What was your inspiration behind the book?
I was asked, and intrigued by the idea of writing an ebook — actually, a pair of ebooks: “Good Cat!” and “Good Dog!” I had never written a book, specifically as an ebook. Most of all, it’s the opportunity to expand on the number of people I reach. While I am lucky enough to reach millions via my national newspaper columns and blogs (and my CAT FANCY and CatChannel CATalyst columns, too!), I still don’t reach everyone, and my hope is to find a new audience.
More cats die of bad behavior than kidney disease, cancers and heart disease combined — or at least that’s likely. We know cats are often given up to shelters or just given the ‘heave ho’ as a result of inappropriate behavior. I know for both dogs and cats, my newspaper column Q & A answers have saved lives. I know this because readers have told me so. I’ve already received emails from readers of these books telling me the advice offered by many experts — which as individuals they otherwise wouldn’t have access to — has made a huge difference. In “Good Cat!,” I consult with veterinary behaviorists and certified cat behavior consultants.
What is your approach to understanding/correcting cat behavior?
We all learn from one another, and my best teacher, cat behavior consultant/author Pam Johnson-Bennett, taught me to think like a cat might. Also, to understand — and this is most important — that the cat is only being a cat. I mean, there’s no malice or intent involved. The cat might be responding to stress, or the cat may be scratching at the sofa because it’s a convenient thing to do or jumping on the counter because there was good [food] up there. People have agenda’s — our pets do not.
How did you get your start in becoming a pet expert and certified dog and cat behavior consultant?
That’s an awfully long story … it has to do with getting stuck in an elevator, a dog named Chaser, Lucille Ball and People magazine. How’s that for a puzzle? I was a journalist, covering the pet world but also entertainment. I had also worked on the radio since my senior year in high school, even playing music under several formats. Then about 17 years ago, I had the opportunity to write a national newspaper column, and when I said “yes,” my life changed. Still, I never would have imagined that I would be writing books, speaking at conferences around the world, hosting radio shows and be a voice for animals. I have the best job; truly, I love what I do.
What was the most rewarding part about writing the book?
It was also a nice chance to mention the Winn Feline Foundation and the Ricky Fund. Winn supports a fund for studies of cat health. I dare say that there isn’t a cat in the world who’s life has not be affected by the studies Winn has funded for nearly 45 years — from the food most cats eat, to what we now know about diabetes in cats, to most vaccine studies. For example, no one — back in the day — even knew what feline leukemia was until Winn came along. From funding studies for cats in shelters to cats with heart disease, that’s what the Ricky Fund is — named for a cat we had who died of feline hyptrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). As a result of the funds we’ve raised, at least for two breeds (Maine Coon and Ragdoll), the gene defect for HCM might be identified, which has lessened the often deadly disease in these breeds. The hope is to one day help all cats. HCM is truly a significant killer of adult cats, and there is no treatment.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book?
In truth, just a challenging deadline, but I loved choosing the questions and writing the answers. Also, there’s a chapter of fun, off-beat questions and answers. For example, there was one cat who paws at the family’s big-screen TV whenever Justine Beiber is singing and apparently, at no other time. I began my answer saying it’s clear, the cat has “Beiber fever.”
Tell us about your current pets.
We have two dogs, both mixed breeds, named Ethel and Hazel. Roxy is our Devon Rex cat — a breed my wife, in particular, has fallen in love with. Roxy is a sweetheart. I’ve been asked who runs our house, and I believe the answer is expected to be one of our dogs. Of course, Roxy is boss. Also, we have a northern blue-tongue skink, named Cosette. She really does have a blue tongue, native to Australia and nearby islands.
What is one important lesson you’ve learned from a cat?
Ricky was an amazing cat. He played the piano in public. He would perform recitals on a kid’s piano at local Petco or PETsMART stores. He was so social. He also knew how to jump through and over a Hoola hoop, “sit,” offer a paw, and do all sorts of little things. He even jumped on my shoulder to ask that I give him his pill for heart health in case I forgot. He taught me that so much of what we “assume” about cats isn’t correct. I’m not sure I’ll ever bond with a pet again as I did with Ricky. He taught me cats are smart, every bit as smart as dogs, and that they can learn. When they are taught, the bond intensifies between teacher and pupil. Sometimes, though, with cats, the role of teacher and pupil may be reversed.
What is the most common cat behavior question/scenario you’ve heard about?
Inappropriate elimination has for 17 years been the most common question I receive by far — for my national newspaper columns and on the radio. In fact, pretty much daily I receive an email about a cat somewhere thinking outside the (litter) box. This is a common explanation for people giving up cats to shelters or just putting them outside. People often assume that, somehow, the cat is doing it on purpose. No cat eliminates outside the box to “get back at you” or “because he or she is angry at you.” It’s not about you. Cats do become anxious, and that might be an explanation. What I hope to communicate in the book, Good Cat!, is that cat owners should first assume the problem may be physiological. Hyperthyroid disease, kidney disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel problems, even arthritis are among a long list of physical issues which may explain the inappropriate elimination. Sometimes the problem begins as a physical one – which still requires addressing – but also becomes a behavior problem. No matter, the good news is that with a little detective work, inappropriate elimination is “fixable.”
If you could tell your readers one thing, what would it be?
What you put into a relationship with any pet is what you’ll get out of it, times 100. Our pets are devoted to us. I just wrote about a cat who, on the first night in a new home, did something when the owner had a diabetic induced seizure. By constantly licking and gently biting on her ear, the cat eventually sort of gets the owner to awaken. She weakly calls down the hall for her son to phone for help. But he doesn’t hear; after all, he’s sound asleep. So the cat somehow knows to race down the hall and jump on him until he awakens and calls for help. That call saved his mother’s life. What would motivate the cat to do this? And while scientists may explain why the cat jumped on the woman with the seizure — because the cat somehow knew something was either out of the ordinary or wrong. But how the heck did the cat know how to run down the hall and alert the son? We may not yet understand why, but we know cats are capable of bonding with us just as much as dogs do. We also know that cats are not, in truth, anti-social and aloof — any more than some dogs are anti-social and aloof, and some people are anti-social and aloof. Hopefully, I bust some of these myths in the book. Most of all, I hope the advice offered helps.