Got an aggression problem with your cat? Jackson's seen it all, and on My Cat From Hell, two of the (former) "attack cats" he worked with were Lucy and Chubs.
As with most T.V. shows, there was more than meets the eye there in those two situations. And we want to bring it all to you, so here below are comments direct from Jackson about these 'cat aggression problems.'
And for more, check out this companion post about which holistic remedies Jackson used, too.
Lucy – attacking both cats and humans
There's a couple of components that made this whole thing work. Number one: we were dealing with a real dire situation, which is that according to Sara, because of her state (ed. note: she was 6 months pregnant), antibiotics were not an option. So if she were to get scratched or bit and infected - and Lucy was more than capable of doing that - we were in an immediate "re-home" dilemma. That said, it also stepped up the commitment on John's part.
These guys really wanted to keep Lucy in the home, but it was an uphill battle. Not only in terms of keeping Sara safe, but we were also trying to keep their soon-to-be-born child safe as well.
A couple of things. Let's make note first of all, of Kylie. Allowing her to come forward. That scene where I first meet Kylie and she was a feral rock behind the TV...that moment where you look at that cat and see her in that position and you say, "OK, now I know who you are and I'm not thrilled." But I was able to turn to John and Sara with that cat in my hands and say, "You see, this is who you got. This is who she is. Not who she can be. Who she is." And John took that and ran.
When I came back for the next visit and I saw that he had totally redesigned the living room and got rid of the entertainment unit altogether…that was a pretty massive step for any guardian to take that I work with. And I was pretty impressed. That was one thing. Kylie from that moment on had escape routes and that was great.
The thing we also want to highlight is how fear of consequences paralyses you so much that you encourage the consequences. What I mean by that is that it took me two whole visits to convince John & Sara to actually site swap, to get Lucy out from the back part of the house. If she's not allowed to come to the front part of the house and not to get the requisite exercise that she needs in the front part of the house, bad things will continue to happen. Too much energy in that cat. So, I had to really work on those two to get them to commit to that part of the program. It does highlight how so many of my clients are paralyzed by the trauma that they've experienced with their animals, so paralyzed that they keep the animals in physical jail and it keeps them as guardians in a mental jail. And that becomes a very key part of our work.
The nursery. really important here. It is so crucial to be able to give these animals access, ownership of a child's space, but also safe viewing. So the shelving that we put up there was really about, how do we keep Lucy up and looking at their child's crib and yet not encourage her to use that shelf as a diving board into the crib and cause havoc. It also takes the guardian to a place of trust. They had to trust her in order for this to work.
If you wanna go way in-depth mojo on this whole thing, that is that Lucy also had feline hyperesthesia syndrome, which is something we're gonna cover on another episode. But it was critical in terms of approaching her mind and body. The Sunny Seat was a key component in terms of giving Kylie escape.
Tools of the Trade
Jackson had Sarah and John install a window-mounted cat shelf for Kylie called the Sunny Seat. Kylie sat and lounged and groomed there, using it as sort of a "cat getaway."
Installing cat shelves or climbers helps create vertical space and give cats more room to claim territory over.
And one of the main things cats need is to feel they have enough territory.
Chubs – attacking his fellow house cat
What seemed like a very clear cut aggression problem at first had almost nothing to do with the cat's personality.
This is one of those cases that...a very small environment, a really cluttered environment...and by un-cluttering...by providing a true super highway in the home by giving activities, we solved the problem almost right away, to the point that when I left them on day 3, (they were) laying on the bed together, simply because they weren't in such a crowded place anymore.
So here's some in-depth stuff. First of all, in learning the story of Cole, which I thought was really important... Cole started off in the vet hospital that Keri was working at. He came in with some infection that wound up taking his eyesight from him. From the time he came in, he was in pain. He went blind. He was living the entire time in a cage. The vet office went out of business. They then transferred Cole - Keri says, "OK I'll take him." She then takes him to live pretty much in a bathroom for the next 6 months. Then she tries to incorporate him into the rest of her house. He was blind, he wasn't born blind, he's known nothing but trauma. And now he's doing what? Goes to a shelf, makes another small place for himself to be. Keri doesn't get the part that he's just continually living in that traumatic space. He only knows small, invisible places. He sticks with that.
And also his marking behavior all fell in line with the insecurity borne from trauma. All he knew was this one way of being, so we had to show him something else. And of course in the meantime, we had to lessen Chubs' aggression, which, as soon as we gave these guys space to breathe and played with them…things got a lot better.
Here's an in-depth thing. I really had to come down hard on Keri and Jonathan and they responded beautifully. They needed to know that the amount of crowding that was going on in that apartment wasn't ok. They had stuff piled everywhere. And when you're dealing with an aggressive cat, and a victim who's blind, everything had to be wide open. I talked about dead ends, alleyways, corners, things where Cole had insecurity navigating and Chubs literally jumped on the opportunity. So I think they were fantastic people because they really embraced the process. As much as Keri embraced the desire to be a behaviorist...she had the Cat Mojo journey pasted all over the walls...everyday being reminded of the process of the what's and where's and divesting herself emotionally from the outcome. She did all that stuff and in the meantime, Jonathan did all the clearing.
One thing you didn't see in the episode was that he actually built a new headboard, a base for the bed that had drawers in it, so as not to let Cole and Chubs get under the bed and fight under there. Shelving above the nightstand, creating that superhighway. He did all that stuff by himself. And then the two of them working on training Chubs and Cole to be on the shelving. In doing that, in challenging both cats, challenging Chubs to go outside a little bit, use that tunnel out there…
Whether you want to be a behaviorist or not, we're trying to get to the bottom of a problem. We have used whiteboards, we have used post-it notes...having these big pieces of paper that came off that pad, and sticky notes, I thought was fantastic. You always have the ability to grab a marker and write on a wall and your walls are all about the process. You cannot bury it. You cannot decide, "You know what, I don't have a pencil, I don't have the time right now…" You can't decide any of those things. And because of that, the process is in your face and you'll get somewhere doing it. You can even write when you're frustrated, "I don't get it." Circle things, y'know? It is the concept of putting an equation on the chalkboard and slowly over time solving the problem. So that was something we all learned from that.
Tools of the Trade
Yup, cats can go on walks. Jackson had Keri and Jonathan leash-train Chubs using the Kitty Holster cat harness.
Being able to go outside helped challenge Chubs, which enlarged his territory, increased his confidence, and got him a little more exercise.
Want more? We got you covered.
Click here to read more from Jackson about what holistic remedies he used for Lucy, Chubs and Cole, and why.