Katzenworld Interview with Cat Behaviourist Anita Kelsey
Why did you want to be a cat behaviourist?
It’s something I fell into really. I was already working with cats on a daily basis and became more and more interested in their behaviour. That interest became a passion of mine, especially seeing results from the free advice I started to give existing clients. That’s when I decided to study academically, so that I could open my own feline behaviour practice. Only with a university degree could I work alongside vets and be taken seriously.
Have you always worked with cats?
No. I used to work in the music industry. Music and cats were always my biggest passions.
What personal qualities do you need to have to be a cat behaviourist?
A love of cats goes without saying. You need empathy, a solid in-depth understanding of a cat’s natural behaviours, patience and also be a good communicator with the human species. Having empathy and compassion with people is absolutely key in running a successful behaviour practice, because it is the cat’s owners that have to administer the majority of changes. Another helpful quality is to be open-minded. Nothing is ever black and white and there is always more to learn. It’s a never-ending process.
You also groom cats? How did you get into that?
I went and studied in a working cat grooming parlour which doubles as a school. I was fed up of seeing certain breeds of cats in a state. I decided to learn how to groom professionally so I could educate the owners and help the cats.
What’s the hardest part about grooming cats?
Cat owners ignoring my advice is pretty difficult to take. They see me shave the pelts off of their cat and think it’s an easy option. Some owners wait until the cat is matted again before calling me. It’s hard to keep seeing the same cats in a state. The other difficulty is working with cats that are too frightened or react too aggressively during the grooming process, mainly out of fear. Many have experienced a bad groom in the past from which they will never recover from psychologically. These cases are very difficult and are on the rise.
Who is your favourite cat behaviourist, and why?
I’m in awe of Jackson Galaxy. To me he is the best feline behaviourist on the planet. He has a gentle spirit and the soul of a cat, a real genuine lovely human being. He is my biggest inspiration. I was given the chance to interview him a few years back. Chatting with him was definitely a highlight in my life. A moment to cherish.
What books/magazines/newspapers do you read?
I love reading anything factual. History fascinates me and I love reading about the science behind things. National Geographic magazine is a favourite of mine. It goes without saying I love books about animals and especially anything factual written about the feline species, domestic and wild. I never stop researching cat behaviour. I’m always reading people’s academic papers in veterinary journals and about various research projects connected to cats.
What are the most important things you have learnt from working with cats?
To see them as animals first and pets second, if that makes sense. To gain understanding of the world as they see it rather than as we (humans) see it. And, they are always right of course
What’s the hardest thing for you about being a cat behaviourist?
And how do you address that?
It’s sometimes difficult to work with certain cats that display acute aggression to their owners with no warning signs about when the aggression is coming. It’s hard to keep the owner safe in certain situations, because there is always a worry that they may get hurt, but loving their cat so want to try everything to remain living with them. This always concerns me very much. How do I address that? I arm them with as much information as possible and make sure they are aware that, in some instances, they need to remove themselves as soon as possible from the cat until it calms down. It’s up to me to give each cat owner the very best information to keep them safe. It’s a huge responsibility as a behaviourist to ensure we get the diagnosis right first time around.
Why do you love cats so much?
I’ve always loved them from when I was a child. I love the look of them. Every cat to me is a picture of beauty. I relate to them like no other animal. They have a way with them, a deep wisdom, and a spirit that brings us all alive. They do not suffer fools gladly either. They all have quirks, which I am drawn to.
Do you have cats yourself?
I have two Norwegian Forest sisters – Kiki and Zaza. Two very high maintenance princesses! Before that I had a rescue moggy called Figgy.
What did you do before working with cats? What prompted you to change and why?
I wrote songs and sang them for DJs in the Electronic Music Arena. I was a professional songwriter for 25 years. I guess two things made me re-think my path in life. One was the way the Internet changed the music business. Illegal downloading of music cut my income as a songwriter by about 70%. The other was a personal tragedy when my best friend killed himself. The circumstances sent me into a major depression. I didn’t write or sing for two years after that. A change was needed and a new career with cats helped me out of my depression.
Are you involved with any animal rescue centres?
