Meeting Jackson Galaxy

Photo by Christine Barton
Photo by Christine Barton

A Cat Named Bette Midler
Yesterday at 1pm at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, grumbles of “I was waiting for hours,” and “I was here first,” and “I was first in line,” cut through me as I tried to organize the chaos while people fought over the tiny, adorable kittens up for adoption.

Meanwhile, the adult cats could do nothing to make themselves small enough or cute enough for attention. By 1:20pm, most of the kittens were spoken for. I was kept busy doing interviews and paperwork, but once the madness died down, there was a lull.

Then at 3:15pm, a group of college guys came into the shelter. I asked if they were looking to adopt a cat or were just looking, when one of them said he wanted to adopt a cat, preferably a short-haired female. I took them upstairs to meet Bette Midler.

Bette Midler had been with us over 100 days. She was a six-year-old active cat who had spent most of the six years of her life in a basement as a mouser. Until we rescued her. It took a long time for her to adjust to being at the shelter, and had been put into an office foster because of her behavior (essentially, she lived in a large empty office where she had a lot more room, could look out windows, and was away from the stress of other animals). But she still wasn’t getting adopted.

Once the guys met Bette Midler, she melted. One of them was able to sit on the floor and cradle her in his lap while she looked adoringly up at him. His friends called him “the cat whisperer.”

And then those magic words came… “yeah, I’ll adopt her” and my heart nearly burst and I wanted to throw myself at him and hug him and thought, yes! This is what animal shelters are about. Finding cats like Bette Midler, who so deserve a new chance in life, a wonderful home.

Jackson Galaxy at the BPL
Jackson Galaxy at the BPL

Waiting in Line
I thought of Bette Midler as I waited in line to meet Jackson Galaxy, the famed cat behaviorist from the TV show My Cat From HellHe was giving a book talk at the Boston Public Library as part of his paperback book tour. I thought about Bette amid grumbles of, “I got here at 10 this morning,” and “Make sure that lady doesn’t cut the line,” and “I was here first.” (In this instance, Jackson Galaxy was the tiny, adorable kitten.)

I had arrived at 11:30 this morning, thinking it was better to be overly cautious. When the library opened its doors at 1pm, some people actually began running to the lecture hall. The door to the lecture hall didn’t open until 1:30. Jackson Galaxy arrived at the event’s start  time, 2pm.

Then he gave his talk.

There is no other way to describe Jackson Galaxy except that he’s cool. He talked about how ridiculous it is that so many people in this country own cats, but it’s still considered to be taboo. How we’re all viewed as “crazy cat ladies” (yes, even the men). Well that just isn’t true.

He talked about his background of working with cats in the shelter. And that what started as an “easy” job that he could tolerate while being a musician turned into him being a cat behaviorist on TV. He talked about working with cats in shelters, and clicker training them, and getting them to appear more adoptable. And he talked about how a cat named Benny in part changed everything, because Benny challenged him and humbled him as a cat behaviorist on a daily basis. Jackson Galaxy’s book, Cat Daddy, is mostly about the story of Benny, and Jackson’s transition from working at a shelter to becoming a full-time cat behaviorist.

It’s not really an exaggeration to say that I would have listen to this guy talk all day. But after his chat and some Q&As, he was done.

Waiting in Line Some More
After the talk, there was a long line wrapped around the lobby of the lecture hall so that people could meet Jackson and have a book signed. I knew I would have only a short moment with him and was wishing I had paid more attention in speech class in college—now was the time I needed an “elevator pitch”—so I tried to rehearse what I would say.

