Forty-six-year-old Jackson Galaxy and his beloved Velouria look like a pair of furry lovebirds as he wakes her for a mid-Sunday morning kiss.
“Oh delicious,” Galaxy says as he holds his life partner of nearly 20 years, nuzzling her face. “Your breath is terrible.”
Unlike a lot of ladies, Velouria doesn't flinch at that backhanded endearment. The tiny brown-and-black kitty only nuzzles back, unfazed.
It takes true confidence to wake a cat without flinching — and Galaxy has it in spades. With his bowling shirts, tattoo sleeves and long black goatee, he has the look of a hard-core rocker, but his demeanor is more pussycat than stray cat, just what frantic pet owners are looking for when they ask this musician/cat behaviorist to come into their homes and get between the ears of their ferocious felines.
Galaxy — and yes, that is his legal name; he changed it in his 20s and there's no getting the first iteration out of him — is the star of Animal Planet's My Cat From Hell. The program, which has its season-three premiere on June 30, shows Galaxy cruising up to Los Angeles homes with his guitar case full of treats, toys, floral essences (he has his own brand, called Spirit Essence) and other tricks for helping cats and their owners to coexist.
His mission is to make the act of bonding with your cat as simple as possible; the more families he can help, the more cats will stay alive in happy homes. And the more cases he can solve, the more he feels he's making a difference.
“Not to talk down about myself, but I want you to be able to do exactly what I do,” Galaxy says. “The idea is that I say jokingly that I'm just a cat listener. And you can do that. You just have to put on the glasses and pay attention and slow yourself down a little bit and learn a new language.”
Some of his methods might be considered controversial, such as kitty fluoxetine, which humans might be more familiar with under one of its brand names: Prozac.
But his most common recommendation is the oh-so-obvious tip of getting pets and their humans to play together, usually with the fishing rod-style toys found at pet stores. Not only does this strengthen bonding but it also appeals to cats' natural carnivorous instincts.
“Play equals prey for cats,” Galaxy explains. “Interactive play is key to them. … You provide them that outlet to kill shit and they will be happy and vital.”
It's true that all of this sounds slightly similar to another animal advice show. Although the two men have never met, Galaxy often is called a “cat whisperer” as a counterpart to Dog Whisperer star Cesar Millan. No disrespect to Millan, but, “heck yeah,” Galaxy agrees — it's much easier to get inside a dog's head.
Dogs, he points out, “try, that's the thing. You know, 'I'm hungry. I love you.' ” He's sipping a can of Illy espresso in his cozy abode, a Redondo Beach bungalow. Aside from Velouria — the grand dame of the house — the place is home to shy Caroline, tailless Chips, and Rudy, a cuddle-whore of a blind Jack Russell mix who seizes every opportunity to jump in Daddy's lap. “Cats don't really feel the need to come over to your side of the fence.”
Galaxy freely admits that he does not have any animal-specific degrees, although he does have an MFA in acting. And he knows his job is unusual: You don't hear of a “cat behaviorist” every day.
But talking about his unique line of work is actually what got him the TV show. After years of working at a shelter and running a feline-themed consulting business in Boulder, Colo., Galaxy moved to Los Angeles four and a half years ago for the age-old reason: love. Once here, while visiting a pet-adoption fair with a friend, the oh-so-Angeleno question of “What do you do?” arose. In classic L.A. fashion, this led to meetings with publicists and an eventual deal with reality TV producer Adam Greener (Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, The Pickup Artist).
When not filming, Galaxy brings his bag of tricks to private clients and teaches training sessions, called Cat Mojo 101. He passionately takes up issues in the pet-owning community. A sign posted behind the desk at his house reads, “If you're for declawing, raise your hand,” while a tattoo below his right clavicle reads “spaneuter” (because you never ask “y”).
Galaxy uses social media to champion causes that he believes make for better-adjusted pets, such as keeping cats indoors and litter boxes over self-cleaning litter machines or toilet training.
Galaxy also is partnering with his friend Kate Benjamin, of the popular home-design blog Moderncat, on an advice book for feline “environmental enrichments” like wall-mounted and window perches. It serves as follow-up to his recent memoir, Cat Daddy, which dealt with his years of addiction, which included drugs, booze and overeating (once 400 pounds, he had gastric-bypass surgery), as well as his constant battles with his strong-willed cat Benny, who fought him every day until the day he died and who provided ample preparation for the hissing, biting, scratching beasts who now appear on Galaxy's show.
Yet despite all this hands-on knowledge, even Galaxy cannot answer the age-old question: Why are cats so popular on the Internet?
“I don't freaking know,” he says while simultaneously cooing over and hypnotizing his four-legged broad with a toy. “I don't know what the hell is the deal with Keyboard Cat. Do I mind it? Obviously not. It is that way of saying cats are so much more a part of our collective unconscious than we know.”