Cats are weird little creatures that we invite into our homes, even though they are armed with sharp bits that can rend our skin and poke out our eyeballs. They crap in boxes of sand, and they shed fur everywhere unless they’re hairless, in which case you’ve got a whole other host of problems to deal with. They eat disgustingly stinky food, occasionally puke up hairballs, and go through phases of inexplicable 5 a.m. yowling. It’s no wonder cat lovers are so defensive and neurotic and absolutely obsessed. Perhaps we have Stockholm syndrome.
In a world where people watch TV shows dedicated to legit DSM diagnoses, it was a no-brainer to give cat people a show just for us. In 2011, Animal Planet unleashed “My Cat From Hell” on the world, 60 minutes (with a few commercial interruptions) of feline dysfunction and misbehavior, nutty humans, and one cat behaviorist hoping to unite them all. It’s not clear if Jackson Galaxy is an emissary from the cat world to ours or vice versa, but his particular brand of “cat mojo” is rising. A lifelong musician, Jackson Galaxy discovered his talent with cats in particular while working for the Humane Society of Boulder Valley in Colorado; his slow rise to success (and, perhaps not so incidentally, sobriety) is at the heart of his memoir Cat Daddy: What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean.
The elevator pitch for Jackson Galaxy writes itself: He’s a tall, bald guy with oversized glasses and fully sleeved arms, pierced ears, fancy sideburns, and a goatee that gives Anthrax’s Scott Ian a run for his money. Whether it’s a flourish added by the show producers or not, Jackson Galaxy drives a pastel pink ’57 Lincoln and often wears shirts embroidered with “Cat Daddy” on the breast pocket. He carries his cat toys in a guitar case. And he loves cats. Like, he loooooves them.
It’s not uncommon to see Jackson Galaxy get choked up on his show, or get down on the floor and take his glasses off so he can get eye to eye with a cat. (Pro tip: The earpieces of your glasses have your scent on them, so they can be used as a way to introduce yourself without being too intrusive.) Sure, it would be great to get past a world where it’s not important for heterosexual men to be reassured of their masculinity despite their love of cats—or have it associated with any sort of gendered behavior or sexual preference—but in the meantime, here’s a bearish tattooed guy who loves little kitties.
Jackson and I caught up on a busy day last week, in between interviews, during a car ride to his chat at the Strand with Gwen Cooper, and after being stopped by a police officer on a horse who was a fan. Later that night, in the very warm loft space above the Strand, he held court with cat lovers of all ages who wanted to know if he was vegan (yes), about his pets (three cats and a dog), and what happened to a cat named Lita. (Lita’s human Ryann was dating this super jerk named Derek whose own cat, Buddy, was bullying Lita. Her only recourse was fear-barfing and hiding until Ryann and Derek broke up, something Jackson discovered on his follow-up visit. Note: it’s not clear if Lita was named after Lita Ford, but we can only hope. Hey Derek: if you’re reading this, you were booed by an entire room of strangers.)
Let’s talk about getting recognized on the street. What’s that about?
It’s weird because it’s really kind of hit a different space in the past couple of weeks only…. For a little while, the show would be on the air, and then I would be in the supermarket and get stopped, and then the show would be on hiatus and I was private Jackson again, but now it’s just not happening. It’s great, though. I think it’s fantastic. I think every day that I get reminded that more people have cats, live with cats, and see me as a representative of that life, I’m flattered. I think it’s amazing.
How did you go about writing a memoir so soon after losing Benny? It’s so difficult to write about grief.
Yeah, it is. The book took shape during his last couple of weeks, and I write about it, where, because I have that make-up of being the fixer—and it was being almost thrown in my face. I was being taunted with it, you know? And it was torturing me. And the whole thing that I knew was, since I was a child, was to write in order to make sense of emotions that were too big. And that’s all I was doing. I didn’t set out to write a book. I swear, all I wanted to do was pass the time with him, you know, honor our relationship. That’s all I was trying to do.
It became a lot harder—it became ridiculously hard—when I was actually finishing the book. When Joel [Derfner] and I were sitting in my mom’s living room, and we were finishing those couple of scenes, and he’s just sitting there with headphones on, he’s editing, and I just keep handing him pages, and I am a blubbering, wailing mess. I think the hardest thing about the process was reliving it, was never ever having a period to put on the grieving process, but the beautiful thing about that, I gotta tell you, is I always did grief counseling, you know, back in the shelter and now of course, but there’s a different level of connection that I have with people who have had animals in their lives, because part of that joy is that intense sorrow. I feel uniquely qualified now to talk about it because I aired it so completely.
I totally would tell anyone, anyone who wants to know, that losing my first cat was easily as difficult as my father’s death. Like, easily.
I think it’s impressive because there’s—to be able to say it was as hard, if not harder than losing my dad, but that’s because we don’t have anything mixed up in the pure emotion of grief, that we have in a relationship with an animal. There’s no “I should have said this,” or “Unfortunately, they said this to me and that stuck with me and sent me to therapy for 20 years,” none of that, you know? All there is is pure joy, pure love, unconditional, and then that level of loss. And it really is, it’s a feeling unto itself, but I think one of the beautiful benefits of writing the book is that when I meet people now, when I am doing grief counseling, I can point to that. I can point to that section in the book, and the epilogue which I think is equally important because it’s coming out the other side, and show that it is something to walk through and not something to get stuck in, because we lose a love of adopters that way. One huge loss and, like, “No, no. I’m never going back there again.” So, to me, it was like my own how-to manual of walking through grief, but it doesn’t go away.
