LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The large cat that attacked a baby and trapped an Oregon family in a bedroom touched off an Internet uproar that worries Jackson Galaxy, star of Animal Planet's "My Cat from Hell."
Cats don't become ferocious felines that turn on their families for no reason, says the cat behaviour expert, who is heading to Portland soon to work with the 4-year-old part-Himalayan pet named Lux. Galaxy will film the visit for his show's fifth season, which kicks off April 26.
"Every parental site on the Internet blames the cat for this confrontation. Every pet site blames the family," he said, adding that something is wrong if the cat is acting out. "We need to step away from the hysteria. There is a story behind all this. Don't assume anything."
Lux became a worldwide phenomenon after owner Lee Palmer called 911 and said the cat had cornered him, his girlfriend, their baby and the family dog inside a room.
Palmer says his 7-month-old pulled Lux's tail, and he kicked the animal after it scratched the child. Then, the cat "just went off over the edge," Palmer told an emergency dispatcher after the family barricaded themselves. "He's charging us," Palmer said, as the cat was heard screeching in the background. Officers arrived and caught Lux with a dog snare.
Palmer said the cat had a history of violence, but the family kept Lux until Monday, when they turned him over to a Portland-area shelter. But the family assured Animal Planet they were going to keep the cat and agreed to therapy with Galaxy.
Palmer didn't return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment Tuesday.
There are many reasons a cat can turn aggressive, and there is no universal way to deal with it, Galaxy said. But the star feline behaviourist provided five ways to tame out-of-control cats:
— Never leave a young child unsupervised with a cat.
— Take it to a vet at least once a year. If a cat is acting suspiciously, the owner needs to pay attention. "Know what suspicious looks like," Galaxy said. "If they're not feeling well, cats will socially withdraw themselves, or they will lose weight, or they will gain weight, or they'll be howling in the middle of the night when they never did before.
"I've known cats who acted out similarly to Lux because of an abscessed tooth, a brain tumour, hyperthyroidism or diabetes."
— Make sure cats can literally climb out of a situation. Having a space up high, like a cat condo, to get away from children and other pets is crucial, Galaxy said. "Make sure the cat can make the choice to get away from the kid," he said.
— Timeouts are good things. "We associate timeouts with punishment, but in the world of cats, timeout is not a punishment." They can go to a designated place where they can settle down, come back to a peaceful moment or ground themselves, he said.
— Stop fights between felines with "timeout drills." With simple pieces of cardboard, left strategically around the house, you can stop a fight between two cats. Put the cardboard between them, blocking their vision and providing a moment of disorientation when you can lead them to their timeout spot. It's especially important to have the drills with aggressive cats.
Galaxy said he was going to Portland to act as Lux's advocate and find out what's wrong.
"I have no idea what made Lux aggressive," he said. It could be a chemical imbalance, a history of stressful environments or because he was kicked.
"If you want a blanket statement on how to deal with aggression, how about, 'Don't set the cat up for failure,'" he said.
The behaviourist, who has worked with tens of thousands of cats, said the thing that bothered him most about Lux was his continued aggression the day Palmer called 911, including the animal's ongoing assault on the door even though the threat was gone.
But the word "attack" doesn't sit well with Galaxy because 75 per cent of the time, it's tied to a grouchy mood or a warning, he said.
"If I have a headache, I won't be the nicest guy in the world. I may snap at you," he said. "This may have been Lux's way of snapping. Hypothetically speaking, someone pulling his tail may have been the last straw."