, lazy bus driver who fell asleep in his La-Z-Boy and woke up as a cat. But as he gets sober, he realizes that "Benny is not just a cat who I take care of but a confused, frustrated being who is exactly the same as me. ... Benny and I are both socially isolated, behaviorally un-lubricated, two fingers on the same hand caught in massive gears. This is what differentiates sympathy from empathy. No matter how much I care for you, it's not until I recognize me in you and you in me that the veil of gauze is lifted on the world."

And it's these kinds of raw and beautiful realizations that make this book feel like an affectionate headbutt from the Cat Daddy himself.

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Angela Lutz

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