Lighter subject, because I don’t just want to talk to you all about my dead father and my dead cat. How do you deal with missing your pets when you’re on these long book tours?
It sucks, there’s no two ways about it. It’s just completely, it’s not a solvable equation, to be on the road and to miss your animals so much, and there’s even more guilt in that I really miss my dog a lot. I make it a point at every book stop along the way to hold up my phone and show that my dog is my screensaver, and that’s just because I do want to prove that point that you can be both a dog and cat person. But also I have this feeling like dogs are more of a—because they depend on you so much, and they depend emotionally, I think, a little more than cats do—you feel like more like you’ve left a child at home. Rudy is not home alone, so that’s a good thing, but it’s really hard. The upside is that everywhere I go, I am bombarded with peoples’ pictures of their cats and dogs, and I love that, and it eases it, for sure.
What do you think of cat celebrities, like Lil Bub? There’s a new cat named Princess Monster Truck who’s a rescue, who’s this amazing-looking Persian with a snaggletooth. They’re really kind of magical. What do you think?
I don’t know. I honestly… Like, the whole cat Internet thing is—and I can pretty much spin a theory on just about anything—that one is so beyond me, that I just don’t…. Whether they’re jumping in the boxes, playing keyboard, playing, you know, hanging from the ceiling, it’s just one of the weirdest things to me, and I tell myself, hey, as long as it elevates cats, then I’m down. But personally? I don’t know. Like the Grumpy Cat thing? That lands firmly in the land of “Go Figure.” I can’t for a second understand how Grumpy Cat has six bazillion Twitter followers. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
I think what’s cool about Lil Bub is she was just born that way, and her “dude,” whenever they appear anywhere, it’s at a shelter. I went as a civilian and not a journalist to go meet Lil Bub, and you had to bring food or donate money to this wonderful little shelter. And she was like a little Buddha. It was crazy.
No, it’s great to see. Like I said, as long as it elevates the cats, as long as it’s—when we do things that bring attention to them and brings attention to the shelter cats, then I’m down. I was down at South by Southwest, and Grumpy Cat was down there, and it was like, people waiting in line for 12 hours to, like, touch the paw of Grumpy Cat. And I actually, I wasn’t crazy about it. I really wasn’t. I don’t like putting cats on display, only because who asked them? [laughs] Who asked Grumpy Cat or Tardar Sauce or whatever if Tardar Sauce actually wanted to be there or not? And sit on a cushion all day sponsored by whatever—that got me a little bit.
Now that you’re doing tons of press and being swamped with people on the street, how do you deal with anxiety naturally?
I gotta be honest with you; this doesn’t make me anxious. Like, even in the least. Life makes me anxious. Paying bills makes me anxious, or trying to figure out what I’m going to have for lunch makes me anxious, but this was something—and I think in Cat Daddy there’s a very clear social chronology of how this was okay from the beginning, that being onstage was something that more natural to me, always, than anything else. I feel real blessed in that way because I don’t feel overwhelmed by it, I don’t feel it’s changing me in any way because I was prepared.
I have a lot of friends who are visibly modified—me not so much—but I know that calls a lot of unwanted attention, maybe people reconsider how professional you are or whatever, and in your book at one point you discuss taking out your piercings and so on. I was wondering at what point did you come into your own and say, this is me. I’m gonna have my awesome vivid beautiful sleeves and all of the rest, and fuck it.
I mean honestly, that whole time of hiding my stuff was totally regrettable. I have always been a freak since I was a kid. I was always a freak, and there was always that part of me, though, that was like, hey, what are you staring at? You know what I mean? [laughs] You make your bed, you sleep in it. No, I couldn’t be more at ease at this point, at least with that part of myself, because I also seem to represent a subculture, at this point. Every signing, I am pausing about 10 times to take a picture of just absolutely rad cat tattoos. And it’s like, we call them “cattoos,” and we’re all psyched about them. I have signed piercings. It’s a beautiful thing. I honestly love the fact that we are part of a generation that says, oh, you think you know what a cat person looks like? Oh, I see.
It’s beautiful, because also, by exploding these stereotypes, at the end of the day, it all looks the same, which is more cats go home. More guys who look like me go, oh, cats are cool, okay. Cats go home. We all have to adopt two or three of them. We all do, in order to end the killing. I am so honored to be the freakish spokesperson, I couldn’t even tell you.
It’s also cool because it shows a professional person on a successful television show with a book doing these gigs, being successful, and also having really lovely tattoos, as opposed to a lot of small-minded people who think….
Yeah, it’s amazing. And you know what? I have always been cool with [it], except for that one period in my life where I was like, oh my God, I have to make a living at this. But other than that, I’ve always—I’ve asked people to judge me. I’ve always asked for it, because you know, I got that in an interview this morning—”Why do you look like this?” Part of it subconsciously has got to be, it’s like a head cleaner, you know what I mean? As soon as you realize that you can’t pass judgment, that you can’t put me in a box, then okay, let’s get on to the real stuff.
Jenni Miller has been writing for fun and profit since the age of six and can be found bathing in the glow of the silver screen, playing video games, inhaling books, and examining pop culture with a savvy, feminist eye for a variety of publications. This interview was lightly edited.