Catch Up With Author Pam Johnson-Bennett
Learn more about the inspiration behind her book "Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat ? Not a Sour Puss."
What was your inspiration behind the book?
This is a completely updated and expanded version of the original book that was published in 2000. My inspiration is based on the fact that people look at cat behavior from the wrong angle. Too many people label unwanted behavior as bad instead of understanding the reasons behind the things cats do. As a result, too many cats get abandoned, relinquished to shelters or euthanized.
Why is it important to think like a cat?
If you look at things from a cat’s point of view, you get a clear understanding of what drives the cat behavior and what a cat truly needs. We often get cats impulsively and then believe the myths about them (such as the one about cats not being trainable). We don’t take the time to provide what they need and understand that they aren’t babies or dogs. They are unique creatures who have needs of their own, a high level of intelligence and are very trainable.
What was the most rewarding part about writing the book?
Oh, that’s an easy one. Getting the emails, letters and calls from people who were about to give up on their cats and now have the relationships they always wanted.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book?
Convincing people to read the book before they experience a behavior problem with their cats in order to prevent future issues from ever coming up.
In your book, you mention the first cats to share a home with you: Lucy and Ethel. What is a favorite memory you have of them?
They are the reason for my career. I adopted them without knowing anything about cats and royally messed things up. My veterinarian advised me to euthanize them. I refused. I went home and made the decision to learn all I could and fix my mistakes. When I brought the cats in for their next appointment, my veterinarian was so amazed that he asked me to start working with his other clients’ cats. Then word spread and more veterinarians called me. I am forever thankful to all that Lucy and Ethel did as my first teachers. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think of the endless patience they had with such a clumsy, poorly prepared mom.
Tell us about your current pets.
I live with a rescued melanistic Bengal named Pearl. She has blossomed into the most entertaining, loving and imaginative cat I’ve ever had. She reminds me on a daily basis that I don’t know as much as I think I do. I also live with a Sheltie named Griffin who had been in a hoarding situation. I rescued him when I was called to help with a horrible hoarding case over a year ago. He and Pearl have become the best of friends, and I’ve loved watching Pearl help Griffin learn to play and trust again. Once again, the cat becomes the best teacher!
We did have three geriatric cats, 24-year-old Rona, 18-year-old Mary Margaret and 17-year-old Bebe, who all passed away from renal failure within the last 14 months. I was so used to having three separate IV bags hanging from the knobs on my kitchen cabinets for the daily fluid administering they needed. It has been a very sad year for my family, but we are taking comfort in knowing the “old girls” had long, wonderful lives as cherished members of our family.
What is one lesson you’ve learned from a cat?
To be patient. Cats have been incredibly patient with people, despite all the mistakes we make. They are amazing in their ability to continue to trust and love. That’s the kind of patience I want in myself.
What are some memorable experiences that came about during your years as a certified animal behavior consultant?
My life in this profession has been more interesting than I could’ve ever imagined — so much so that I ended up writing two books about my most memorable house calls.
"Psycho Kitty" (Ten Speed Press) and "Hiss and Tell" (Penguin Books) contain recollections of the funniest, most touching and most unique cases I’ve had. Of all of my cases though, I think the one that stands out the most is one I wrote about in Hiss and Tell about a cat who came into an old man’s life and gave HIM the greatest gift of all: love. A scrappy stray cat helped a cranky old man find the tender side of life. I will remember that precious kitty for the rest of my life.
What is the number one cat behavior “problem” that you most often hear about, and what advice can you offer for this?
Litterbox avoidance tops the list. The reasons a cat may avoid the box can be very complex, but I can give your readers a three-step starting point:
1) Always have your cat checked by the veterinarian in order to rule out any underlying medical cause.
2) Look at the litterbox conditions, and re-evaluate whether something needs tweaking in terms of cleanliness, type of box, type of litter, number of boxes, location, etc.
3) Examine the household dynamics and any environmental stress triggers. Is there multicat tension? Is kitty afraid to get to the box? Have there been changes in the home?
If you could tell your readers one thing, what would it be?
Cats don’t repeat behaviors unless they have a pay-off or a purpose. If you want to change a behavior, figure out what the pay-off is and then offer the cat an alternative behavior that’s of equal or increased value. Then, don’t forget to reward kitty when he gets it right! That’s when you’ll know you’re thinking like a cat!
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Catch Up With Author Pam Johnson-Bennett