(To watch the video of this interview on YouTube,
Dr. Karen Becker Interviews
Jackson Galaxy From The Hit TV Show "My Cat From Hell"
Today, I'm interviewing the one and only Jackson
Galaxy. Jackson is a cat behaviorist by day and a rock-n-roller
by night. When it comes to cats, Jackson challenges the
traditional cat-lover persona with his tattoo-clad arms and
guitar-shaped briefcase filled with cat toys.
An animal activist and host of Animal Planet's
hit TV show, My Cat from Hell, Jackson knew long ago he
possessed a deep understanding of animal behavior and a gift for
enlightening people on how to identify with their pet's
behavior. Through holistic remedies and techniques like the "I
Love You Blink," Jackson can calm even the most out-of-control
In his first book, Cat
Daddy: What the World's Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About
Life, Love and Coming Clean,
Jackson tells the story of his work with animals that helped him
overcome drug addiction and personal hardship. His second book, Catification:
Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (& You!),
was just released this month.
Jackson is also co-founder of Spirit
Essences, a collection of holistic
remedies for animals, and just launched the Jackson
Galaxy Collection by Petmate, an
extensive national line of cat play products. Jackson is also
preparing to launch the Jackson Galaxy Foundation as a way to
improve shelter programs in America how they're run and
perceived. He is passionate about reducing the shelter
Jackson Shows People How To
Develop Their Cat Mojo
I asked Jackson to talk about some of the more
challenging cat behaviors he has come across. He replied that
while many cats are indeed challenging, his job is really to
challenge them to take them past their comfort zone, along
with their humans, to see what's beyond it. Jackson describes
himself as a "motivational speaker for cats."
One of the natural instincts of felines is that
they have no drive to please us. They don't care. Humans see
that as a behavior problem. Beyond peeing outside the litter
box, beyond a cat's aggressiveness or other behavior issues,
what really bothers people is that cats don't listen to us. As
Jackson sees it, that's where things go downhill in terms of the
I asked Jackson if he feels his real job is to
alter human behavior rather than cat behavior; he replied that
it's both. He teaches humans "Cat Mojo," which he defines as
walking through the world like a cat, and learning what it is
that motivates a cat. Once he gets a person to that empathetic
place, human-cat problems start to resolve. But first humans
have to get past their confusion about cat demeanor and
behavior, and jumping to the conclusion that it's bad. Jackson
believes understanding what makes a cat a cat is crucial to our
success as guardians.
When Your Cat Acts Out, Your
First Response Should Be "Are You Okay?"
Jackson has an innate understanding of cats that
he was probably born with or developed when he was very young.
But I asked him if his work with shelter animals helped hone his
skills. How does he help guardians understand they need to hang
in there as long as necessary to work to the bottom of a cat's
issues especially a cat who has spent time in a shelter?
Jackson explained he always starts from an
emotional, empathetic place. We all have access to that place.
Until recently we didn't acknowledge or understand that animals
experience post-traumatic stress. Then about five or six years
ago, a military dog returned from Afghanistan with classic PTSD,
confirmed by a diagnosis by Dr.
Nicholas Dodman, who operates the
Behavior Clinic at Tufts University Cummings School of
Historically, humans haven't acknowledged the
depth of animals' feelings. Now, as we learn to do that, instead
of reacting in that first moment when your cat pees on your bed
with "Why did you do that to me?" we can instead ask, "Are you
Jackson firmly believes many of the problems cat
guardians experience would solve themselves if their first
response to a peculiar kitty behavior was "Are you okay?" rather
than "Look how you've wronged me!"
When we take that perspective, we can begin
re-patterning. We can use techniques like operant conditioning
or exposure therapy to lessen a cat's response to emotional
triggers. But Jackson says it's a fine line, in that we must
know what behavior is actually "re-patternable" -- what's fair
of us to try to re-pattern about a cat's behavior, versus what
would be a disservice to the animal.
Learning To Accept "What Is"
We must also be willing to accept "what is."
Animals sometimes have scars so deep that a particular behavior
cannot be re-patterned. We must accept them and love them where
they are, because we're not going to change that thing about
them. We have to understand that "what is," is as far as that
animal can go, and we can't expect any more of him. It's about
and loving the animal as he is.
Jackson compares it to having a family member or
other loved one who has been through a war. There's no changing
that about the person, no matter their genetic makeup. When you
experience war, it changes you. It's a part of your life from
that point forward. You're a wartime survivor who does this,
this, and this.
