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Jackson Galaxy Talks Cat Camp and Quarantining with Felines

Jackson Galaxy is a big name in the cat world. The kitty behaviorist is best-known for his Animal Planet series My Cat from Hell, where he helps cat owners resolve issues with their pets. The show has been on the air since 2011, and has seen Galaxy—who’s also known as the “Cat Daddy”—deal with a variety of issues. Everything from cats who eat anything in sight, to feuding felines, to clawing pets, and beyond. Galaxy is also the author of several books about cat behavior, and his cat expertise has appeared in media outlets like The New York Times and USA Today.

That makes him the perfect person to host an event catered to cat lovers everywhere. And that’s exactly what he’s about to do. Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp, a well-known event in the cat community, is back for another virtual program: Spring Forward @Home. The upcoming gathering follows two successful virtual meet-ups in 2020. And the best part? It’s totally free. Whether you’re a longtime cat owner, a new kitty parent, or are merely “cat curious,” Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp is a perfect space to learn more. It’s also here to raise advocacy and promote education about adoption, training, and more.

Nerdist got the chance to chat with Jackson Galaxy ahead of the Spring Forward @Home event. He let us know all about Cat Camp and what led to his involvement. He also relayed some expert insight about quarantining with cats, and how we can prepare our pets for our shift back to “normal” workdays.

Jackson Galaxy boops noses with a black-and-white tuxedo cat. (Photo by Andrew Marttila.)
Andrew Marttila

Nerdist: How did you first get involved with Cat Camp?

Jackson Galaxy: I actually jumped into Cat Camp the second year of it. The first iteration of Cat Camp was started by Christina Ha, who is the founder of the Meow Parlour, which is the first cat café in the U.S. As she got more and more involved in the rescue scene in New York, she wanted to put something on to bring everyone to together, to raise awareness, and to have some fun. I appeared in that first one and was immediately smitten, from the standpoint of it being a cross-section between entertainment and education and empowerment.

So I jumped in, became a partner, and since then it’s been Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp. We [were] in New York in ’18 and ’19. Obviously 2020 was a scratch. But we started expanding. We had done Las Vegas, and last year we were supposed to do San Diego and New York. And then we just had to sort of pivot, as everyone had to.

Christina and I had a real heart-to-heart about if it was feasible to do it virtually. It’s a lot of work to put it on. And we finally decided that it was. I’m so thankful we did it, because it has exploded and it has made our community global. We’re able to do things we couldn’t do from a live perspective. This one coming up Saturday, April 10 is called Spring Forward. It’s really about the idea of leveling up your game as a cat person. Whether you don’t have a cat, and you’re just cat curious. Or whether you adopted or fostered for the first time during the pandemic. Or maybe you want to know more about your cat, you want to know more about all cats, and how you can help cats in whatever way possible.

Where I’m posting from this time is the largest foster-to-adopt network in Los Angeles. The organization is called Kitten Rescue. I will be hosting from their kitten room.They have a nursery, they have adoption centers, so we’ll be with cats this time. It’s going to be a fun time and, by the way, it’s free. If you register, there are prizes, there are free consultations with me. And we have some special sessions that we’re not telling people about yet, but you can learn if you register.

A graphic advertising Jackson Galaxy's Cat Camp spring forward event.Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp

Nerdist: It’s a great time to do a program like this, because so many of us have spent the last year in close proximity to our cats. What are the questions you get most these days, specifically about quarantining with cats? 

Jackson Galaxy: One of the funniest things is people say, “My cat’s doing something new that she never did before.” And I’m like, “Are you sure about that? Are you sure it’s not just because you’re home and you’ve never noticed it before?” I think the fact is, people are getting to know their cats in a way that they just didn’t before. The other main questions is, “My cat’s driving me crazy, what can I do?”

And now, another one is, “What happens when I go back to work?” I’m really stoked that that question is being asked, that people care enough to say, “Is my cat going to be OK when I go back to work?” We’ve been talking about separation anxiety and what you can do about it. I think the thing that folks don’t get is, just how if affected us to be at home more, it works for the cats, too. Cats are very territorial and very into their routine and we upset that particular apple cart. So we’ve had to change and compensate.

Nerdist: I’ve definitely noticed the separation anxiety thing with my cat. Whenever I leave and come home, he’s extra attached to me compared to before. 

Jackson Galaxy: Isn’t that so funny? So many people are like, “I like dogs better because they’re like, ‘Where have you been? I miss you so much.’” And now that our cats are acting like that, we’re like, “I liked my cat better before.”

Nerdist: I’ve also noticed my cat has gotten very particular about what room I’m in. He does not want me in the bedroom after a particular hour. And he doesn’t like to be in the same room as me most of the time.

Jackson Galaxy: Yeah, again, they’re incredibly routine driven. So as you break from your own routine or completely abandon it altogether, the cat is like, “Wait. At about 8:45 you’re supposed to be out of here so I can get that particular patch of sun. Plus, you’re supposed to feed me, and then go away.” So yeah that’s why I think it’s a really important question of what happens when we leave the house altogether. Let’s face it: none of us really know. We literally don’t know what we’re going to be like, and what they’re going to be like when we leave. But we can prep for it.

