By Julia Williams
The second season of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell began a few weeks ago. Naturally, I’ve been watching. Even though I don’t have a “difficult” cat, I still like this show because it’s spreading some very important messages to pet owners – namely, that problem behaviors can be corrected, that there are reasons behind every cat’s demeanor and actions, and that even the meanest cat can become loving, happy, playful, friendly and well-adjusted. All it takes to turn a misbehaving cat into a model feline citizen are some very simple changes – but not from the cat, from the owner!
My Cat From Hell features Cat Behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, who shows desperate owners how to save their relationships with each other and their cat. Just by making a few changes in their own behavior and/or their living space, the cat owners can create harmony out of chaos, and keep the cat out of the shelter and in the family where it belongs. Jackson proves to the owners (and the viewers) that these cats are not mean, they’re just misunderstood.
To the casual observer, the name of this show implies that devilish behavior problems are the fault of a “hellish cat.” If you watch the show, however, you quickly learn that Jackson believes most bad behaviors stem from things the owners are either doing, or not doing. I wholeheartedly agree. It is true there are instances where the cat’s behavior is not a direct correlation to the owner’s behavior and/or the living environment, but this is usually a reaction to trauma or a negative association from its past. No cat is “bad to the bone” or incapable of rehabilitation. All it takes is a little knowledge and insight.
All creatures have needs, and cats are no exception. If their needs aren’t being met, they’ll let you know one way or another. It’s foolish to think you can just bring a cat into any living environment without considering what it needs to be happy, and expect life to be hunky dory. Responsible pet owners understand that the onus falls on them to provide the right living space and stimuli in order to have a happy cat. That may mean providing vertical spaces for a cat that likes to be up high, providing enough exercise and play sessions for a high-energy breed, giving a timid cat a safe place to retreat from the pesky family dog, or teaching the cat how to redirect its hunting instinct from your ankle to an interactive toy that mimics a bird. Each cat is different, and thus, each solution to problem behavior will be, too.
Any owner who thinks their actions, energy and emotions don’t affect their cat, really ought not to have a cat because they are setting themselves up for failure. There is absolutely a cause-and-effect for all of those things, and if there was such a thing as Pets 101, that should be the first lesson. Until then, we have Jackson Galaxy and My Cat From Hell.
I had to laugh at the owner who offered his cat a filthy litter box, and then wondered why his cat peed in the sink. Really? It’s not rocket science! Then there was the fighting couple whose relationship was fraught with tension; they didn’t understand why “her cat” and “his cats” didn’t get along. Finally, there was the guy whose apartment had so much clutter that Jackson thought he’d mistakenly wandered onto the set of Hoarders. LOL. To simplify these situations a little, it boiled down to this: clean your litter box, “clean up” your relationship, and clean your apartment – cat problem solved!!
My three cats are not total angels, but they sure seem like it when compared to some of the felines featured on My Cat From Hell. The difference between the cat owners on the show and me is that I have a better understanding of why cats do what they do. I also accept that when my cats do certain things I don’t like, I am probably at least partly to blame. If you want a happy, loving, well-adjusted cat but yours acts like the devil incarnate, step back and ask yourself, “What am I doing to contribute to my cat’s problem behavior? What am I not offering my cat that he clearly needs, and how can I provide it so we can both be happy?”
Photo by Al Herrmann
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