It's the same with animals. Jackson feels we
don't acknowledge the real trauma animals experience when they
lose their home, wind up in a shelter, are stripped of their
territory, are abused or neglected and then are adopted into a
normal life. Today's normal doesn't erase yesterday's trauma. So
we must respect the "what is" of the animal, but Jackson feels
that's also the point at which we can begin challenging.
To do this, he uses what he calls the challenge
line, which is that very specific point where a cat (or another
animal, or a human) crosses from comfort to challenge. So we
inch up to that line, we inch across it, and we try to reach a
point where the cat says, "This is who I am. I may be shy, but
that doesn't mean I have to spend my life under the bed."
When we're dealing with cats from a shelter
background, there's usually some emotional stuff going on. So we
need to help guardians provide a safe and loving environment,
while also helping their cats become who they are meant to be.
There's a fine line between motivating a kitty to become more
confident, and pushing him. You don't push a cat, as he will
most assuredly push back. What Jackson tells his clients is,
"What we want is for your cat to be the best version of himself
that he can be." It's the same thing you would want for your
And Jackson points out there are cats who will
never be interested in throwing big cocktail parties for all
their feline friends. This doesn't necessarily mean they lack
confidence it could simply mean they'd prefer to stay home and
read a book. They're feline introverts. We understand and
respect that humans have different temperaments and
personalities, and we need to do the same with animals. But for
some reason, though we respect a person who states his
preferences, we don't hold the same respect for animals that
tell us their preferences using body language.
Jackson has had countless emails and calls over
the years from people who say, for example, "I just want my cat
to be a lap cat." And he replies, "Your cat doesn't want to be a
lap cat." I've had similar conversations with my own clients
when they tell me what they want their pet to be or do. I say,
"Did you ask him what HE wants to be? Because he may not want
the same thing you do."
Banishing Boredom For Your
Another problem cats face is boredom. Let's say
you have a kitty who has been well-cared for from birth, has
lived a life of luxury, but is confined to her house. Her
guardian works 10 hours a day, comes home exhausted, pops some
food into her bowl, and that's it. That's the poor cat's life
no ability to get outdoors or move her body as nature intended.
Cats are curious, brilliant creatures. They need stimulation. I
asked Jackson how often he sees behavior problems in kitties
that result from sheer boredom.
Jackson answered that it goes back to the concept
of Cat Mojo. When we learn to walk through the world as our cats
do, we understand their needs on a very basic level, and we
naturally insure they have outlets for their curiosity, energy,
and other innate gifts. Today's cats are still very much in
touch with what Jackson calls their "raw cat." They have
maintained their drive to awake from a nap to go hunt, catch,
kill and eat prey, groom, go back to sleep, and do it all over
again in a few hours. That's a cat's whole life, and when she's
not given those outlets, it makes perfect sense that she winds
up hunting your ankles, your children, or your dog.
Play is also crucial, which is why Jackson
carries his guitar case full of toys and enticements to help
draw out the raw cat. That's also what his new line of products
with Petmate is all about, too. The goal is to increase
interactivity. Jackson believes that as cat guardians, we all
get lazy. We build a stash of toy mice, milk bottle caps, and
other similar stuff, and we just toss them to the cat. But
interactive play means we become our cat's prey the mouse or
the bird moving the way it would, unpredictably, and really
drawing out the cat's hunter energy.
Jackson has seen miraculous results when scaredy
cats find their inner hunter. The confidence comes from the
thought that "I just killed something," which is 100 percent raw
cat at its core. The toy moves across the floor, the cat pounces
on it and "kills" it. You can see the reaction in the cat's
face. He's fired up. He realizes "THIS is what I was meant to
do, isn't it!"
With cats who are bullies, we must take that
over-stimulated source of energy and drain it with a natural
focus, which is hunting. It erases the need to bully. The cat
gets a payoff he can't get from hassling the other cats in the
house. It's about introducing the bully cat to his raw inner
The Importance & Simplicity Of
Jackson has seen tremendous results with
structured play therapy and feels he's just barely scratched the
surface. One of the toys in his new Petmate line is a variation
of the old wand with attachments on the end of it. He's really
proud that the new toys are incorporating more of the natural
movements of prey.