I wanted to tell Jackson about Bette Midler. About how when cats like her get adopted, I feel such joy that I know I need to be spending my time in the shelter instead of behind a desk. I wanted to tell him that my cat, Smirnoff, is my Benny—he gave me a crash course in cat behavior that while tough when I adopted him, I will forever be grateful for. That my cats, Smirnoff and Bacardi, are the best companions I could ask for. I wanted to tell him that I love my volunteer work so much, and since I’m planning on moving to LA very soon, I’m trying to get a job at a shelter in LA working with cats. That I love Best Friends Animal Society and hope I hear back from my job application this week. That I know he loves Best Friends too (he was wearing a No Kill LA wristband). I wanted to ask him if there are any other organizations in LA I should be connecting with. And I wanted to let him know that his show inspires me to think outside the box and that I want to become a shelter cat behaviorist, making cats’ time in a shelter the best it can be and decrease the time it takes for “problem” cats (and all cats) to get adopted.

But how do you say all that at once?

Meeting Jackson
For every person who was in line to meet Jackson Galaxy, he gave a smile that said, “hey, thank you so much for coming to hear me talk, I think you’re awesome.”

But despite his high approach-ability, I was still nervous as I got nearer in line. What do I say? How can I tell him that I am interested in the super nerdy behavior stuff that often gets cut from his TV show, that he mentioned during his talk? How can I let him know that what I’d really love to do is grab a coffee and pick his brain about the shelter cat world, even though I know he’s way too busy to give some girl he’s never met his time?

I was next in line when it was announced that Jackson could only stay another ten minutes because he had a flight to catch. Suddenly, my semi-prepared speech had to be axed down significantly.

As I gave him my book to be signed, I said, “I’m moving to LA this summer. I want to work for Best Friends. I want to be a shelter cat behaviorist.” You know, the Sparks Note version.

There was no mention of Bette Midler, who is now settled into her new home with her new owner who adores her. No mention of Smirnoff who is at home with Bacardi, waiting for his dinner, and who is no longer an out-of-control high arousal cat.

Jackson Galaxy nodded his head, and said something like, “They’re really great,” meaning Best Friends, and some other positive response to my wanting to be a shelter cat behaviorist. Honestly, I was concentrating too hard on what I was going to say to listen properly.

Meeting Jackson Galaxy
Meeting Jackson Galaxy. Blurrily.

I got one very blurry photo of us. (My semi-decent digital camera is somewhere at the animal shelter, so I had to dig out a super old one that barely functions. Plus I’m pretty sure the guy taking it didn’t care.)

I managed to offer Jackson a business card and told him I was going to write a blog post about the event if he wanted to check it out later. “Yeah, definitely,” he said. Then I left.

A Guy Named Jackson Galaxy
Now I’m back home with the alcohol cats. They’re slightly annoyed that I’m writing this instead of feeding them dinner (even though it’s not dinner time yet). Smirnoff is meowing his displeasure while Bacardi tries to walk across my laptop.

Tomorrow, I’ll be at work at a desk job so I can pay my rent, waiting for it to be Saturday again so I can go to the Animal Rescue League of Boston and help more cats get adopted. I’m hoping that very soon, that’s all I’ll be doing.

Jackson, if you do end up reading this, what else can I say? You’re a cool dude. Thank you for helping shelter cats.

I hope to see you in LA.

Smirnoff checking out his signed copy of "Cat Daddy."
Smirnoff checking out his signed copy of “Cat Daddy.”

Matchmaking in the Adoption Center

SundanceSome people come into the adoption center knowing exactly what they’re looking for. But plenty of people don’t. As I’ve discussed previously, it’s my job as an adoption volunteer to figure it out. I wish I could say I’m always successful, but that would be far too optimistic.

For instance, a couple weeks ago, a girl came in looking for a cat. She wasn’t looking around too long when her eyes settled on a young orange male cat named Jefferson. She wanted to adopt him. She clearly had experience with cats (her parents owned a Savannah), and she decided she wanted a cat to live with her in Boston. Everything seemed legitimate and I didn’t really question her choice in Jefferson, who is a great cat, but he still needed to be neutered—and because of the recent events in Boston, our surgery schedule had gotten a bit backed up. So she couldn’t pick him up until five days later.

She never came back*. (To be fair, I believe she called to let us know.)

