Feline Interpreter (cont'd)
Cat Behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett shares her toughest cases.
Solving Cat Behavior: A Professional Look Behind-The-Scenes
Johnson-Bennett's practice is in Nashville, Tenn., and along with doing email and phone consultations throughout the United States, she also does in-home visit, some of which have yielded bizarre or challenging experiences.
One client Johnson-Bennett had said her cat acted differently since it returned home after running away. Johnson-Bennett visited the house, studied the cat's markings and then studied pictures of the cat.
"This was not the same cat," Johnson-Bennett says. "It was a different cat."
She also remembers a case when a cat was mimicking the behaviors of its owner. "The cat was depressed, nervous and not eating," she says.
She realized the family member who looked after the cat was exhibiting that same behavior, Johnson-Bennett says. The family later thanked her because they discovered the family member who cared for the cat was in the early stages of an eating disorder, she says.
Johnson-Bennett encounters several cases where speaking to the cat's owner can be a delicate situation. "It is challenging for me to tell people they must change their behavior, not the cat's," she says.
One of Johnson-Bennett's clients has a territorial and aggressive cat, but the owner has a strong bond with the cat, she says. When a pet sitter came to watch the cat while the owner was on vacation, the pet sitter was more assertive with the cat and in return, the cat attacked the sitter, she says.
"As a result, when the owner came home, she was attacked [by the cat]," Johnson-Bennett says. Now the owner is afraid of the cat, but the cat is needy and used to getting all the attention. Johnson-Bennett is working to help the owner build trust with the cat and teaching her not to be so tense because the cat can sense that, she says.
Johnson-Bennett does struggle with one aspect of her job: facing the pressure to fix a cat's behavior before it is too late.
"I'm usually the last call before euthanasia," she says. "But behavior takes time to change, and I am working under tremendous stress to solve the problem because I am given such a little window to do so [before the owners decided to euthanize the cat]."
Sharing Her Skills
Johnson-Bennett has authored several books about understanding feline behavior and keeping peace in multi-cat households. Her first book, "Cat Love," was published in 1990 and she is now working on her seventh book, which was untitled at press time.
"I continue to write because I gain more knowledge [about cats]," she says. "I write my books in a way so they become the next best thing to a house call."
In addition to using her books to coach cat owners on cat behavioral problems, Johnson-Bennett also offers advice on how owners can provide an exciting environment for their cats. More interaction between cats and owners, such as using a fishing tool to play with your cat, will keep your cat active, Johnson-Bennett says. Setting up little activities for the cat or providing perches and hiding places for cats will keep them entertained while you are away.
Every morning Johnson-Bennett takes five minutes to setup activities for her two cats, Bebe and Mary Margaret. "That's why my cats are still healthy and play like kittens," she says.
Johnson-Bennett says she is passionate about her career and will do it forever. "It is so rewarding when I get calls or emails from people," she says. "It makes me cry when people say they would have put animals to sleep but now didn't because I helped them."
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Timory Wilson is the editorial intern for CAT FANCY magazine.
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Feline Interpreter (cont'd)