Cat toys shouldn't be about appealing to humans,
but to cats. Jackson has spent 20 years working with people and
their cats in their homes, and taking notes every day with
questions like "Why doesn't this exist?" So he's thrilled to be
in a position to partner with a company like Petmate to create
I shared with Jackson that I live in the woods,
so my cats have the opportunity to hunt mice all the time. In
fact, their threshold for excitement is quite high and it's
getting more difficult to keep them stimulated. I'll need
Jackson's new toys before long because I'm having trouble
continuing to meet the hunting expectations of my cats!
A lot of cat guardians who try to play
interactively with their pets tell Jackson, "My cat doesn't
play." They say, "No matter what I do, my can't won't play." So
he asks them to show him how they play, and sure enough, they
hold the wand in one hand like they're conducting an orchestra,
while they text with the other hand. Or watch TV, or engage in
some other distraction.
The cat, of course, is sitting there silently
mocking her human. She's thinking, "Are you serious?" "Could you
maybe get up and at least move around a little bit?" So of
course she isn't going to play. As far as she's concerned, that
useless thing you're distractedly waving around has nothing to
do with her.
Jackson challenges everyone to try this
experiment just once to see the result. Take your wand with the
string and attachment at the end of it, or make one with a wire
coat hanger and some string. Drag it slowly around the back of
your couch until it disappears from sight, and tell us your cat
won't pounce on it! This is what interactive play is all about.
Finding ways to move the toys that energize your cat and bring
out the swatting, batting, chasing, pouncing hunter in her.
Jackson says, "Don't forget cats are not
furniture." Cats are family members with very strong needs.
Interactive prey play gives you a meaningful minute-by-minute
bond with your cat. That should be the goal.
The "I Love You Blink"
I asked Jackson to talk to us a little about the
"I Love You Blink." Most cats do it, but many guardians don't
realize what it is. It's a slow, intentional blink.
The reason Jackson coined it the I Love You Blink is so humans
can put intention behind it. Look at your cat with your eyes
open, you're silently saying "I" then you close your eyes and
you're completing the silent phrase with "love you." You've told
your cat "I love you" with your eyes. You intentionally send
that message with your eyes. You'll notice that your cat will
begin to return that blink to you.
The importance of the blink can't be overstated,
according to Jackson. He says it's our "Rosetta Stone" our one
and only way of meeting our cats at the "communicative fence."
When our cat meows, he's attempting to jump over to our side of
the fence. When we play with our cat, we're trying to jump over
to his side. The I Love You Blink lets us meet right in the
It's a way of saying "I love you." When a cat
closes his eyes with us, he is saying "I allow myself to be
vulnerable to you, a potential predator." That's a big deal. And
so we respond in kind with our own blink. Cats add to the blink
with other subtle behaviors that mean different things, but it
all starts from the I Love You Blink. And that is a great place
Reading Your Cat's Body
Language For Signs Of Pain
I told Jackson that I recently spoke with his
good friend and associate Dr.
Jean Hofve about
how a cat's body language can provide lots of information. She
explained that if we pay close attention to the positioning of
cats' ears and whiskers, and the size of the pupils, we can pick
up information about pain or discomfort they are feeling. But it
requires taking time to totally focus on the cat, which ends up
being almost like meditating in that we are grounding out and
balancing ourselves as we focus on the cat.
As Jackson puts it, "You've got to tell yourself,
'step away from the cat.'" Instead of thinking "My cat's angry,"
or "My cat's jealous," focus on her eyes. What do they look
like? What are her ears doing? What does her piloerection
(involuntary bristling of the hair) look like?
These are all things controlled by your cat's
sympathetic nervous system. What are they telling you? In order
to find out, you have to remove your ego and enter sort of a
meditative process by focusing on your cat. Put aside all your
personal knowledge of communication and just be a journalist
focused on what your cat's body is telling you.
Flower Essence Therapy
Speaking of Dr. Hofve, I want to explain for our
viewers and readers how Jackson and I crossed paths. I talked to
him first many years ago at an American Holistic Veterinary
Medical Association (AHVMA) convention, where he explained how
he helped create the Spirit Essences line of remedies. As
Jackson explains it, Spirit Essences is holistic energy
medicine. It's flower essence therapy, which was popularized
over a hundred years ago by Dr. Edward Bach. The Bach line of
flower essences is well-documented these days, especially Rescue
Remedy, which you can find at your local Whole Foods and similar
retail outlets. Jackson didn't get involved in flower essences
himself until he met Dr. Hofve. He and Dr. Hofve partnered to
launch their website, Little
Big Cat. It was Jackson's first foray
outside of his work with animal shelters.
