Namaste from India! Thank you so much for taking out the time to talk to Creature Companion Bureau. The first thing we would like to know is if you were into cats from a young age? What prompted you to become a full-time feline behaviourist at a time when this term was unheard of?
Actually, I grew up with a dog. I never really had cats in my life, at least not in a very meaningful way. My girlfriend had a cat in college and I lived with a few cats on and off, but it wasn’t until I started working in an animal shelter that I began my relationship with cats. The cats would just gather around me and at the time the idea was if these cats are picking me and we are being tasked with saving their lives then who am I to say no? That’s really what led me to take this position on in life. I was the cat guy in the first shelter, then I became the cat guy in a number of shelters, and then I started going into people’s homes to stop them from surrendering their cats, and one thing led to another to get me where I am today.
How have the societal perceptions and attitudes towards cats changed since you first started working as a feline behaviour consultant in the 1990s?
Let’s not even focus on just cats, let’s take a look at companion animals in general! At the time I started working in the shelter system, we were killing between 10-12 million cats and dogs every year and we are now finally down to under a million for the first time ever. The reason is humans are now seeing animals in a different light. We see them as family members, not as property. We don’t just discard them when they don’t serve our needs anymore. That is the biggest change. People are willing to work for success as a family and not just give up, and that makes my job a whole lot easier.
Tell us about your pets. What role have they played in shaping your life?
I think anybody would have the same story, that when you are off on your own away from your family and you bring an animal into your home for the first time, you suddenly become an adult and you now have children. And that’s how my life was shaped, period. I don’t have human children. My family has had four legs for as long as I can remember… well sometimes three (laughs)! It has made me a responsible person and as I detailed in my memoir (Cat Daddy), having animals in my life, saved my life. If it weren’t for me working for animals and them counting on me, drugs and alcohol would have killed me 20 years ago.
What are the basic reasons for behavioural issues in cats?
When it comes to behavioural issues in cats, you need to rule out any underlying physical issues first. If you notice anything going on with your cat that you never noticed before, the fi rst thing you should do is go to the vet because physical issues can manifest behaviourally. Beyond that, by and large if you really had to reduce it, which I hate to do, but if you did, territorial anxiety is really what manifests the most. Whether that’s aggression, aggression towards other humans or animals, or litter box issues, that will usually trace to some form of territorial anxiety. For cats, territory is everything. Confidence and territory are everything and if they feel that is threatened, then bad things usually happen.
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