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Monday, September 29, 2014

Not Your Mother's Cat Whisperer: A Visit From a San Francisco Cat Expert, Daniel Quagliozzi

Posted By on Mon, Sep 29, 2014 at 10:00 AM

  • Kingmond Young Courtesy of Daniel Quagliozzi

For most the phrase "cat expert" would conjure the image of a stooped, cardigan-wearing older woman, strangely scented and perpetually alone. Daniel Quagliozzi may wear the occasional ironic cardigan, but he is no dated, cat stereotype. In his third year as consultant and owner of Go, Cat, Go! Quagliozzi makes house calls to cat guardians in the Bay Area whose feline cohabitants have "behavioral problems" (a phrase which in the cat business means every surface is coated in urine). One brave Exhikittenist agreed to invite the self-identified Cat Behavior Consultant into her home for a consultation.

The place: A cat-hair coated building in the Outer Richmond, home to a reticent 12-year-old tabby.

The people: The writer, a life-long cat person, and Feline Philosopher Quagliozzi: a 42-year- old ("I don't care, that's how old I am") New Jersey transplant with 12 years of experience at the San Francisco SPCA, where he worked as an adoption counselor ("Cat social work") and as an adoption outreach worker. Performing intake on cats that came into the shelter and eventually acting as a behavior consultant as the SPCA Coordinator for Feline Care, Quagliozzi worked with what he estimates to be 4,000 cats a year. Go, Cat, Go! is his home-visit cat consult service.

The Philosophy: “We're working with an animal who makes decisions based on their own free will. Cats aren't really animals who do what you want. Avoid anthropomorphic interpretation. We are always seeking love, but our cat's relationship with you is built on self-serving trust.”

The Cat: Madeleine, a handsome gray tabby of 12 years with over a decade-long streak of coldness towards most humans.

(Enter Quagliozzi. His arms are sleeved in tattoos, some of which are distinctly cat-themed, his many piercings glisten, and his hair takes no notice of gravity in its impressive bouffant. He dresses like a man no cat would like to fuck with.)

Daniel Quagliozzi: Tell me about your cat. Can you think of any issues she has?

Jenny Singer: Madeleine is flawless. She is the result of a non-sexual union of Beyonce and one of the archangels.

DQ: Of course. But if you had to ask a question about her welfare…

JS: I feed Maddie every night at 5 p.m. and every morning when I wake up. Lately she's been waking me up consistently at 5:45 a.m-on-the-dot to be fed. I don't like having a furry, clawing alarm clock, but I don't want to mess with diet.

DQ: And it's a common problem for people to be woken up by their cats for this — we can't make them be obedient but they're damn good at making us obedient. It could be lifestyle-it could be that your cat doesn't do enough during the day to satiate her hunger. Usually cats get 12 hours of sleep and then the day gets started for them between 6 p.m. and 11a.m. I break the tie by giving them the whole shebang only at that time. Give her thing that bring activity and eating together. Suddenly she's eating out of a ball that dispenses treats and keeps her mind focused and keeps her working for her food. She's naturally born to hunt and seek things. People take activity, play time, and mental stimulation for granted.

JS: I am a vegetarian. My cat is not. This is an ideological disconnect that has separated us for years. I don't want to open the cans of meat, and I recently found out that her dry food has venison in it, so now I'm dealing with the psychological implications of serving my cat Bambi for dinner. But she's too goddamn cute to deprive. What do I do?

DQ: I'm a vegetarian too. I don't think you're depriving your cat, but defer to your vet. As for venison — it does matter. The reason they use that is because it's a select protein food. A lot of food on the market is crappy. Higher end is usually better, but it depends. My personal cat eats a diet of rabbit and duck and peas, but I had to find that out the hard way because he was vomiting up commercial cat food.

JS: Speaking of vomit — the carpets. Our cat hates being brushed, but then she vomits up hairballs, and that seems painful too. Is there a solution, or should we just kick her to the curb, Holly Golightly style?

DQ: Petting is something we take for granted. They do like it, but only when it serves them well. Cheeks, head, shoulders, yes. Back, flank, feet, belly — they can be sensitive. The wrong kind of brush will erupt a static feeling like lightning down their back. The body language cues your cat is giving are like "please stop." First you get flat ears, big eyes, crying out, and the swat is like "Please fuckin' stop." You could get a better brush, but there's also a couple of products on the market that break down the hair. There is one called Petromalt. You put it on their paw and their like "shit it's on my paw" and they lick it off. That might be a way to save her some pain. Now throw that brush away.

JS: My cat likes to spend time on the porch, but I worry that she will misjudge the width of the railing and fall. Can that happen? Can cats commit suicide? Asking for a friend, man.

DQ: It would be more likely to happen by accident. Cats are curious. Cats have been known to make some pretty poor trajectory decisions and or slip and fall because there is nothing to grip on to. I don't think suicide is a cat thought. I don't think cats have thoughts. Cats often do things against their own best interest. They base their decisions on whatever is happening in the moment. And that's kind of why I respect them because they don't think the way we do. We're constantly reflecting, we're constantly fast-forwarding, and they don't do that.
  • Kingmond Young courtesy of Daniel Quagliozzi

JS: Does the cat experience negative connotations of crawling down into a very dark hole to use the bathroom?

DQ: I'd love to see this very dark hole.

JS: Follow me.

DQ: I'll bring my black light.

(Quagliozzi and Singer continue on to a laundry area, where a dark hole carved into a wall suggests a hidden cat lair.)

DQ (Shining black light around): Yes I see many red flags. Going into a dark place isn't a big deal, but just look at what her body has to do to get in there! (Quagliozzi demonstrates cat defecation positions.) I'm quite surprised you don't have pee all around this litterbox. I'm a big fan of taking a top off the litterbox. If I could describe the greatest litterbox that money could buy it would have a huge door and be a double the size of your cat's body so that your she can make several choices. Clean it twice a day.

JS: Oh I absolutely won't do that.

DQ: Well, you wouldn't use a porta-potty with shit on the door handle.

JS: Moving on, here is the cat. (Quagliozzi moves very slowly towards the cat, holding out his glasses, which she sniffs.)

DQ: I never make a beeline. (Quagliozzi pets Maddie's back. She flinches.) Does her back twitch like that a lot? That probably has something to do with how you're brushing her. It's very sensitive back there. (Maddie meows.)

JS: Did I give my cat PTSD?

DQ: (Trying to get the cat to play with him.) Anyway, oftentimes we work too fast with a toy, we don't make it like prey. So if your cat is sitting there and you bring a toy over — that would never happen in real life. A mouse or a bug would never make a beeline for your cat. They have to see it in the distance. The cat has to go, "Oh shit it's leaving."

(Meanwhile, the cat has splayed herself sensually on the ground and is lolling around, making bold eye contact with all present.)

DQ: That right there is not an invitation. She's showing her trust and her vulnerability, what she doesn't want is for you to violate her vulnerability by putting your hand on her belly Plus you're at a total disadvantage because she has five weapons to fight you including her mouth. That's what I call a Venus Flytrap. You're the fly.

JS: After you Fraulein-Maria my cat and teach us how to play Edelweiss together, what's next for you?

DQ: I'm taping a new reality show called Animal House where myself and various other animal people — groomers, dog trainers, all that kind of stuff, go to shelters that have no resources all over the country and give them makeovers.

JS: That seems like quite a departure from the reality shows that take place in affluent homes and neighborhoods.

DQ: I think this is a return to what people want. Really helping animals.

JS: Godspeed, DQ. 
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About The Author

Jenny Singer


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