“I’m sorry,” says the barista at Gorilla Coffee in Park Slope, her voice betraying a slight hint of embarrassment. “I’m sure you get this a lot, but are you, like, that cat guy?”
The man she’s talking to sports two full-sleeve tattoos and meticulously maintained facial hair groomed into a triangle, with his sideburns sculpted to appear as if they’re stretching out to hug his cheekbones. He’s wearing a Buddha necklace and a long string of wooden beads wound around his wrist. With a shaved head and gauge earrings in each ear, he looks more like the punk boyfriend your parents objected to in high school than he does “that cat guy.” But this aesthetic is just part of the mysterious appeal of Jackson Galaxy, the highly recognizable host of the popular Animal Planet reality show My Cat From Hell, where every Saturday night Galaxy helps forlorn pet-owners learn how to deal with their shy, stubborn, and aggressive cats.
“I am that cat guy!” he responds, smiling warmly at the barista. If Galaxy is annoyed at being interrupted by a fan while trying to order his soy latte, he doesn’t show it. After publishing two best-selling books and hosting the show for four years, plus boasting that distinct personal style (he frequently wears leopard-print bowling shirts inscribed with “Cat Daddy” and carries around a guitar case filed with cat toys), he gets recognized a lot. The barista can barely contain her glee. “I actually have a question for you,” she begins, before launching into a story about how her cat seems to derive masochistic enjoyment from tripping her.
Strangely enough, Galaxy was not always “that cat guy.” Born on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, he had dogs growing up and no abiding interest in cats. He played in bands and got a degree in theater from the University of Iowa. It wasn’t until he started volunteering at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley in 1995 that he realized cats were preternaturally drawn to him. “It was that thing where I realized pretty quickly that whatever I knew, whatever I could communicate, whatever I could learn is something that I could teach to volunteers, foster parents, staff members, adopters, and the community, and stop those cats from coming into the shelter and stop them from being killed,” he said. After setting up his own animal-behavior consultancy and moving to Los Angeles, Galaxy was tapped by Animal Planet to host My Cat From Hell. The show will wrap its seventh season next month and has made fans out of the millions of cat ladies who recognize themselves in the show’s subjects, people whom Galaxy expertly coaxes into pet-owner confidence. Cat ladies, of course, like me.
Everywhere he goes, cat owners bombard Galaxy with questions about their pets. I’m also here to pry some advice out of the Cat Daddy himself. As a proud cat lady, I own one cat and foster another, providing food, shelter, and unconditional love to two ten-pound monsters who wake me up every morning at 5 a.m. by scratching the crap out of my arms. Marcia, the foster cat, was rescued off the street and never shook her scavenger mentality; she will eat anything — literally anything — from kale to apples to almond milk. Lucy will meow directly into my ear until I give her anything she wants. I love them, but living alone in a small studio apartment means they frequently overrun me. My cats are the queens of the house; I am simply their handmaiden. I’m hoping Galaxy can give me some advice on how to reel them in.
On our way to a nearby bagel shop, almost everyone we cross paths with notices Galaxy. “It’s that cat guy!” one lady scream-whispers to her friend as we pass by. Outside Bergen Bagels, a woman approaches us covering her mouth and says to Galaxy, “I love you!” He good-humoredly replies that he loves her right back. My neighbor, a friendly 50-something woman who runs a palm-reading business from the second floor of our apartment building, catches my attention. “Are you with him?” she whispers. “I love his show!” I smile and say that I’m interviewing him for work. Being famous for loving cats seems exhausting, but Galaxy appears unfazed.
After ordering a poppy-seed bagel with tofu-vegetable cream cheese (Galaxy is vegan), we head up to my apartment so that I can introduce him to Marcia and Lucy. Ever my cat, Marcia declines to say hello to Galaxy until she spies that he has food on his person. This makes Lucy emerge from under the bed, too. Soon he is feeding them tofu cream cheese from his fingertip. He unwinds his long wooden beaded bracelet and slithers it across the floor as my cats delightedly pounce on it. “I should really make a line of jewelry made out of cat toys,” he muses.
When it comes to my cats’ behavior, Galaxy offers a number of tips to keep them from waking me up: spread their feedings out over three meals instead of two; give them an exhaustive play session and then feed them an hour before I go to bed; and do not give in and feed them when they wake me up. Also, if I want them to stop scratching me, I should figure out a way to trim their claws.
He also somehow manages to spin my cats’ obsession with human food into a positive: Since they’re so food-motivated, he says, I should try clicker training, a method of training cats using a system of clicking sounds and treats. If I do that successfully, I can train them to stop getting in my way while I’m cooking. “A food-motivated cat is a cat I can work with,” Galaxy states matter-of-factly.
He gives me one final piece of advice before he departs: “I hate to say this,” he says, wrinkling his brow and giving me a sympathetic look. “But I think you should keep Marcia. I want you to keep fostering, but these two are incredibly bonded. So you should keep Marcia and then foster a third cat, maybe a kitten.”
“You want me to have three cats in this tiny studio apartment?” I respond, clearly aghast.
“Why not?” he smiles. “It’s just a kitten!”