He and Dr. Hofve were trying to get their website
and business, which was mind-body consulting for cats, up and
running, and they also needed to reinvigorate another facet of
the business, Spirit Essences. It had been sitting essentially
dormant after Dr. Hofve created it around 1995.
Jackson and Dr. Hofve reformulated the flower
essences using their knowledge of how to balance certain
energetic states they saw over and over in cats. Fast-forward to
today, and Spirit Essences is a very successful line of
remedies. People have reached the point where they can accept
the benefits of holistic treatments they can't really define or
Cats Are Sensitive To Stress
And It Can Make Them Very Sick
When we speak of energetic states, we must
acknowledge that stress is an integral part of illness, and in
fact, we're learning stress is often the root of many chronic
human diseases. I think it's fair to say that an emotional
imbalance occurs first, which leads to a physiologic imbalance,
which leads to physiologic symptoms, which leads to tissue
changes, which leads to disease. There's a documented
correlation between negative emotional states (anger,
frustration, sadness, fear) and physiologic manifestations of
medical conditions. Bladder
and urinary issues in
cats are a good example.
Jackson believes there's also a strong connection
in cats between stress and what we term inflammatory
bowel disease(IBD). The problem with
IBD is that in cats, it's often impossible to pin down exactly
what the disease is. One of Jackson's own cats nearly died from
IBD. It's so common that he feels stress can cause it, trigger
it, and exacerbate it.
Cats need stability in their lives from one day
to the next. They need "predictability within the territory," as
Jackson puts it. Realistically, most people aren't able to
provide the kind of consistent stability cats need every day of
every month of every year. When anything causes significant
stress (good or bad) in your own life -- say, a new boyfriend or
girlfriend or husband or wife, a new baby, a new dog or cat, a
vacation, a move you can rest assured your cat is feeling it
too. Cats are like energy sponges. They soak it all up, and push
it back out again.
So you need to acknowledge what's happening, work
with it, and provide your cat with as much stability as
possible. Use modalities like flower essences or any number of
things we've discussed to help them move through the stress
gracefully. Otherwise, they're just gathering that stressful
energy, building it up, and as we know, if we don't create flow
of energy through the body, blockages occur and disease comes
Jackson's Latest Book,
Catification: Designing A Happy & Stylish
Home For Your Cat (& You!), Is Now Available
Speaking of maintaining energy flow and a sense
of territorial security in cats, the way to do that is by
enhancing their environment, which is the perfect opening to
talk about Jackson's latest book, just out this month, called Catification:
Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (& You!).
Jackson wrote Catification with
his friend Kate Benjamin of hauspanther (formerly
Modern Cat). Her website is about stylish approaches to living
with a cat, and in fact, she calls herself a cat style expert.
For Jackson, it was sort of a match made in heaven, because as
he puts it, "I'm all about the function and she's all about the
form." Catification is
the meeting point between the two.
If you've seen Jackson's show, My Cat from Hell,
you've heard him talk about "cat superhighways," "bush
dwellers," "tree dwellers," and how to identify where your cat
finds his mojo on the vertical axis. That's where Catification takes
off identifying who your cat is in terms of his personality
type and where he finds confidence then exploiting that by
building a home around it. It's about raising your cat's
confidence, and being able to live with it from a human
standpoint. Because, as Jackson says, "Nobody wants their house
to look like a crazy cat lady's house, right?" The goal is for
it to be successful for humans as well.
Jackson describes Catification as
a beautiful, full-color design book that draws on a lot of the
cases from his show, as well as his and Kate's personal
experiences in their own lives and homes. It shows readers how
to use imagination and elbow grease without breaking the bank
-- to change their cat's environment and reduce stress in a big
I'm excited to read the book, and I'm also
excited that people are getting an opportunity to learn how to
enhance the emotional and physical well-being of their cats in
such a unique and creative way!
Thank You, Cat Daddy!
I'm so amazed with all that Jackson is doing to
help people better understand, communicate, and live with the
felines that grace our world. I also appreciate all the work
he's doing with the humane movement and his desire to end the
I want to thank Jackson Galaxy for taking time to
speak with me today and share his gifts with
visitors. I look forward to talking to him again very soon!