Mojo Monday – My Review of Jackson Galaxy’s book, “Cat Daddy”
Flawed. No, not the book or the story, but people in general. Whether we care to admit it or not, it is the one thing as human beings that we all have in common. None of us are perfect and most of us have our share of hardships, realities, hurts, pains, bad choices, and mistakes that hopefully we can learn from to make us better people. Some of us prefer to keep those moments buried deep inside, private, and some of us will tell our story to a stranger in line at the grocery store. I happen to be one of those people who prefer to keep my life private, and so does Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviorist and author of “Cat Daddy – What the World’s Most Incorrigible Cat Taught Me About Life, Love, and Coming Clean.“ That being said, ironically, both of us have written books that not only share our lives with the world, but in Jackson’s case, every raw, exposed, unadulterated, honest, and unhinged moment that brought him to the apex of where he is today.
When I was offered the opportunity to review this book prior to its official May 10th release date, I decided to let Dan read it before me. I wanted an unbiased first impression before I read it, as I have a certain devotion to Jackson and casual friendship with him that might cause me to interpret the story differently than someone else. I also thought the male perspective might be interesting. His first comment was that the book needed a warning label, “Caution, this is not the biography one would expect of a cat behaviorist and is going to set your typical stereotypical cat lady into a state of shock.”
He’s right. This is definitely not your conventional cat book. This is not a story of a cute and fluffy kitten that is abandoned and finds a new home in a library to inspire the whole town. Nor is it a happy go lucky adventure of a man and his cat who entertain us with humorous antidotes. The language in this book is graphic and unapologetic, the imagery that is described as a result of situations that stem from serious drug, alcohol, and food addictions can be unsettling, and, because Jackson worked deep in the trenches of the Humane Society of Boulder Valley (HSBV), much of what he shares is brutally honest and not easy to deal with. I think sometimes as people, there are certain realities we would prefer to keep our head in the sand about and the harsh truths about how and why animals enter shelters and the staggering numbers that are euthanized (and the process) is at the top of the list.
And if you happen to know Jackson Galaxy from his show, “My Cat From Hell,” on Animal Planet and think this is a handy reference book about cat behavior issues and how to solve them, it really is not. Yes, there definitely are some great tips peppered throughout the book for you to learn from, but this is really the story of Jackson, his road to recovery, and the tribute to his cat Benny whom he credits for saving his life. Basically, as Jackson tells it, the story is the journey of ”a broken, busted up man and a broken, busted up cat.”
I had a moment to briefly chat with Jackson after reading the book and told him about Dan’s reaction, of which he laughed and said he agreed with! The funny thing, however, was that while he was writing the book, the thought that the story may not be what people expected never entered his mind. He admits the Animal Planet network might not have initially been thrilled with his concept, but he said the only way he could properly do justice to Benny’s story, was to do it this way. He had to let go of his privacy and protective personal shell because it had to be real – there was no way to explain what Benny meant to him and the journey they shared without exposing himself fully.
But, for me, that is the crux of the book and why the story was so riveting and compelling. I wholeheartedly respect someone who has been to the deepest and darkest parts of Hell and can emerge victorious, not only personally, but can use the lessons learned for the better good of mankind, in this case, cats. Cats, that, Benny included, Jackson initially rebuffed. For example, when it was proposed to him at the HSBV that he needed experience fostering cats, this was his reaction:
“I didn’t want to foster. I had no time. I had no room in my life for another animal. My commitment was to my plan, my band, my music, the destiny I had to fight for. Paying attention to someone else would ruin my mojo.
Or at least that’s what I told myself – while my inner brat was busy stamping his feet, flinging snot and wailing, “Don’t wanna! Don’t wanna!” I was face-to-face with the very nature of my self-centeredness.
The barely concealed truth was that fostering an animal would destroy the ease with which I’d arranged my world. I was truly involved in my shelter work, but when I wasn’t there, my to-do list for the day involved getting loaded, going to band rehearsal, having a nightcap or six, and going to sleep. I had no deep responsibility to anybody but myself.”
Life, of course, had other plans in store, and Benny literally came to him the following day after his inner tantrum. The cat that was named “Omni” at the time, was dropped off at the shelter with a broken pelvis by a woman who basically said, “she did not like the cat.” Jackson begrudgingly took the cat into his life and re-named him Benny after an old friend of his that seemed to regard the world with a mixture of “bemusement and disgust,” with the assumption the fostering would be temporary. The standoff began and lasted for 14 years as Benny became a permanent member in Jackson’s household and heart. Describing Benny as being one of the most obstinate, frustrating, and challenging (both mentally and physically) cats he had ever known, he also is credited for keeping Jackson sane, teaching him humility, responsibility, and for allowing him to learn about cat behaviors in every polar sense possible.
The book takes us from the depths of Jackson’s deepest demons, to the road to recovery, to his emerging path as a cat behaviorist, to the heartfelt and final moments he shared with Benny. I was personally entrenched in the story from the beginning to end and the only small issue I had with the book was that I would have preferred that the tips that were scattered throughout the story, be kept in one easy to read reference place, perhaps as a separate chapter at the end of the book. But, that is only my opinion and I felt that way because I was so invested in the story, that it sometimes disrupted my train of thought as I was reading.
The overall message of the story is clear and one that I commend – Jackson feels that his tribute to Benny is a tribute to all cats. He states:
“My message, the message from all of us in the animal welfare community is simple: Take a picture of your Benny, put it in an imaginary locket. Then, with the love you feel for your Benny, hold it in your hands so tightly that you become an alchemist; the love you feel for one becomes the love your feel for all. It is all one. Let the love you feel for your Benny expand until it is a love for all Bennys…
…the world is full of cats who need homes, wonderful, exhilarating, maddening cats. Let them into your life…We can achieve a world where no animals have to die needlessly today. I truly believe this to the core of my being.”
I believe it too Jackson and that is why this book is so important. All of us have our crosses to bear and obstacles to overcome. It’s what we choose to do with the lessons we learn that makes the difference and judgement of the path is not the issue. Jackson is both a missionary and a visionary – while his privacy that he holds so dear to himself is no longer so private, if he can help spread the word about cat responsibility and help people better understand how to be good pet guardians, then the sacrifice was worth it. If each of us that reads this book can learn from his story and share his message, then yes, we can come closer to that day of a world where animals do not have to die needlessly.
I was not compensated for this review, other than the privilege of having this wonderful book to add to my library. For every copy of Cat Daddy pre-ordered before May 10, Tarcher/Penguin publishing will donate $1.00 to the cause of saving shelter cats. Please click here for details.