Cat Daddy, by Jackson Galaxy and Joel Derfner

13446655This book is going to make you cry. Be warned.

Cat Daddy is a lot like I imagine sitting down with Jackson Galaxy and letting him tell you his story would be like. It’s idiosyncratic. It’s messy. But it has heart. It tells the story of his life from his very messed up youth to finding his way as a cat behaviorist, but before his show, My Cat From Hell, aired. I’ve been a fan of the show for a while. Even though my two cats are angels compared to the cats on that show, I’ve still learned a lot about understanding the critters.

Galaxy was, at one point, a very messed up person. He lays out all his flaws and addictions in this book without hiding anything. If he hadn’t found a job with an animal shelter when he did, Galaxy probably wouldn’t be here today. Watching his show, you might think that he’s a natural with cats, that they’ve always made sense to him. But this book lets you see the long years of learning and experimenting and observing that it took for Galaxy to become the expert that he is. I love this about the book. He doesn’t just tell you that something works; he tells you why it works.

Along with baring his soul and history to the world at large, Galaxy also shares the story of the “unbondable” Benny. Benny was abandoned by his owner after he broke his pelvis. Galaxy adopted him and nursed him back to health. But Benny has all kinds of behavioral issues. Perhaps, above all, Benny taught Galaxy humility. We’ll never have cats completely figured out because they still have more than a touch of the wild about them. In the last chapter, when Benny’s life draws to a close, Galaxy writes about saying goodbye in such a way that will make any pet guardian cry. As he wrote about Benny’s terminal illnesses, it brought back for me the awful day when my family had to say goodbye to the best dog I’ve ever known and hugging him for the last time. It made me look at my aging cat and hope that the day I have to say goodbye to him is still a long way off.

I suspect that Galaxy’s moments of grace and epiphany will strike some readers as a lot of woo woo. But I think he’s really captured something of what it means to really bond with an animal. Making a connection with another species is an amazing thing. It’s ineffable, but Galaxy has gotten very close to what this connection means. Pet owners frequently describe their pets as their children. I’ve done it myself, especially when I’m relating yet another incident of having to rescue my youngest cat from the confines of a dark cupboard. But as I read about Galaxy’s experiences at the shelter, I thought back to the times when I adopted my boys. We picked each other. We’re each other’s companions. It’s something another pet owner can understand, but it’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t loved an animal.

You can read Cat Daddy for tips about managing cats. You can read it for its narrative of overcoming multiple addictions. You can read it for its meditations on pet guardianship. There’s a lot to take away from this book. Galaxy’s perspective on everything, even with the woo woo parts*, makes this book just that much better.

* I don’t mean to mock Galaxy’s religion. I actually admire his Buddhist inspired faith. I’m just not a very spiritual person.

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