Jackson Galaxy is a feline behavioralist, taming even the most problematic of cats so that they don't have to be given up for adoption or put to sleep.
But don't compare him to Cesar Milan, the one famous for working with human's other four-legged friends, dogs.
"Me and Cesar are bearded apples and oranges," Galaxy, the star of the Animal Planet's reality TV show, "My Cat From Hell," told Goodmorningamerica.com. "We are completely different beasts."
"We work in the same world, we deal with humans as well as animals but, for the record, I probably outweigh him three-to-one," he said of Milan, also a TV star. "So if nothing else, I can always sit on him!"
That answer is typical of Galaxy, who does not appear, at first glance at least, like your stereotypical cat lover. But Jackson, a 6-foot-2, 275-pound tattooed, guitar-player, is just that, a lover of felines, because his life, he says, was saved by one, a cat named Benny whom he met while working at an animal shelter.
Benny became the then-aspiring songwriter's constant companion for nearly 14 years and pulled Galaxy from drug addict to a clean and sober reality TV star.
"Animals to me became my higher power," he said. "I couldn't conform to a natural description of God, or anything like that, but when I walked into that building full of animals, they needed me, and I needed them back."
Galaxy's time with his cat inspired him to write a book, "Cat Daddy: What the World's Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love and Coming Clean," available in stores and online now.
"By finding your Benny, finding something outside yourself that makes life worth having, is crucial," Galaxy said of the book's message. "You won't overcome addiction just because you want to be clean. You'll overcome addiction because you have to be clean for something else."
Galaxy's message for everyone, addicts and those who have never struggled with addiction included, is that, when it comes to cats, more is definitely not less.
"I want to tell everybody that if you don't have a cat in your life- get one," he said. "If you've got three, get another one. If you've got 5, get another one."
Read an excerpt of "Cat Daddy" below.
Cat Daddy: What the World's Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love and Coming Clean
I'm a cat behaviorist.
In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, when I say that, whoever I'm talking to says, "You're a what?" "A cat shrink?" I try. Blank looks. "Cat therapist? Cat whisperer?" Nothing. "If your cat were peeing on your bed, I'd come to your house and help him stop."
Recognition. Maybe. And then, inevitably: "Can you really make a living doing that?"
"On a good week."
This was how I answered the reporter who wondered what I said when people asked me what I did for a living. "Well, to be fair," she said once I finished, "you're not exactly what people think of when they imagine the Cat Guy." She was right. I'm not. I'm pretty well covered in tattoos. My head is shaved. There are huge earrings dangling out of both my ears, almost down to where my beard reaches, which is normally just a bit north of my chest.
But it's okay, I told her, because it's all part of my plan. We need to explode the concept of what a cat guy looks like, what a cat girl looks like. We need a country literally full of cat guys and cat girls, bikers, politicians, clergy, and everyone in between, in order to keep millions from dying without homes.
I did this interview about a year before the premiere of my show, My Cat from Hell, on which I help people find ways to strengthen their relationships with their cats, using methods I started developing in the shelter where I worked and in whose trenches I learned how to love, appreciate, and work with cats on a higher level.
Since I began working with cats, I've met tens of thousands of felines, in shelters, in homes. But this book is about the one who taught me the most.
Benny was seven pounds of feline frustration who I loved with all my heart. I do not play favorites, and my house was always full of critters, but Benny demanded more than the others in every way. He was challenged physically and challenging behaviorally. He put me through my Cat Daddy paces for almost fourteen years and kept me humble while the larger world came a-knocking. When I moved from Boulder to California, I left the network of health professionals I had known before, so when Benny's health issues began to dominate the landscape I desperately reached out for new connections, veterinarians who shared my belief in an integrative approach. During Benny's first acupuncture session at a new local vet, I watched the way he almost seemed to melt beneath the well-placed needles. The doctor had a bedside manner, however, only marginally better than that of a potted cactus. I thought of blogging about the experience, but at that moment I realized my journey with Benny encompassed too much for a blog entry: growth, learning, setbacks, lessons in surrender and love. I wanted to write his story. Just like with My Cat from Hell, the idea is for viewers/readers to see the absolute most off-the-charts behavior, know there could be a way to salvage things, and look at their cat with renewed appreciation: "Well, that cat's issues rate a 10, and you're only a 6. I can handle that." I had no problem with the idea of presenting my little companion in that light. I'm sure he did. But then again, he had a problem with just about everything.
