Jackson Galaxy Brings Cat Strategies to Local Shelters

April 2, 2024
Jackson Galaxy helps unload a planeload of adoptable cats (and dogs) at Waukesha County Airport.

Jackson Galaxy, the cat behavior guru of Animal Planet fame, arrived in Waukesha today to begin a two-day seminar, “Cat Pawsitive 360,” for staff and volunteers at local shelters. The seminar is part of Greater Goods Charities’ Jackson Galaxy Project, and it provides a 360-degree view of the feline experience – from behavior models to environmental enrichment – to improve the lives of cats both in and out of shelters.  

This is one of 10 training sessions to be held this year across the country for the program that has been developed over the past 18 months. Galaxy said, “We’re trying to get animal shelters to take a fresh look at how they house, adopt, market and treat cats all the way around. If you’ve been in animal shelter work as long as we have, you know that cats don’t really get the spotlight put on them in a very real way. This is our opportunity to put a proper light on cats and to train shelters on what cats need. It’s incredibly exciting.”

The seminars are very interactive to ensure that Galaxy and his team learn as much from the shelter staff as they learn from him. The goal, said Galaxy, is to build the program into a “plug and play” type of program that can have an exponential impact on shelters across the country through a “train the trainers” strategy. 

Galaxy noted that the reason dogs have historically received more attention and training in shelters is because there has always been a framework on behaviorally how to work with dogs. There is a long way to go to develop a similar framework for cats. 

He said, “There’s still an overriding notion that cats are who they’re going to be, and if a cat comes into a shelter with a litter box problem, it is what it is. There’s a real lack of knowledge around cats and that’s why this program is so important. All these years we expected we could put them in a cage and have them still be their best selves when they went out. But for dogs, we know when they look a certain way, we need to take them out for a walk, get them in a play group, get them into a foster home or do other things that will provide enrichment and bring out their inner dog. We’re still at the front line of this whole thing for cats.”

The star of “My Cat from Hell,” which ran from 2011 – 2018, began his local visit on this cold, rainy morning by helping to transfer 35 cats and 30 dogs flown into Waukesha County Airport this morning by Good Flights, another program by Greater Good Charities. The adoptable pets arrived from New Orleans and were taken in by the Humane Animal Welfare Society (HAWS), the Elmbrook Humane Society, the Humane Society of Jefferson County, the Washington County Humane Society and the Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin. All of these shelters are among the invited guests for the seminar.

Five local shelters accepted 35 cats and 30 dogs from Good Flights today.
Shamrock is loaded from the plane into the HAWS van.
Reggie complains about the cold, rainy weather.
A cat from today's flight clears its medical intake at HAWS.
Jackson Galaxy and a young fan explore a community cat room at HAWS.
Local Shelters Ahead of the Nation in Advanced Care

After getting the animals out of the rain, we went to HAWS to follow their new arrivals, and learned how quickly they are taken out of the crates, given a quick medical check and moved into the most appropriate environmental setting: a single or group kennel for cats or dogs, or a community cat room for the felines who are ready to get out and explore. Galaxy was impressed with the cat program and facilities at HAWS, commenting that our local shelters are ahead of most nationally that are not yet offering the same level of enrichment, behavior management and community outreach as we have here. TNR (trap, neuter, release), community pet food banks and community training programs like HAWS and other shelters offer, can make all the difference in keeping pets alive and in their homes.

Steve Kaufman, VP – Operations for Greater Good Charities added, “That’s really the direction that we’re seeing the animal shelter industry go, recognizing that the most expensive way to care for the pet is when it comes to the shelter. That if you invest in the community programs and keep the pet in the home, it actually doesn’t break up the family. And by just solving most of the problems people have with pets, which are human problems, not a problem with the pet itself, we can help them keep the pet.”

Galaxy added, “That’s what we would hope the image of an animal shelter would be in all communities. It’s not where animals go to die. It’s not where they go to be just kept while they’re trying to find a home. But they’re a place where the community would turn to and say, ‘I’ve got a problem, what do I do? Can you help?’ And the shelter can say, ‘Yes, as part of this community, this is how we can support you.’”

The more advanced shelter system is a big part of the reason why so many adoptable pets are flown or driven to our local shelters from elsewhere in the country, particularly the southern states where overpopulation and lack of funding are severe problems. 

Kaufman added, “In addition, in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, about 80 percent of their dog population in shelters is heartworm positive. We have a program called ‘Save a Heart’ where we’re taking these heartworm-positive dogs that really have very little chance of getting adopted, and we’re not only treating them but finding them a home up north as well. There are treatments for these animals, so heartworm isn’t really a reason for euthanasia.”

He noted that most of the dogs arriving in today’s flight are, “just add water” dogs that are healthy and ready for adoption, but a few will need to complete their treatments in the shelter, foster care or their new homes. 

A Mission to Eliminate Pet Euthanasia 

Galaxy said, “When we started in shelters in the 1990s, there was an average of about 8 – 10 million cats and dogs killed in shelters every year. We are now below a million a year for the first time. And even with a rise that we’re seeing post-pandemic, we’re still nowhere near those old numbers. So, to that end, the value of animals as being family members is the biggest change I’ve seen over the years.

“There’s so much more investment in animal guardianship and what it means to have a four-legged family member. And if you look at organizations like Greater Good, Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, Maddie’s Fund and Best Friends, there’s a whole rise in investment on that level, as well as corporate sponsorship. It’s just been great to witness that over the years.”

The advancements in animal research to help us understand them better, veterinarian medicine, enrichment tools and behavioral training are adding to that impact in substantial ways as well.

“Everything we’re talking about here really relies on the public to get on board,” said Galaxy. “We have come a long way. We’ve still got a long way to go. If you ever wanted to get an animal in your life, this is the moment to go and adopt or sign up to foster. And for the love of God, spay your animals and don’t add to the overpopulation problem. Let’s all step up our investment because we can in our lifetimes, hopefully, see an end to euthanasia in animal sheltering. But we all have to step up in order for that to happen.”