News Item | PAWS Chicago

Jackson Galaxy's Guide to CATIFICATION

by Danielle Gordon | Jul 13, 2015

Why can’t cats just happily sit on a couch with the rest of us and feel comfortable? Why do we need to adapt our environment for them?

It’s all about understanding how a cat sees the world, according to feline behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, host of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell. In the book Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!), Galaxy and coauthor Kate Benjamin explain: “In nature, cats are nowhere near the top of the food chain. Your little lion is trying to avoid being attacked while at the same time seeking out the perfect spot from which to nab her prey.”

A cat should walk into a room and be confident and comfortable in owning his environment, Galaxy says. And you can accommodate a cat’s need to run, climb, perch and relax using design elements that make both you and your cat happy.

There are various locations where particular cats may feel more confident and comfortable. A “Bush Dweller” keeps it on the down low. They are not hiding, but they prefer being somewhat out of view. The “Beach Dweller” is comfortable in more open spots. And then there’s the “Tree Dweller,” hanging out somewhere in the vertical space of a room like a leopard in a tree.

Galaxy cautions that “unconfident” cats may end up in similar spots, like under a couch, but for very different reasons. They are “trying to disappear or get away.” Unconfident cats tend to be more stressed and may have behavioral problems.

So how do you help a cat move from hiding out of fear to becoming a confident bush, beach or tree dweller? Through “Catification,” according to Galaxy.

You need to create an environment where your cat feels both comfortable and self-assured. Catification can reduce stress for all humans and animals involved: “You allow the territory to become his ally. You add features that allow your cat to move around with confidence first in his ‘comfort zones,’ and then, over time, encourage him to come out and join the rest of the world.”

Highway to harmony

Planning out a “cat superhighway” is the main feature of a Catification plan, according to Galaxy: “A cat superhighway is a path that allows cats to navigate a room without touching the ground. This is the key to creating good traffic flow and providing your cat with access to the vertical world.”

But before you jump into building your superhighway, Galaxy and Benjamin suggest you first identify the “traffic flows” within your current space, taking special note of “hot spots,” where conflicts or other behavioral problems may occur. Some specific red flags to keep in mind are ambush zones and dead ends, where cats can feel particularly threatened.

Like any superhighway, the main goals are to maximize efficiency and minimize the possibility for collision: “Cats shouldn’t have to compete for space on a one-lane dirt road.” Galaxy said. “Although human drivers might have roadside etiquette, cats rarely do.”

Features of a well-planned superhighway include ample lanes to accommodate the traffic of multiple cats; on/off ramps to allow for access and provide escape routes; and destinations or rest stops to give cats good reason to use the highway.

But what if you build a superhighway, and it doesn’t solve the issues you were trying to address? Especially when working in new spaces or with new cats, it’s tough to know who may be more of a tree dweller than a cave dweller.

Galaxy recommends keeping your design open and flexible while you figure out the individual and communal needs of your cats. “It goes to show you that Catification is a journey not a destination; the space as well as the process need to be given the room to breathe as the inhabitants cross their challenge lines and become more and more confident.”

Practical Catification

Galaxy catifies his 500-square-foot home

Before you conclude that Catification sounds great, but is only for big homes with big budgets, hold on and see how Galaxy and Benjamin were able to catify Galaxy’s tiny, 500-square-foot guest house in Los Angeles, where he lived with his three cats, Velouria, Chuppy, and Caroline, and his dog, Rudy.

“I walked into this space and immediately panicked,” Galaxy said. “My cats have extremely big personal space bubbles and needed enough room to get away from each other.” Galaxy and Benjamin first had to identify the “traffic flows” within this small space, taking special note of “hot spots” where conflicts may occur. Once Galaxy and Benjamin had identified the areas of concern, it was time to start mapping out an orderly traffic flow that would work for the felines and their canine and human companions.

Galaxy and Benjamin developed multiple lanes to optimize traffic flow. They integrated the floor, sofa and ottoman, and two levels of shelves into their design, pointing out that since your cats are probably going to use your furniture as a traffic lane, why not plan for it?

“All these lanes incorporate both animal use and human use; for instance, the desk is for Galaxy to work at, but it’s also incorporated into the superhighway. The credenza holds the TV as well as the cats’ elevated feeding area. The sofa and furniture are part of the superhighway, too.” Benjamin said.

Split-level dining

If you live with both cats and dogs, as Galaxy does, it may be necessary to separate them at meal times. Galaxy and Benjamin built feeding areas into their highway plan. They used the top of the bookshelf in the living room as the cats’ feeding area, and added a set of pet stairs to help the older cats reach the space. An eating area for the dog was added to the lower level.

Taking a break

Galaxy and Benjamin strategically placed scratching surfaces, cat beds and toys along the superhighway, providing spots where a cat could stop for a scratch, a nap or just some alone time.

Adapted from CATIFICATION: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!) by Jackson Galaxy and Kate Benjamin with the permission of Tarcher, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright 2014 Jackson Galaxy and Kate Benjamin.

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