FYI/living

‘Cat Daddy’ Jackson Galaxy comes to KC to spread the gospel of cats

Updated: 2013-05-06T01:28:54Z

By LISA GUTIERREZ

The Kansas City Star

If you’ve ever felt love for a member of the animal kingdom, pages 34 and 35 of Animal Planet star Jackson Galaxy’s new book, “Cat Daddy” will hurt your heart.

The rest of the book will break it.

He describes on those pages the first time he had to put down a dog while working at an animal shelter in Boulder, Colo., a job that had him “handling death right away,” he writes, dealing with the “victims of our throwaway society.”

He hated killing, and now he can’t, won’t, stop talking about the loss of so many animals.

We would bet you money that you will hear impassioned ranting when Galaxy, the host of Animal Planet’s “My Cat From Hell,” the man dubbed the “cat listener,” talks about his book in Kansas City on Wednesday.

He’s actually the cat dude on a lot of TV shows — the official cat behaviorist for the Game Show Network’s “Think Like a Cat” and cat expert on Animal Planet’s “Cats 101” and “America’s Cutest Cat.”

In Los Angeles, where he called us from, he runs a cat consulting practice — some call him a cat shrink — and has worked with thousands of finicky felines and their guardians.

(Galaxy teaches school kids that animals are not lawn mowers; people do not own them. He is currently guardian of three cats and a dog.)

It’s hard to get a make on this guy. On the outside he’s all tough and rock ’n’ roll with a shiny shaved head, funky glasses, stylishly bearded chin and full-arm sleeve tattoos. Yes, some are of cats.

But the man who wrote this book about his relationship a few years back with a sick, abandoned, “unlovable,” ill-humored cat named Benny comes across as softhearted. Pure pussycat.

He writes of the first animal he euthanized, a stray pit bull-Lab mix so scared of what was happening that Galaxy had to concentrate hard on the details of the procedure to keep from losing it.

He was scared, too.

“Take out the sedative. Remember the amount to give to a dog of his weight to ‘take the edge off.’ Wait for the edge to come off.

“We used a combination of ketamine and Rompun. One of the unnerving side effects of this cocktail was a dissociative state, a rhythmic hallucination that made the animals look side to side as if watching a tennis match.

“Talk to the dog. Be his advocate in these, his most treacherous moments ... breathe, Jackson, rhythmic, even, slow, because even with the sedation he knows whether you’re freaking, and if you are, he will, too. Draw up the blue juice ...

“I feel him sigh and leave. Put him gently on the towel that’s already below him. Spend a minute or so in silence, a habit I fell into from that moment on. Not really mourning for me, more like respect, giving him the time to settle into his new reality.”

Galaxy’s descriptions of working at the shelter are purposefully raw. It’s clearly not his nature to sugarcoat the bitter, not his prerehab existence as a coke-snortin’, weed-smokin’, acid-droppin’, Klonopin-addicted alcoholic musician, nor what it was like to kill animals as a way to pay the bills and buy the drugs.

“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever written,” he said last week. “I’ve never written anything harder than some of the sections in that book. And it was with a purpose.

“As long as you’re reading this book, I’m not giving you permission to gloss over this.

“I am more than grateful that I have a pulpit to preach from. I have only one mission in my life, enough that everything has fallen by the wayside. I don’t want animals dying in shelters anymore. We don’t have to do it, and I’m convinced that in my lifetime we can (stop) it.”

He refers to himself as a “lifetime shelter worker,” and as he travels the country publicizing the book, he’s visiting animal shelters, telling workers how much he appreciates them.

“I think if there has been one controversial element in the book, it’s the rant I go on about how shelter workers are perceived,” he said.

“To keep your compassion about you, to keep your humanity about you, when you’re surrounded by animals that come in and out of your life and who you know will die that day … to put your heart out there, it is a ridiculous proposition.

“Yesterday was my birthday and I spent it going to the shelter and speaking at a volunteer appreciation luncheon. It was the most wonderful way to spend your birthday.”

He gets angry when he hears shelter workers described as lazy and unfeeling. Of course, he saw cases of compassion fatigue.

“But to be faulted for the laziness of society, people who don’t spay or neuter animals, who let ferals wantonly breed … and then you blame the shelter workers for killing them?” he said.

“Because I am a veteran of that system, because I killed animals … it’s a very touchy point with me.”

“The job had to get done, and I would do it. But I would also do everything in my power to change the necessity at its source; I would commit to spreading a strong message about spaying neutering, and I would work on shelter-based behaviors that I could channel.”

He started learning about cats, what makes them tick, what makes them behave badly, and worked his cat mojo on troubled shelter animals so people would want to adopt them.

Then one day a woman dumped a cat at the shelter in a cardboard box. The young short-haired feline, gray and white, had been hit by a car the day before and had a broken pelvis.

Galaxy agreed to foster the cat, renamed Benny. It was the beginning of a book-worthy friendship — two “broken-winged magpies” who “collided and rebuilt each other.” It lasted 13 years until the day a very sick Benny was put to sleep.

It happened at the vet’s office.

This time, Galaxy wasn’t the one injecting the blue juice.

He was the broken man leaning over his friend, whispering: “I will tell your story. You hear me? I promise.”

“His breathing slows. I have to give him permission. Like your children shoot you one nervous glance as they put their feet on the school bus and with a slow blink you tell them that the ride will be a good one.

“The purple blanket will keep you safe. On cue, mercy descends; with my lips on his head, he takes a clear, unsnarfled, untumored, unwheezy breath.

“And then, with a gentle spasm, the school bus drives off, taking my brave Benny to the next beautiful stop.”

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