Looking back on it, I think I had a feeling it would happen; that she would change her mind. And it was my fault for not taking the time to really talk it through with her and find out what she was looking for, not only in a cat, but by getting a cat. I knew she would be a good cat owner—that was never a question. But whether she was too impatient to wait for Jefferson, or decided over a few days that he wasn’t quite what she was looking for, should have been something on my radar when I was talking to her.

In that instance, I failed as an adoption volunteer. Which happens, sometimes.

*Don’t worry Jefferson has since been adopted out!

Some days, however, a big success can make up for those failures in an instant.

Yesterday, a couple came in looking for a companion cat for their own cat (named Trixie) who they had adopted from us previously. I wasn’t the one who began helping them in the adoption center, but as they were beginning to fill out paperwork for an adoption, another volunteer called me over. (I tend to be the go-to person for cat-to-cat matchmaking questions.) The volunteer wanted to know if I thought the cat they wanted to adopt, Sweetheart, would be a good companion cat.

Oh boy. Sweetheart, at around 7 months, was adorable. However, the couple had no idea if Trixie liked other cats, and Sweetheart seemed against the idea of other cats, at least at the shelter*. So I began to do my job the way it should be done: I started asking questions.

*The unpredictable nature of testing cats’ likes and dislikes in a shelter environment could be a whole discussion on its own. But for now, just trust me.

This is what I found out:

  • Trixie was a high energy, rambunctious cat.
  • Trixie’s owners (who were first-time cat owners) didn’t know how to calm her down, especially since she liked to “play wrestle,” which can be challenging to deal with as first-time owners. (I should know.) Thus, they thoughtfully were considering a companion cat for her.
  • They don’t know if Trixie likes other cats.
  • Recently, Trixie has had medical issues.
  • They came in specifically for a companion cat for Trixie, not for a second cat for themselves. (This is an important distinction. If it had been the latter, then all they needed was for the two cats to tolerate each other and share territory. But since they came in for a companion cat, it was essential that we found a cat who would like Trixie and that there would be the greatest chance of them fully interacting and getting along.

I pointed out the obvious and best choice out of all the cats in our shelter: Heinz 57. He was a cat who came in through our Fix-A-Feral program (clearly not feral) and was put up for adoption. He had been tested in our cat playgroup and did wonderfully. He was a friendly, outgoing cat. A true catch.

However, he was six years old and had dental disease. The couple were very unsure about him. But I went through his medical records, and discovered that the shelter had given Heinz 57 a dental procedure on the previous day, so his mouth was now completely clean. (He needed his teeth polished, and one extraction.) I explained to them that a six-year-old cat isn’t actually old. Some people don’t realize that an indoor, healthy cat can easily live into their late teens, sometimes even early twenties.

I was doing a strong sales pitch for Heinz 57, not because I was trying to push him out the door (anyone who adopted him would be getting a great cat) but because I knew that he was the best chance of Trixie getting along with a companion cat. For several reasons:

  1. Knowing that Heinz 57 likes other cats puts the pressure off of one side of a cat introduction. All they have to concern themselves with is how Trixie reacts to him. Heinz 57 is not going to dislike Trixie.
  2. Adopting a cat-friendly cat will reduce the stress of the cat introduction, thereby reducing  stress not only for the owners who have never introduced cats before, but on Trixie who has been having health concerns.
  3. As a general rule for spayed/neutered cats, the easiest pairings are male–male, then male–female, and lastly female–female. (Females can get territorial with each other. Neutered males, however, seem to be able to share space the best.)

So if they had adopted a female cat (like Sweetheart) who may or may not like cats herself, would have been too risky and too stressful for all involved. Heinz 57 was the perfect answer. Because if Trixie hates him, chances are she won’t get along with any cat they bring home.

In the end, the couple enthusiastically decided to adopt Heinz 57. They’re going to love him. And as long as Trixie loves him too, he’s found his forever home.

It’s moments like this when I have to stop and remind myself to feel proud for a job well done, and that doing a good job is important. People who come in to adopt a cat are generally wonderful people, from the mere fact that they are adopting. But they still often need education and advice and that’s the whole reason I’m volunteering in the adoption center:

To find people and felines their new best friends.