At the same time, Benny was witness to and participant in the most chaotic period of my life. I thought it important to talk about things that, quite honestly, I've kept exceedingly close to the vest. The thing is, I treasure beyond words the relationships I formed with animals in the past seventeen years. I find no drama in saying that without them, I would have long ago passed from this world. So in honoring them, I needed to reveal the dark corners they led me safely away from, despite my best efforts to hand grenade every single gift the universe placed at my feet. Benny was one of these animal ambassadors' toughest and most rewarding representatives. I am genuinely proud that we can share our journey with you.
My relationship with Benny was long and tumultuous. A petite gray-and-white domestic shorthaired cat, he challenged me every day for more than thirteen years. Every time I let myself get complacent in my knowledge of cats, in my place in their world, I'd take a deep breath, lace my fingers behind my head and lean back in my chair, and look over to Benny . . . who was flipping me the bird.
Our story was one about two broken beings who fixed each other. His previous guardian, handing him over to me, called him "unbondable," even as he sat in a cardboard carrier, his pelvis shattered by the wheels of a car. I was an animal shelter worker, commiserating with and hiding among the only other beings I felt a part of. My life as an artist—a songwriter, singer, guitarist, bandleader, actor, performance artist; hell, my life as a vital human being—was being sucked from me. Having crawled out from the teeth of a nervous breakdown, I resorted to self-medication and a life of social and emotional solitude. For a time, my hermitage was a windowless warehouse with no phone, no running water. It worked for me. I was getting by, pissing in bottles, paying very meager bills, and, through an incredible array of addictions, staying necessarily numb.
Somehow during this time, I managed two things: my band and my growing empathic connection with cats. Believe this—I wanted nothing to do with developing a career working with animals. I just wanted the constant chattering n my head to stop. I wanted, as I wrote in one of my many unfinished twenty-minute-plus songs, "Peace from the Noise of the City." Just clean litter boxes, scoop poop, facilitate adoptions. . . . But instead I was becoming Cat Boy, the go-to source for what cats were thinking and how we could make their lives better while they stayed with us. Despite the sweaty layer of pharmaceutical shrink-wrap that muted my physical, spiritual, and psychological self, I forced myself to read, to study, to observe, to learn. Despite what I didn't want to be, something was growing. And then, the first time I opened that carrier and met Benny's eye, my self-centered fantasy of living the indecently sweet life of one removed from humanity went poof. The challenges Benny presented throughout our life together were almost constant, whether physical, behavioral, or in that realm of ether that encompasses neither and both. Every day of my time with him I was either throwing up my hands, asking him for assistance, bouncing ideas off of other humans and other cats, just to get answers to bring back to him. He was aggressive to humans, felines, canines. He would decide to abandon litter box etiquette, seemingly on a whim. He would go on hunger strike. His body language and feline communicative skills were absolutely inscrutable. His shattered pelvis compromised him; his asthma was at times crippling; the still-mysterious ailments that took him finally brought me to my knees. And that, believe it or not, is a good thing.
I believe that without Benny, I might still have been successful as a cat behaviorist. But my experience with him brought me to a place where I had no choice but to abandon my comfort. For years I did OK living a life of disengagement. The things I believed kept me sane—strict cinder-block boundaries, addiction, cynicism, and self sabotage— were unacceptable if I was ever to hear him. And if I was unwilling to hear Benny, I was unwilling to hear, learn from, be with every other cat in the world. I had to get clean of alcohol, drugs, and food. I had to accept humility. I had to be present and willing to learn and change. Things I would never do for another human (or myself) I did for the sake of Benny.
During his final months, he taught me how to die. I have seen a lot of death. I have killed animals as a part of the world of animal sheltering. I have held countless others through the release of their animal companions and I have experienced it for myself. Benny wasn't done teaching me a thing or two even as his light flickered. I was at that point considered an authority on cats. And yet due to a combination of ineptitude (on the part of quite a few vets), stubbornness and a God complex (on mine), and continuing inscrutability (his), I was laid bare. Brought back to the person I was as a sixteen-year-old songwriter, throwing myself around the stage, singing my truth into the eyes of the audience until they had to look away. It took surrendering to the process of Benny's death to lift me spiritually and teach me what pain, loss, and love were about.
The day he died—actually, while I waited for the vet to come into that room and euthanize him—I told him exactly what his story would be; I'd write a book about how we co-healed, how we refused to let each other live broken ever after. And contained in that story would be practical advice: methodology and techniques specifically born from our time together. Maudlin as it may seem, I was committed to his living on. His level of difference allowed me to see the mind and body of a cat like I never had before. All cats—all animals, for that matter—took me to the water of understanding. Benny held me under until I drank. And now that I've come up to gulp some air, I want to tell you what I've learned.