Jackson’s new book “Cat Daddy” is out next month. A dollar from every copy pre-ordered will go toward saving shelter cats — many of which are surrendered when one half of a couple doesn’t get along with them.
“I am kind of a couple’s counselor,” says Jackson Galaxy, the cat behaviorist who stars on Animal Planet’s “My Cat From Hell,” and has often been called the Cat Whisperer. One of the problems he most frequently encounters on his show, which documents his adventures counseling owners of misbehaving cats, are cats who seem to hate one half of a couple. So I called him up to find out how, if you’re moving in with your significant other, to avoid ending up with a seriously traumatized cat and partner? After all, it’s worth it to put forth that extra energy to ensure the cat doesn’t get in the way of moving in together. As Jackson says, “Why would you invite splinters into a relationship at a really important crossroads?” To ease the process follow these nine easy steps from Jackson. (Note: Boyfriend is used throughout for consistency, but all this advice also applies to girlfriends, wives, or husbands, obviously.)
“It’s built-in to pull the ‘I’m not a cat guy’ card so he gets to excuse himself from that part of the relationship. To me, that’s not cool. Love me, love my cat — that’s how this goes. That’s what blending the household is all about.”
6. Step 2: Establish pre-move bond between the cat and boyfriend. So, have the boyfriend feed or play with the cat from time to time in her old home, for example.
“I think for the sake of the relationship it’s a great to do little things like feeding with and playing with the cat. It can help to avoid issues later on. When I moved in with a girlfriend at one point, there was one cat in the house who just drove me up a wall — territorially, socially the biggest pain in the world. And it would have been a very easy choice on my part to build resentment toward that cat, but instead what I had to do was a complete 180, and play with him, train him. You have to look at the long view. I can’t set this up as me being a jerk, because my girlfriend three years from now will have that ammunition: ‘Remember three years ago when we moved in you were so mean to my cat?’”
“I avoid saying all cats will be like x, y, or z. Your cat may be a totally confident forward-facing cat, and they hit the new territory all four paws on the ground going, ‘Yeah this is great! The litter box, scratching post — let’s go!’ And there are others that are sensitive. So it’s also about reading the needs of your cat.”
10. Step 4: Bundle your cat’s “signposts,” i.e. things heavy with their scent that they’ll identify from the old space.
“The more skittish your cat is, the more important it is that you have enough signposts. When you move your litter boxes from old house to new house, take the opportunity, if it’s a single cat, to add another litter box. If it’s a house, you’ll want more territorial sign posts. I’m a big fan of not cleaning out your litter boxes, especially when you move because you want to put that thing in that house so the cat can say, ‘Oh, it’s home, and it’s me.’
Remember every time a cat rolls around on something, every time they scratch something, every time they headbutt something, there are scent glands all over their body — they are calling stuff their own. In my world when I say, ‘This is a sign of cat mojo,’ it’s a product of feeling like they either own something or they’re scared they don’t own something.”
“The quality of that upheaval of moving, the quality of that chaos is not something you want to subject your cat to. The concept for base camp is you’ve already got a room set up. Let’s say you’ve already moved your bed in, and your cat’s favorite condo, and all the things that smell like you and your bed, and all the things that smell like your cat. That’s where you put the cat when movers and boyfriend are moving into the place, so then you can concentrate on slow exposure to the rest of the space.”
14. Step 6: Initiate cat/boyfriend bonding phase at base camp.
“That means he goes into base camp — he becomes the one who goes in there and just sits for a few minutes and just says, ‘Hi, how are you?’ Those little bitty bonding experiences, I think, are really important. (At the very least he should become the one that feeds the cat for a litlte while.) When the cat’s ready, you open up base camp.”
16. Step 7: With boyfriend’s help, begin slowly exposing the cat to the new space.
“If it’s a house it’s just slow exposure — you don’t open up the entire house if you’re used to living in a 500-square-foot apartment. You have to make sure they understand the new territories. Remember, keep the windows cracked or wide open so not only are they smelling base camp, they’re also smelling the whole neighborhood.”
18. Step 8: Commence cat co-parenting.
“From the moment you blend the household, you’re coparenting. The rent is our thing, the bills are our thing, the bed is our thing. So get over the ‘your ca’ thing now, because if it’s ‘your cat has ripped up the carpet,’ or ‘your cat has peed on the floor,’ or ‘your cat scratched my arm,’ the person saying that is being divided from the person who’s having it said to them.
Let’s say you’ve had a cat for 10 years? To me there is absolutely no difference from someone coming into the relationship and saying this is my child. And that’s not coming from a crazy cat guy. That’s coming from someone who, if you’re with somebody who’s putting that choice of living with them and their cat you to you, you’ve really got to be working at what you’re doing.”
20. Step 9: Try not to shut the cat out of the bedroom just because the boyfriend isn’t used to sleeping with the cat.
“It’s a really bad move to shut the cat out of the bedroom at night. Immediately, you set up that vibe where the presence of that other person is a subtraction of territory. The most crucial places in the entire house are where your scent is the strongest: your bed and your couch. Take one of those two places away and there’s not one okay thing about it.
One thing you can do to regulate the cat’s lounging areas is take those little pieces of fleece and put them everywhere. They’re inviting and they’re portable. If you’re moving, get six pieces of fleece and put them everywhere, and the only time the cat gets gets treats is when she’s on her fleece, so she’s getting great payoff for being in that place.”