CAT DADDY: Book Q&A with Jackson

We have a treat for you today – full of zero-calorie goodness!

It's a bunch of sweet and juicy questions with real, chewy answers from Jackson Galaxy, author of the forthcoming CAT DADDY: What the World's Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean (May 10, 2012).

Questions like:

  • How does one train a cat?
  • What's the most surprising thing you learned at animal shelters?
  • What's you goal in writing CAT DADDY?

The book hits shelves at your local and online bookstores this Thursday, May 10.

For every copy of CAT DADDY pre-ordered before May 10, Tarcher/Penguin will donate $1.00 to the cause of saving homeless cats.  To make your preorder count, simply e-mail your receipt (or a photo/scan of your receipt) to:

Preorder at: Barnes & Noble IndieBound (to order from an independent bookseller) Amazon Books-a-Million

Charities that benefit: Best Friends Animal Society Stray Cat Alliance Neighborhood Cats

Let's get right to it.

First question!  Go!

What was your primary goal in writing CAT DADDY, and what do you hope readers will take away from the read?

My primary goal was to keep a promise to my cat friend that I would tell his story.  In turn, what I hope the reader will get out of this is a better understanding of how your cat sees the world—and if you don’t have a cat, to become fascinated enough by them to adopt one!

What were a few of the more surprising things you learned while working in an animal shelter?

The amount of commitment and genuine love that a staff can bring to every animal they come in contact with, regardless of the thousands they see every year.  And the poop. I was constantly surprised by the incredible amount of poop I cleaned up every day!

How did your experience at the animal shelter shape your outlook/career?

My career wouldn’t have happened without the shelter.  Learning how to affect behaviors “in the trenches” both by conventional means and by thinking outside the box were not luxuries.  Thinking on your feet becomes second nature when life depends on it.  In a larger sense, working in an animal shelter grounded me in the current reality of animal overpopulation and convinced me simultaneously of the promise of a no-kill country.  We can achieve, in my lifetime, a world where homeless animals do not have to die- needlessly.  I just want to be part of that solution.

Your experience with Benny, the original “cat from hell,” has done a lot to build your cat mojo skills.  What are the primary lessons that Benny taught you during your journey together?

Patience.  I am not a patient person; I can’t even make egg salad.  But in order to build a life with Benny, I had to take the long view and not define success minute by minute, but year by year.  Life would only get better according to his rules, not mine.  For instance, me saying “this is how it’s going to be” would always end up being fruitless and horribly frustrating.   And finally, Benny taught me the beauty of living a process-oriented life, appreciating every moment while simultaneously letting go of expectations.  To sum up, impatience, frustration, expectations and unlearning everything you know can actually be an incredible experience when attached to someone you love.

At one point, you say that Benny took an immediate dislike to your girlfriend of the time and walloped her across the head. Have you found that cats have an innate sense about people?

Hell yes!  If your cat doesn’t like someone, take it seriously and move on.  Forget about them not liking the person; they can truly sense when someone is “off.”  Heed their advice!

In the book, it feels at times like Benny’s behavior issues are linked to (and maybe stem from) your own.  Do you find that this is often the case with cats – that their behavior problems are often the result of their owners or environment?

Cats are not just mirrors, they are sponges.  Anything you put out comes back at you in spades.  In my case, the rigid world view that I decided to adopt became Benny’s reality.  I couldn’t ask him to change his habits without accepting and embracing the same myself.  Take, for example, Benny going on hunger strikes when his bowl was moved a foot to the left.  I, at the time, was living a life completely devoted to finding, buying and using various substances.  If somebody were to say to me, your life would be much better on the other side of a change, I would have told them to take a hike.  I then come home and ask Benny to meet a similar challenge, and of course, he’ll tell me to take a hike.

How does one train a cat?  Can all cats be trained to walk on a leash?

The principles of operant conditioning like positive reinforcement apply to all sentient beings.  These training techniques have worked on birds, chickens, gophers, dolphins, killer whales and yes, 3 year old children.  Most cats can be taught most anything.  The question is, should they?  If your cat is afraid of the outside, shows no interest, why do it other than to satisfy you?  I believe that all trainable activities should only be considered if they will enrich the already present inclinations of your cat.  I don’t believe in training cats to jump through hoops, ride a bicycle or pee on a toilet.  Clearly I would not subject a cat to walking on a leash that just didn’t want to.

What’s easier – dealing with out-of-control cats or their owners?

Dealing with cats, because they lack the ability to reason away; defend themselves; to fight to the end for a belief system, for no other reason than to keep their ego intact.

...hope you enjoyed that sit-down with Jackson.  Don't forget: he's doing a book tour so you can sit down with him up close and personal.  Check this post for all the book tour dates and details.