Interview with Kate Benjamin

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Interview with Kate Benjamin by Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist Anita Kelsey

I am a huge fan of US cat behaviourist Jackson Galaxy, so it came as no surprise to me that I have become a huge fan of Kate Benjamin, an invaluable new addition to the hit TV show ‘My Cat From Hell’.

Kate has transformed the lives of thousands of indoor cats with her innovative cat furniture, which she either makes or sources and has given new hope and encouragement to thousands of cat owners. For cat behaviourists such as myself, Kate Benjamin has been a godsend.

I was lucky enough to have an interview with Kate Benjamin over the net, to chew the ‘catnip’ on our fav subject – cats, cats and more cats…

Hi Kate, thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few questions for my blog. I’m a great admirer of your work with Jackson Galaxy on the TV show My Cat From Hell. How did you guys initially meet?

“Jackson had been following my blog even before the show started. When I saw the first episode, I knew we needed to be friends; we were definitely speaking the same language. A mutual friend connected us and we immediately started brainstorming ideas for collaborations”

Wow, that’s cool. So where did the term ‘Catification’ come from and will there be a book coming our way soon on the subject?

“Catification is Jackson’s term for environmental enhancement for living with cats. It encompasses everything that cat guardians do to accommodate the needs of our indoor cats – building climbing structures, providing scratching surfaces, adding beds, drinking fountains, feeding areas, litter boxes, and other resources that cats need to live comfortably. An essential part of Catification is understanding your own cat, because every cat is different. All cats have basic instincts and needs, but because each cat has a different story and life experience, cat guardians need to cater to their own individual cats”

“Jackson and I call ourselves the Catification Team, we bring together his cat behaviour expertise with my design background to create environments that work for both the cats and the humans. We’re here to tell you that your house doesn’t have to look like a crazy cat lady lives there, just because you have cats! Catification can be done with style and anyone can do it. That’s exactly what our new book will be about. The book, titled “Catification”, will be published by Tarcher (an imprint of Penguin Random House) in Fall 2014 and it will be filled with ideas and inspiration for Catifying your own home”

My philosophy exactly. You guys have found a perfect marriage of ideas and are quite an inspiration. I am so excited about the book and will be the first in line to buy it!

I found myself on the path to working with cats quite late in my life and often wonder about the backgrounds of fellow cat lovers who have made a career out of their love and passion for cats? Have you always been involved with working with cats?

“No, actually. I have certainly always loved cats since I was a little girl, but I didn’t have my own cat as an adult until I was in my 30s. Once I finally settled down, I got my first cat and started looking for the things I needed in my home for her. A lot of the things were pretty ugly, and since I was working at a modern children’s product design company at the time, I was a bit sensitive to the lack of stylish products for cats. I started to round up my feline design finds and created a blog, which lots of people started following and eventually it grew into the business that I run today. That’s how I turned my passion for cats into my career”

Cool. It’s great when things can grow organically and become successful. What do you feel is the biggest misconception that people have about keeping cats?

“I think that a lot of people feel that cats don’t need anything, that they are completely independent and reclusive. That is not the case at all! For cats to live fulfilling, rich lives, they need the proper environment to thrive. That really is at the heart of Catification, giving your cats what they need to be happy. Also, love and affection, play and stimulation, proper nutrition and quality vet care are so important to keeping your cats happy and healthy. It makes me so sad when people adopt a cat and then never do anything for the cat because they think the cat is fine on its own”

I understand where your coming from. It breaks my heart too when I see a cat left in an empty home with no toys to play with or any climbers. Have you picked up lots of tips from working with Jackson and has it ever made you wonder about doing cat behaviour work yourself?

“Working with Jackson has been an incredible experience. He is so good at what he does, I am constantly learning from him. I don’t, however, plan on becoming an official cat behaviourist myself. What I do complements the work of a cat behaviourist. I will continue to focus on the environmental design aspects of Catification, helping people find products and create interior designs that fulfil what a cat behaviourist like Jackson might recommend”

You definitely are a huge asset to any cat behaviourist, including myself. You hit on such a great idea. So can you talk through some of your most recommended products and your opinion about the reason for their success?