My local rescue centre, The Mayhew Animal Home. I think they are all amazing there. Working tirelessly to give animals a better future. They have a no kill policy. Many cats that cannot be re-housed live there permanently. Whenever I can I sit with the cats in their shelter and I used to help with their cat re-homing by visiting potential adopters, but I’ve become a tad busy now for that. I just try to raise money for them when I can by making videos of some of their worst rescue cases. I have one on You Tube now about a German Shepherd called Prince. The video has raised over £1500 so far.
What are your hobbies?
I love hiking in the countryside or climbing mountains in the Lake District. I also love kayaking and anything to do with nature and the great outdoors.
Are there any cat related issues you feel passionately about?
I guess the two biggest ones are
Declawing. It should be banned worldwide.
Trophy hunting the big cats. Disgusting sport/hobby. The industry should be shut down. I don’t understand the mind set of humans who do either of the above.
Where have you travelled?
I’ve been many places especially whilst doing music. Indian, Australia, Africa, Japan, Iceland, America. I’ve been really fortunate but there’s still a whole list of places on the bucket list!
I believe you write for Your Cat magazine. How did that come about?
I was contacted by one of the feature writers for Your Cat to comment extensively on an article they were writing about indoor cats. My comments were so in-depth that I had actually written the entire article so they credited the full piece to me and have been using me ever since. Last year they invited me to be on their expert’s panel giving advice on cat grooming from readers letters. I jumped at the chance.
What cat behaviour issues do you most commonly have to deal with?
I guess the three most common issues are multi cat issues, cat aggression and elimination outside of the litter box.
Have you always had an affinity with animals?
Absolutely. I’m crazy about all animals. I have anything by Animal Planet or Richard Attenborough on cycle. They fascinate me and my biggest hate in life is animal cruelty. My husband is sick of watching animal documentaries.
How do you keep a healthy work/life balance?
Well, I used to work evenings and weekends but I now save my weekends for me time and rarely work evenings, unless a client specifically asks for an appointment. Life is not meant to be all work. The mind and spirit need time to relax, re-energise and have fun.
What are your greatest stresses and what causes you the most anxiety in your role as a behaviourist or groomer?
I haven’t really had great stresses as a behaviour consultant but as a cat groomer I feel the most anxiety when I have to shave the pelt from an elderly cat. Some elderly cats I have been presented with have been pelted from head to toe and to shave such a fragile cat, with skin like tissue paper, without nipping them or causes them stress, is extremely stressful. I am not sure clients realise the immense pressure a groomer is under to remove extreme matting from a cat that cannot be sedated due to its age.
What comes easiest to you as a cat behaviourist?
Relating to cat owners. I’m one myself. I know how much they love their cats and how they see their cats. We are all under our cats’ spell one way or another. I can empathise with them and at the same time step back and advise them in a professional capacity.
Favourite weekend activity? What do you do to relax?
Walking and connecting with nature. I love the countryside and the peace and tranquillity it brings me.
What’s your favourite funny story about yourself?
My family always tell the story about the time we were all on holiday in Greece about 10 years ago. I made everyone drive three hours in the searing heat to a place that was said to have a lovely forest walk leading to a cliff-top river. There was supposed to be an old deserted ship on the top. We walked into this desolate barren forest area for hours, everyone getting eaten alive by flies, looking for the magical river and the ship. Only when my niece snatched the guidebook from me was I told we were in the wrong country!!! The place names were the same but different countries LOL…Don’t ask. I have never lived it down. My family were ready to kill me on the spot!!
Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know.
When out in cafes and restaurants, I hate sitting where people can walk behind my back. I need to always sit with my back to the wall so I can see exactly what’s going on in front
List three misconceptions that people often have about you (and, if known, why).
Mmm. Not sure what misconceptions people may have about me. You would have to ask people and then get back to me.
What helps you cope with seeing some tragic cat circumstances?
I don’t think I do cope so well. When I watched the documentary on declawing I was in pieces within minutes of the beginning. I saw an old clip on lions being abused and cruelly treated to perform in a circus and the lions looked broken. My heart hurt so much I had to look away. I was upset for days. Even now, when I think about that clip I feel pain. I guess, at the end of the day, I try to balance all the evil and cruel practices in this world with the good ones. People that make a difference, even to the life of just one animal. Those are the memories and moments I try to fill my heart with.