Nerdist: And for a lot of people, working from home will be the normal going forward. Especially since jobs have seen how functional it is to do so. For people who aren’t used to being home alone all day with their cats, what are some tips to deal with that?

Jackson Galaxy: Following up on what I said, it’s about routine. It’s about what I call the three R’s: routine, ritual rhythm. A cat having a predictable rhythm to their day is really super important to them. One of the things that we’ve been touching on is location. We can always give them more space. It’s a concept called “catification,” which is environmentally enriching their world. Windows are your best friend. Giving them more of a dedicated space helps to assuage that anxiety that they’re feeling because their territory is being taken and their schedule interrupted. I think that if we just remember their drive to be in rhythm, that really is a great place to start.

Another one, and one of my big soap boxes, is we should not be free-feeding our cats. We should be feeding them meals, then picking up those meals, because that’s enforcing rhythm. If we give them a meal, we know they’re going to sleep after. We know they’re going to start coming down. So that’s a huge tool for everybody, and we shouldn’t ignore it.

Jackson Galaxy sits on a couch and cuddles an orange tabby cat. (Photo by Andrew Marttila.)Andrew Marttila

Nerdist: What about people who adopted during the pandemic for the first time and will be going back to work soon, whose cats aren’t used to being alone in the house?

Jackson Galaxy: Again, it’s about rhythm. But also about forestalling separation anxiety. The best way to start doing that is to find all the cracks in your routine. Play with them at a certain time of the day. Feed them at regular times. And for those of us leaving the house again, start leaving at the time you would normally, and come back in a half hour. Separation anxiety, both in dogs and cats, tends to kick in in about 15 minutes, when they realize that you’re gone gone. If they’re already prone to separation anxiety, it’ll start to snowball and they’ll panic. So just ease yourself back into it. Do what you would normally do on a work day, whatever your natural rituals are.

One of the things we tend to do, because we love our cats, is we tend to overdo it when we leave the house and when we come back. When you make it a big deal, the cat will wonder what the big deal is. As opposed to just taking care of business and walking out of the house. If your cat is really, really attached to you, puzzle toys are a really fantastic tool. If your cat has a treat they really like, then the only time they get it is when it’s in a puzzle toy and you’re walking out the door. Positive association.

And if you find that when you go back to work and you come home and things are ripped up, and you see that your cat has panicked in your absence—just like [you’d get] a dog walker to come over during the day, [do the] same thing with a cat. Have them come over during the middle of the day, a half hour visit, feed your cat, play a little bit, leave, just to break it up a little bit.

The last thing I’ll tell everybody is we have now entered this world where cameras around the house are normal. And I would absolutely encourage folks to have cameras. Just a normal surveillance camera, so if your cat is freaking when you leave, you can watch it, you can take note of it. What time of the days does it happen, does it happen immediately? And then you can address it.

Nerdist: Before I go, can you shout out any cool things folks won’t want to miss at the Spring Forward Cat Camp event coming up?

Jackson Galaxy: For this particular Cat Camp, we’re leaning into that sense of empowerment in your community and what you can do. Hannah Shaw, the kitten lady, is going to come in. Normally she would just talk about kittens. But Hannah also is an incredible leader when it comes to advocacy and the Orphan Kitten Club is an amazing non-profit that she started. She’s going to talk about the concept of full-circle rescue. The idea that you don’t want to think of just one element of your little corner of rescue, but being able to really think about where things go. Where do these kittens come from and what can I do to prevent these kittens from coming? That leads us to community cats and TNR and preventing the population explosion.

Another thing I’m stoked about is The Jackson Galaxy Project, which is a signature program of Greater Good Charities. We are about cats mostly in shelters and rescue. We have a program called Cat Pawsitive and it’s a clicker training program. We have trainer mentors through the U.S. who teach shelter workers and volunteers how to clicker train cats, because in my experience it makes them more adoptable, it makes them healthier from an emotional and physical standpoint, and it increases the bond. It just so happens that our National High-Five Day contest is coming, so we get to see all of these folks who’ve been doing high-fives with their cats.

We’re gonna have one of my trainer mentors Samantha Bell come in to teach everyone how to clicker train. From there, we’re gonna teach you how to harness train. And from there, we have the folks from Adventure Cats coming in to show you what’s possible in the world to bring your cat out there and still keep him safe. It’s just sort of explode the notion of what you can do with your cat.

We’re also having a friend of ours, April McBride, come in, who is going to teach us all about planting indoor cat gardens. Like what’s great for cats, what’s not healthy for them. And this is how she hooked me; she said, “You CAN have cut flowers in your house and still have cats.” We haven’t had flowers in this house in years! So yeah, there’s a lot of fun stuff.

Jackson Galaxy’s Cat Camp: Spring Forward @Home is happening this Saturday, April 10. You can register for the event (for free!) here

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.