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TV therapist to tackle terror cat

The large cat that attacked a baby and trapped an Oregon family in a bedroom touched off an Internet uproar that worries Jackson Galaxy, star of Animal Planet's My Cat from Hell.

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Cats don't become ferocious felines that turn on their families for no reason, says the cat behavior expert, who is heading to Portland soon to work with the 4-year-old part-Himalayan pet named Lux. Galaxy will film the visit for his show's fifth season, which begins April 26.

"Every parental site on the Internet blames the cat for this confrontation. Every pet site blames the family," he said. "We need to step away from the hysteria. There is a story behind all this. Don't assume anything."

Lux became worldwide news after owner Lee Palmer called 911 and said the cat had cornered him, his girlfriend, their baby and the family dog inside a room.

Palmer says his 7-month-old pulled Lux's tail, and he kicked the animal after it scratched the child. The cat then "went off over the edge," Palmer told an emergency dispatcher after the family barricaded themselves. "He's charging us," Palmer said, as the cat was heard screeching in the background. Officers arrived and caught Lux with a dog snare.

Palmer said the cat had a history of violence. The Palmers turned Lux over to a Portland-area shelter, but later told Animal Planet they were going to keep the cat and agreed to therapy with Galaxy.

There are many reasons a cat can turn aggressive, and there is no universal way to deal with it, Galaxy said. But the behaviorist provided five ways to tame out-of-control cats:

Never leave a young child unsupervised with a cat.

Take it to a vet at least once a year. If a cat is acting suspiciously, the owner needs to pay attention. "Know what suspicious looks like," Galaxy said. "If they're not feeling well, cats will socially withdraw themselves, or they will lose weight, or they will gain weight, or they'll be howling in the middle of the night when they never did before. I've known cats who acted out similarly to Lux because of an abscessed tooth, a brain tumor, hyperthyroidism or diabetes."

Make sure cats can literally climb out of a situation. Having a space up high, like a cat condo, to get away from children and other pets is crucial, Galaxy said. "Make sure the cat can make the choice to get away from the kid," he said.

Timeouts are good things. "We associate timeouts with punishment, but in the world of cats, timeout is not a punishment." They can go to a designated place where they can settle down, come back to a peaceful moment or ground themselves, he said.

Stop fights between felines with "timeout drills." With simple pieces of cardboard, left strategically around the house, you can stop a fight between two cats. Put the cardboard between them, blocking their vision and providing a moment of disorientation when you can lead them to their timeout spot. It's especially important to have the drills with aggressive cats.

Galaxy said he was going to Portland to find out what's wrong.

"I have no idea what made Lux aggressive," he said. "If you want a blanket statement on how to deal with aggression, how about, 'Don't set the cat up for failure,' " he said.

The behaviorist, who has worked with thousands of cats, said what bothered him most about Lux was his continued aggression the day Palmer called 911. But the word "attack" doesn't sit well with Galaxy because 75 percent of the time, it's tied to a grouchy mood or a warning, he said.

"If I have a headache, I won't be the nicest guy in the world. I may snap at you," he said. "This may have been Lux's way of snapping. Hypothetically speaking, someone pulling his tail may have been the last straw."

TV therapist to tackle terror cat 03/24/14 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2014 5:21pm]

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