How a cat saved Animal Planet star Jackson Galaxy’s life

  • Sunday, June 11, 2017 11:37am
  • Life

Jackson Galaxy, who hosts Animal Planet’s popular show, “My Cat from Hell,” says a cat changed his life. (Philip Cuenco / Animal Planet)

People notice when Jackson Galaxy walks into a room. His arms are festooned with tattoos, his beard is carefully stylized, his horn-rimmed glasses are perched on his nose like an ungainly bird. But the folk that really pay attention are the cats.

Galaxy hosts Animal Planet’s series, “My Cat From Hell,” in which he whispers, cajoles and outsmarts the most ferocious of feline pets.

It’s a calling for Galaxy (who was born Richard Kirschner). Morphing into an expert cat wrangler is something he never dreamed of. He longed to be a musician from the time he was 9 years old. But a cat changed his life.

Galaxy had been living in Boulder, Colorado, for 15 years pursuing a career as a musician and doing volunteer work in animal shelters. “Did I expect to be there for 15 years? Absolutely not,” he said.

“I expected a year maybe but the thing that happened with the shelter and the animals kept me there. I went there for the music and stayed there for the cats.”

It was one particular cat, Benny, who turned Galaxy’s life around. For those 15 years he’d been nursing a drug and alcohol habit. “It was at the point when my alcoholism and drug addiction bottomed,” he said.

“I had alienated everybody I knew, including family, and had lost everything. And I was miserable and mentally I was absolutely bonkers. I overdosed three separate times. It was the one time in my life when I had nothing in terms of having faith in anything. When you lose that there’s no point.”

One day at the shelter he saw a woman dump a cat in front of the building. He caught up with her and confronted her. “He’d gotten hit by a car and his pelvis was broken,” Galaxy recalled.

“She said he was an ‘unbondable’ cat. When she used that word I realized that that’s me. So as I’m driving him to the hospital to get him patched back up, I looked into the carrier and it was one of those moments when I realized how broken I was by looking at how broken he was. It was a hard left, and my work with him over the next 13 years really mirrored the work I was doing on myself.

“He was a really challenging cat, very difficult, but it kept me humble. In a way he was sort of a symbol. He saved me.”

Galaxy said he pulled himself out of his stupor, began attending meetings. “I’ve never been one to consciously contemplate suicide or anything like that, but what you’re doing in that respect is you’re killing yourself. You’re just not doing it consciously; you’re doing it in the name of a good time,” he said.

“I took on Benny as a project where he became this sort of mirror that I realized if I did want to commit to this path, I needed to be present for the animals in order to work with them. They can totally tell.

“If you come to an animal and you’re loaded, they know. Plus it was him. And I had a few others in my life, and all the animals I was responsible for — and this is a very common story among addicts — when they bottom, the only thing they have left is their cat, their dog. They’re the only thing that gave them unconditional love. Everyone else is gone. I know so many addicts who came back because they thought, ‘Who’s going to take care of my dog?’ It’s the only shred of connection to the world that we have left. It’s the same story for me except mine was Benny, and all of them. I’d become so entrenched in the world of animal welfare and saving animals that I stuck around. I don’t think I would’ve otherwise, I really don’t.”

He moved to Los Angeles hoping to vitalize his music career. But fate interfered again.

“I was teaching a class at a pet store about cats and this guy came to see me and he liked my presence and what I had to say, and within a couple weeks we were filming the sizzle reel and it got sold. I didn’t go out there looking for it. I wanted to be in music. Here I grew up thinking I want to be a rock star, and all of a sudden — anybody who knew me from the age of 10 thought I was a musician. All of a sudden you don’t see me for a couple of years, and all of a sudden I’m ‘The Cat Guy.’ It’s funny how the world works.”

Married for three years to Minoo Rahbar, a strong animal advocate too, Galaxy said she helps keep him grounded. While he had no intention of marrying, he met Minoo in the right place at the right time, he said.

“The TV thing was taking off and here was somebody who couldn’t care less. And we shared a very deep connection and spiritual connection with animals. You talk about fate, her coming to me at that moment made sure that whatever happened from that point on, I had one foot on the ground. She’s an incredibly grounding force for me. She doesn’t care about any of the celebrity stuff, she just cares about animals.”

The two of them share five indoor cats, four feral cats that live in the garage, three dogs and two turtles. “We have a family and love every moment of it,” he said.

Talk to us

More in Life

The hardy fuchsia “Voltaire” is one the few fuchsias that can take full sun all day. (Nicole Phillips)
Eight perennials to add to the garden for summer-long enjoyment

July is a great time to fill in those blank spots with long-blooming perennials. (Yes, it is OK to plant in the summer.)

Kate Jaeger played Gretl and Kevin Vortmann was Hansel in Village Theatre’s “Hansel Gretl Heidi Günter,” which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Tracy Martin / Village Theatre)
COVID-19 curtain drops on a Village Theatre original musical

The lead actor in the canceled show says his disappointment pales next to that of the 10 young actors who were cast in the production.

PUD program now helps 10% more customers pay their bills

Changes to the PUD’s Income Qualified Assistance Program ensure more people will get the help they need.

Museum invites you to add your colors to vintage Northwest art

The Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds creates a project where people can color woodblock prints. The results will be displayed in the museum’s windows.

A deservedly affectionate portrait of a civil rights icon

“John Lewis: Good Trouble” traces the life and work of a truly towering figure in American history.

Why more men aren’t wearing masks — and how to change that

The four-pronged M.A.S.K. Approach just might convince mask-averse males to do the right thing.

How to confront the disease epedimic in the COVID-19 pandemic

Good health empowers us to cope better and feel better, in mind and body, during turbulent times.

Working toward Phase 3 of a Safe Start for Snohomish County

Public Health Essentials! A blog by the Snohomish Health District.

Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’ has blue foliage from late spring through early fall. In summer, tall flower spikes bear lavender blooms. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’ aka ‘Ginba Giboshi’

This hosta has blue foliage from late spring through early fall. In summer, tall flower spikes bear lavender blooms.

Most Read