LOS ANGELES — Many cats are tail talkers. If those tails start to twitch and wag, watch out for fangs and claws, warns cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy.
If you try to pet a cat when its tail is wagging and get bitten, "You had it coming," says Galaxy, who helps solve behavior problems, both human and feline, on his Animal Planet show, My Cat From Hell.
Galaxy figures cats and owners equally share the blame for relationships gone wrong, but when it comes to changing behavior, cats are the easier students — by a wide margin. His house call kit is a guitar case loaded with cat toys and treats. But there's no magic wand in the box, he says. It takes time and hard work. "You get what you give."
Galaxy, 46, has an unusual job — and he's an unusual guy. He's 6 feet 5, bald, wears specs and ear hoops, sports a long goatee, prefers bowling shirts and sneakers, has tattoo "sleeves" and has started tats on his legs so that he'll one day have a "full suit." He plays the guitar, has a degree in acting and has been addicted to drugs, alcohol and food. He has also written an autobiography, Cat Daddy.
Galaxy was working at an animal shelter in Colorado more than 15 years ago when a man walked in with a cat in a cardboard box. Benny had been hit by a car and was "unbondable," the man said. Benny and Galaxy spent the next 13 years bonding and developing what Galaxy calls "cat mojo."
The cat whisperer had a practice with a holistic vet before moving to Los Angeles in 2007 and opening a private consulting firm. He was at a pet adoption fair when he met the friend of a friend who introduced him to reality TV producer Adam Greener. My Cat From Hell began airing in spring 2011. In each episode, viewers witness owners struggling to find domestic harmony with their cats.
Karen "Doc" Halligan of Los Angeles calls Galaxy "fabulous" but acknowledges that he's playing to a tough crowd. "People do not understand the need to train cats and that they need socialization just as much as dogs. Since they have not been domesticated that long, people just think they are independent and don't need it," says the veterinarian, author, TV consultant and director of veterinary services for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles.