By Eve Becker
Jackson Galaxy, the bald, bearded, tattooed host of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell, knows what makes cats tick. This creative and intuitive animal-lover can enter a room and figure out why a cat feels threatened or why she thinks the entire house is her litter box. He believes that in order for cats to thrive, we need to look at the world through their eyes, understanding their unique space needs in homes as well as in shelters.
On My Cat From Hell, Galaxy excels at clueing in on cat’s issues as he goes into people’s houses to break up cat fights, coach pet parents, and turn “destroy- the-furniture” hellcats into calm, captivating kitties. His book Catification, written with designer Kate Benjamin, takes that even further—exploring and sharing vertical spaces for cats to climb, roam, and lay down their scent with additions like catwalks, cat tunnels, and cat-friendly shelves.
Galaxy got his start 20 years ago working in shelters, and the rescue world remains at the heart of all his endeavors. He aims to create more cat-friendly spaces in shelters across the country, advocating for cage-free environments so cats get to roam freely.
“When you don’t have any territory, live in a 2×3-foot space, and everything is sterilized at the end of the day so you have no ownership from a scent perspective, you think everything is a threat because you can only see straight ahead of you. It’s not a good place to be a cat,” he says.
“When a cat is in a shelter for more than a couple of days, it starts to eat away at what I call ‘cat mojo,’ which is the thing that makes cats tick.”
The open, uncaged environment Galaxy supports encourages cats to interact with their environment, each other, and humans—keeping them happier and healthier. A free-range atmosphere also lets potential adopters better see the cats and their personalities.
“The way that I see the future of sheltering for cats is that they get a home faster because people get to see cats being cats,” he says. “They get to see them walking around and exploring space. They get to interact with them in a non-pressured way. You just can’t do that when you’re going cage to cage.”
Galaxy also embraces that openness when it comes to FIV- positive cats. At our photo shoot for the interview, he had an opportunity to check out Felines & Canines, feeling completely at home surrounded by gaggles of feline fans. Felines & Canines is a leader in the shelter community, demonstrating that FIV positive and negative cats can be successfully integrated together, resulting in greater adoptions and less stigma for FIV-positive cats. At present, they are one of only a handful of organizations doing this.
“I see absolutely no reason why we need to keep FIVs and negatives separated,” says Galaxy, who stresses the need to dispel the “wrath” of FIV. “It dooms FIV-positive cats when it comes to adoption. We need to set the example by integrating them in the shelter environment.”
Given the landscape of cat experts in the field, Galaxy not only stands out for his tattoos and unconventional look, but because he is not afraid to face issues head on and question the status quo. His mission is to always do what’s best for the animals, no matter what it takes.
“I think we tend to fall back on what is familiar for us as caretakers. We need to challenge ourselves and question the norm when it comes to the environment cats live in,” he says.
“We want to have the cats inhabit the whole space—which is how cats see their territory—including the vertical world. I’d like to see floor-to-ceiling [space] being thought about in terms of how it’s occupied by the cat,” he says. “We tend to not see the world the way a cat sees it when we’re building a habitat for them, and that’s what I want to change.”
With the new Jackson Galaxy Foundation, Galaxy and his team are taking his ideas one step further. Shelters and rescues will be recognized for their best practices—beginning with enriching cats’ environment and expanding from there.
“The initial thrust of doing with my new foundation is immediately rewarding innovation and changing status quo when it comes to environment. That includes shelving, ramps, and what I call the cat superhighway.
“I always had in my mind what I could do to better the shelter that I came from. That’s what I’m doing with the Jackson Galaxy Foundation. We’re going to highlight organizations who think outside of the box, who innovate and who demonstrate success.”
The foundation will eventually expand to benefit more animals, not just cats. And it won’t be limited only to shelters, but will also recognize and reward rescuers, foster parents, trappers, colony caretakers, and transporters. Galaxy understands that it takes a village to accomplish great things.
“I want to retain the people who come into animal welfare work with bright eyes and bushy tails and the idea that they’re going to change the world,” Galaxy says. “I want them to change the world before they start feeling like a cog in the machine and burn out.”
Burnout is a significant problem in the animal rescue world, with emotionally draining work, long hours, and little pay. Galaxy hopes to shine a light on everyone’s efforts—inspiring them to keep pushing the envelope, trying new things, and ultimately helping to keep them in the field.
“For example,” explains Galaxy, “the TNR [trap-neturn-return] world is rough. Too often the people who excel at trapping the hardcore cats that nobody else can get are going out there at 10 every night and feeding until 4 in the morning. They can burn out, become bitter, or get resentful because no one is saying thank you.”
Those who work in animal rescue are engaged in challenging work that stretches the bounds of their own compassion, especially with the high number of animals killed yearly in crowded shelters. With continued focus on spay/neuter, widespread education on the risks of purchasing animals ffrom pet stores, better TNR programs, and increased efforts at making rescue and adoption a more accessible option for people, Galaxy sees more hope on the horizon.
“I started in the shelter world 20 years ago and it was unbearable. It felt hopeless. It’s [difficult] to ask somebody working in a shelter to be optimistic when you’re killing a high number of animals per day on your shift.
“As we innovate, as we find homes for cats and dogs, as we start to recruit people who never thought they would ever have animals in their life, we are finally making a difference. When I started, we were killing ten to twelve million a year in our shelters. We are now down to about three to four million. That’s in about 20 years. That’s incredible.”
Galaxy’s creative, forward-thinking and determined attitude brings hope to animals by listening to cat’s needs, solving their behavioral issues, redesigning their spaces, and now rewarding innovators who are making progress in the field.
“Part of what I do, whether it’s through the foundation or through My Cat From Hell, is to shine a light on the people who give their lives to animal lives, and encourage the world at large to say thank you.”