If you've ever seen Animal Planet's "My Cat from Hell," you already know Jackson Galaxy. With a meticulous goatee and a guitar case full of cat toys, he's America's most colorful – if not most well-known – cat behaviorist.
He's also an author; he's written a memoir, called "Cat Daddy." It touches on history with addiction, music and animals. Off-Ramp Producer Kevin Ferguson talked with Galaxy at his Redondo Beach home, where Galaxy starts by describing his job:
Galaxy: The funny thing is that I avoided the term 'cat behaviorist' for a long time. What I said before was 'cat behavior consultant,' 'cat shrink,' I would just call myself 'Cat Daddy,' or whatever.
Ferguson: So who's approaching the microphone right now?
Galaxy: The cat head-butting your mic right now is Velouria. She is now about 18, she looks great, huh? She's been with me 17 or so of those years; she's been through a lot with me.
Ferguson: In your book, the cat that plays the biggest role is this cat named 'Benny' ... I believe you encountered him in Boulder, right?
Galaxy: Benny came to me when I was working at the Humane Society Boulder Valley. It was basically one of those times where we were having a staff meeting at the front of the place, and through the blinds, I saw somebody try and do a dump and run, where they just ran up with something in a box, and tried to run away. It turns out that he had a shattered pelvis, he had been hit by a car, he had been adopted by us a year before. I decided to foster him, and I just couldn't let him go after nursing him back to health in six weeks.
Galaxy: What was important about him was that he was so challenging. I mean, I was already on the road to saying, 'I think that I want to do this, cat behavior.' He just behaviorally slapped me in the head for 13 years. Every time I think I had a workable theory, he would rip it up and do that maniacal mad scientist laugh. He was horrible that way, and he kept me so humble.
Ferguson: Remember the really cruel master in 'Kill Bill'? The one who just keeps whapping her over the head over and over again...
Galaxy: ... As she tries to eat a grain of rice with her chopsticks, and she does it with her hand, and he throws the bowl ... exactly. Benny was the cruel master for sure, yeah. But if it weren't for Benny, I wouldn't be able to punch my way out of the coffin, you know?
Galaxy: The book is also a story about my troubles with addiction, and how either you really do something with these animals, or you quit. You have to surrender, you have to give over control, you have to admit that you're not the center of the universe – all the things that addicts don't do. Benny got me to the point where I had to make that decision.
Ferguson: So in a lot of 12-step programs, they talk about the need to have a higher power. For you, it was Benny.
Galaxy: I'm comfortable now saying that I'm guided by the will of something much, much larger and unknown. But when addicts first come into recovery, they say the word 'God' and you're back out on the street. In one of my first meetings, some guy said, 'What is it, when you are near it, that says that you are not in control of the world?' I said, 'Oh, when I play guitar.' He said, 'That's it. Your guitar's your higher power.' That lasted me for awhile, but Benny is my higher power, because I surrendered to his wills and his needs. That worked for me very well.
Ferguson: You've had this reality show for...
Galaxy: Filming season 3 right now.
Ferguson: What has that been like?
Galaxy: At first it was a real struggle for me. I actually am, despite what I look like and despite what I act like, fairly private. My process is fairly private, and I was really scared about how the cat community would perceive me. I didn't want to be seen as like, 'flavor of the month.' As time has gone on, one of the incredible benefits, the feedback that we get back now, is amazing. People on Facebook and Twitter coming back to me and saying, 'This little piece of information saved my cat.' I didn't save their cat, but the information did, because they just brought it to their world. That's amazing.
Ferguson: Before the reality shows that are around right now, there weren't really a message of, 'Here are some best practices that everybody can take away.'
Galaxy: Yeah, I mean, it is reality TV. You have to pepper in the human stakes, and my husband and wife and my boyfriend or girlfriend is going to hurl themselves off a bridge, and if that's the clothing that it has to wear, then that's fine.
Ferguson: I have one last question. When I got here, your t-shirt was immaculate. When I put on a t-shirt, there's like pre-cat hair. What's your secret?
Galaxy: You want to hear something really funny? This shirt was a gift – I just got it last night, otherwise, it would be absolutely furred up. I mean, look at the couch. ... I have no secret.
Ferguson: Until now, I would have said this was a completely uplifting interview, and I've never been more...
Galaxy: ...You're totally sad now. I've tried a lot of different fur-removal things, but yeah, my fingers are pretty much the best way.