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My Pet World / Pets

My Pet World: 'Queen of Cats' Earned Title the Hard Way

"Today we understand so much more about cat behavior," says certified cat behavior consultant Pam Johnson-Bennett, "but still, cat behaviors are labeled. The cat piddles in front of you, and so many owners still say, 'the cat is stupid,' or 'the cat did this to be spiteful.' Animals don't display behaviors because they want us to get upset, or to ruin our days; they do it because it works. Instead of looking at it from a human perspective, we have to learn how to think like a cat."

As an example of what she's talking about, let's say a cat is scratching on the sofa.

"That means you don't have an acceptable scratching post, or it's in the wrong location," says Johnson-Bennett.

Another example is misinterpreting what cats may be trying to tell us.

"The dog sits beside us on the couch, staring at us adoringly, idolizing us," Johnson-Bennett says. "Cats may sit near us - even in our laps - but then turn their backs to us. We say, 'That's insulting.' From a cat's perspective, it's a compliment. But when we don't understand a behavior, we're quick to make a judgment."

Johnson-Bennett is sometimes referred to as the Queen of Cats, not just by the general public and the media, but also by her colleagues. Today, she's star of the "Psycho Kitty," a TV show on Discovery in the UK. Cat lovers in the U.S. hope she'll be imported back to the States.

Her career was launched when Johnson-Bennett, the best-selling cat book author ever, asked her veterinarian about the two most misbehaved cats she'd ever seen: her own pets.

"The veterinarian was frustrated and didn't know what to do," she recalls. "So he told me to put the cats to sleep. It's awful, but that advice was common 30 years ago. Today, the hope is that a veterinarian might help, and if not, would refer you to someone who can."

Johnson-Bennett didn't accept her vet's advice. She went home, looked at herself in the mirror and confessed, "If these cats are bad, I'm responsible. After all, I've had them since they were 6 weeks old." So began her quest to do something about it, learning about cat behavior from any resource she could find.

In the early 1980s, there were no veterinary behaviorists, no books on cat behavior - just occasional columns in magazines. Johnson-Bennett even checked out books on child psychology, figuring cats were like kids. Now that she's a mother herself, she's not so sure about that.

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