“Cat trees are such an important part of Catification, but many people picture beige carpet-covered monstrosities the minute they hear the words. There are several companies that make beautifully designed, sturdy cat trees that anyone would be proud to have in their home. The one I have in my living room is one of my favourites – the Acacia Cat Tree in bamboo plywood from Square Cat Habitat. I love everything about this cat tree, from the look and style, to the size and the way it works for the cats. It’s quite easy to clean and has proven to be incredibly durable. It’s a bit of an investment, but it really is more like a piece of high quality furniture, not a disposable item”

“Another important thing to provide for your cat is a bed or hideaway. Some of my favorites are the Pod Bed from Hepper and The Cat Ball. Both come in modern colours and the cats absolutely love them”

“Scratching surfaces are a must-have for all cats. You’ll need to determine what kind of surface your cat likes to scratch on. Does she prefer cardboard, sisal, carpet, wood? One of my most recommended space-saving cat products is a wall-mounted cat scratcher. You can place them at any height to give your cat a good stretch, and they don’t take up floor-space. My favourite design, the Wallflower Scratcher from Marmalade Pet, is no longer available, so I designed something similar, a modern wall-mounted cardboard scratcher (http://shop.hauspanther.com/collections/scratchers/products/modern-wall-hanging-cardboard-cat-scratcher-brushed-steel), which is available in my online shop”

Oh dear.. I have several beige-coloured huge monstrosities LOL. I shall get fresh ideas when your book arrives! I’m interested to know how has your life changed since you were featured more on ‘My Cat From Hell’?

“My business partnership with Jackson and the appearances I’ve made on My Cat From Hell have certainly brought more followers to my website and business. It’s great to be able to share what I do with a bigger audience and being on the show has certainly allowed me to do that”

I’m really pleased for you. You deserve it. What has been your most difficult job in terms of catifying a home?

“The biggest challenges are usually the people. A lot of people are scared to Catify because they are afraid that their house will start to look like the cats have taken over. My job is to find that balance between giving the cats what they need and making the people happy. There are plenty of ways to integrate cat features into an environment in a seamless way, so visitors wouldn’t event know it’s for a cat until they see one walking overhead or scratching on something that looks like a piece of modern sculpture”

Yes. I think you have definitely hit the nail on the head in terms of people adjusting to sharing a home with a cat rather than it’s the human home that the cat must adjust itself too. I am sure many people who work with animals wish to ask for your advice. Are you ever asked by animal shelters to catify the cat enclosures?

“Yes, shelter Catification is something that Jackson and I are really interested in and we hope to do more of it in the future. We believe that well-designed environments at cat shelters can significantly improve the experience of the shelter cats, and as a result improve adoption rates. Shelter environments can also serve as showcases for what’s possible with Catification. Visitors to a shelter can see examples of different Catification features that they might try at home, after they adopt a cat (or two!)”

I like the way you sneaked in ‘or two’ LOL. Shelter catification is a brilliant idea. Sadly it’s time to let you get on with saving the universe for cats, but in the meantime it would be remiss of me not to ask you about your own cats. I believe you have quite a few. Would you like to introduce them to us with a little photo of them all?

“I have 11 cats at home and one who lives at my design studio.

  1. Simba is about 14 and she was the first can I adopted
  2. Mackenzie is a Maine Coon mix. I adopted him to keep Simba company, but she never really liked him.
  3. Ando came from a co-worker who was caring for him after he was born in a ditch outside her home. He is very charming and he’s always in charge.
  4. Dazzler and Flora, my two torties, both came fromThe Great Kitty Rescue, ( a big cat rescue throughBest Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah
  5. McKinley and Sherman were both living in the feral colony outside my studio until I realised that they were so sweet that they needed to come home with me.
  6. <pAndy, Little Bear, and Sylvia were all rescued off the street. There are all foster failures.
  7. Ratso Katso came from a local shelter where I was volunteering. She was also supposed to be a foster (I’m no good at that!)
  8. Claude is my studio cat. He was living in the feral colony outside until I noticed that he had lost his sight, so I took him in and he’s as happy as can be”

Amazing. Thank you so much for your time Kate. Wishing you every continued success with your business and your book written with my number one idol Jackson Galaxy.

“My pleasure and thank you!”

So there you have it. An Interview with Kate Benjamin

The catification book, written with Jackson Galaxy, will be ready to buy soon, and Kate Benjamin’s web sites, featuring gloriously stylish cat furniture as well as lots of catty ideas are:

hauspanther.com  |  cattoodesign.com   catioshowcase.com  | catstrapeze.us 

A great article about Kate Benjamin featured recently inThe New York Times if you wish to read. After all, we can’t get enough of our Kate!

You have no excuse now folks.

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