By Cait Rohan | December 22, 2015 | People
We caught up with cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy of the hit TV show My Cat from Hell to talk about his new book, cats and Christmas trees, and the best gifts for your feline friends this holiday season.
Jackson Galaxy and Kate Benjamin.
Jackson Galaxy’s expertise on felines reaches far beyond his beloved Animal Planet TV series My Cat from Hell, in which he visits the homes of problematic pets and provides solutions for even the toughest of situations (think: litter box issues, cat-on-cat bullying, and everything in between).
The celebrated TV host recently released a new book, Catify to Satisfy: Simple Design Solutions for Creating a Cat-Friendly Home, which is as much a gift to pet parents as it is to their furry friends. In the tome, Galaxy joins forces with cat design expert Kate Benjamin to provide suggestions on arranging cat owners’ homes to look aesthetically pleasing to both the human and the feline eye.
We caught up with Galaxy to hear about the inspiration behind his book, get some real talk on cats and Christmas trees, and find out what cats really want this holiday season.
Catify to Satisfy: Simple Design Solutions for Creating a Cat-Friendly Home.
Congrats on your new book! What was the inspiration behind it?
JACKSON GALAXY: Well, loud voices from readers. We literally came out with Catfication [Galaxy’s first book on home design with cats in mind, also featuring Kate Benjamin] and within weeks we were getting people writing in saying, “Wait a minute, you shouldn’t have put this out there. I’ve got something.” People were also saying, “Hold up, you forgot something. You glossed over certain topics.” The thing that was also so great about working with [book publisher] Tarcher is that they heard it too and they said, “Go.”
What’s one really simple design update that cat owners can make?
JG: I think there is no excuse for anyone not to have their version of the cat super highway. That is a way of circling the most socially significant room in the house, like the living room, in a way that cats can get around the room without touching the floor. People will look at those projects in the house and think, “Come on, there’s no way I can do that,” but the idea is that you can if you move some furniture. Move them in a way where one leads to the other, to the other. Now you can put one shelf up on the wall, now you’re getting there, now the cat can go around the room, avoid other cats, avoid children, avoid dogs. It’s a way of thinking like a cat, it’s a way of what we call, “no excuses catification.” You have to spend money and use your imagination, but it makes their lives so much easier.
If you have cats—and especially multiple cats—how do you design your space in a classy way so that people don’t just come into your home and see cat-related things everywhere?
JG: It really does speak to one of the soapboxes I stand on these days, which is that we’re all so afraid of being perceived as “the crazy cat lady.” From a standpoint of my foundation [The Jackson Galaxy Foundation], our goal is partially about marketing cats to people. That’s why Catify to Satisfy and Catification exist—partially—is to show you, look, there’s some really kick-ass ways of designing your house, that even if you didn’t have cats you might want to do. One of the best examples is the Wainscoting Scratching Wall (page 52 in the book) that Kate pointed out in the book—the scratching wall. It is this beautiful example of what we’re talking about. If somebody were looking at that wall, there’s no way they would say, “This is for cats.” It’s this beautiful architectural element and yet it’s a scratching wall and it serves the purpose of exercise for cats, and saves the things you don’t want scratched.
A satisfied customer.
What should cat parents buy their feline family members this holiday season?
JG: The stuff that’s in my book. [Laughs] Go out there and spend some of your hard-earned cash on environmental elements for your cats. Make sure that your cats have plenty of interactive toys in their stockings this holiday season. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re not interacting and playing with your cat for five minutes every single day—it’s so important for their well-being. So [gift them with] toys and the stuff that you’ve been putting off. Look through Catify to Satisfy, look at that one thing and go, “Wow, I could live with that,” and don’t procrastinate, go do it.
On the flip side, what are the dos and don’ts for cat parenting this holiday season?
JG: Well, let’s start with the 800-pound gorilla in the room when it comes to the holidays, and that’s the Christmas tree. Cats and Christmas trees do not mix—it’s just the plain, simple truth. If you [don’t] have a real Christmas tree, especially if you have multiple cats, you’re doing everybody a favor. If you can’t go the fake tree route, different strains of Christmas trees are more toxic than others, but they’re all mildly toxic. Drinking the water that the tree is in is totally toxic. [And] the needles—if they eat the needles it punctures intestinal walls and you’re in the emergency room on Christmas Eve. So many things. And don’t forget the electricity going through the tree or [your cats] pulling over the tree and it landing on them. So many nightmares waiting for you.
If you’re going to have a tree, make sure to put chicken wire around the bucket that the water’s in—you can’t let them at that water. Take your ornaments and start them higher than you normally would and hide them closer to the branches of the tree because those things are like cat toys. You can do a nice, cool trick, which is make your own little ornaments, so-to-speak, by taking little Ziploc bags, poking holes in them, and filling them with lemon or orange zest or grapefruit. Cats don’t, for the most part, like the smell of citrus, so putting something there hanging by the tree that isn’t attractive to them is smart. Don’t use ornaments that blink. Again, you’re asking for it. What else can you do? Latch the tree to something. Your cat is meant to climb trees, so don’t be surprised when they do and make sure that the cat or the tree doesn’t tip over.
What about having family and friends over for the holidays?
JG: We spend a lot of time in Catify to Satisfy on the concept of Base Camp. Base Camp is a really crucial design element in your home. This is the perfect reason why you need Base Camp, it’s for times like the holidays. When [people] come over, you want your cat to have a place where you’re not just putting them in a room, putting them away. You’re giving them a choice—this is their home base. They [can] choose to come out and “join the party,” but this way, with Base Camp you can always be assured that there’s a safe room for them. You know what it’s called? It’s a panic room. It’s a way for them to say, “I know that when shit’s going down I can go there and I’m going to feel okay.” So if you’re going to have visitors, if you’re going to have parties, make sure that you have a Base Camp as well.
The ultimate cat garden.
You’re a champion for shelter pets. Any new things you’re doing on that front?
JG: Oh hell yeah, the Jackson Galaxy Foundation is in full swing. We’re in the middle of a holiday drive right now—you can find out more about that at jacksongalaxyfoundation.org. It’s all about changing the dialogue around these at-risk animals, whether that is in shelters, an organization’s foster care, feral cats. We’re about pushing us to this place where these cats don’t get killed in the shelters waiting for homes—and we do that by redefining what it is to be a shelter, what the experience could be like for people coming in there, making it a place where people don’t dread going, but they [where they] want to go. That’s part of what our work is.
The other side is Kate and I are doing many Catification projects in shelters. Catification saves lives in shelters, no doubt about it. We’re working with a number of different shelters right now and helping them raise funds. [We’re] working with Greater Good organizations and they have a program called Rescue Rebuild—they literally go and rebuild shelters. These kinds of makeovers are so necessary. At the end of the day, it’s where I come from and where I’m going to wind up. When all the TV and all the books and everything goes away, I’m still going to be in the shelters. So, I’m excited, this is my dream. Now I’ve just got to get people to come and partake in the dream with me.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JEFF NEWTON