Seven years ago today was the beginning of an amazing adventure. If you lived in Portland Oregon, or anywhere else that got news on the internet, you may remember Lux the 911 cat who made the headlines when he scared his family so much, they locked themselves in a room and called 911, fearful for their lives. I was Lux’s foster mom, and though years of past, there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think about that boy.
At the time, I wrote a blog saga, chronicling Lux’s journey and my experience with him. In celebration of seven years, ups and downs, many helping hands, and finally a forever home, I’m reposting the series in its entirety here. To see the photos and the original posts, click the links.
March 2014: When I was a child, I thought I could run with the tigers. I had no fear; I knew they would not harm me. Then I grew up. My conviction faltered, and like the fairies in Peter Pan, without belief, faded into the dullness of adulthood. Still, when I saw the big, dangerous cats in all their feline glory, I couldn’t help wanting to touch them, pet them, feel their fur like cloud made manifest under my touch. I wanted to hug them, hold them, bury my face in their solace of stripes.
I felt the same thing the first time I saw Lux. The photo of him in the MCAS cattery girl’s arms – I wanted to be that girl, to hold that big kitty in my own arms. The fact he was considered dangerous just made me want to hold him more. After all, he didn’t look dangerous; he looked like a poor sad kitty who needed my love.
When the Oregon Humane Society asked me if I could foster a special case, a thrill of excitement rushed through me. Not that I knew he would be the 911 cat who was in the care of cat behaviorist, Jackson Galaxy. But I knew it would be something momentous. In the 8 years I have been fostering cats for OHS, they have come up with some pretty interesting cases. Felix, the kitten with the atrophied leg who learned to reuse it through exercise and play; Polly, the feisty overweight Torti who swatted my hand whenever I came near; Emilio with the broken leg that just wouldn’t heal; Wiggie, Lola and Fraulein Fluffs, 3 dying cats I took in to hospice so they didn’t have to spend their last days in a shelter. I’ve seen a lot of cats and thought myself knowledgeable, but nothing I had done prepared me for Lux.
He was, and is, a one of a kind.
The call to find someone to foster Lux was fraught with enigma. They never named him directly because of all the media hype that accompanied him, and I had no idea at the time what the real deal was; only that I’d never been contacted in that way before to foster and/ or adopt a cat. Here is the email I received from the volunteer coordinator at Oregon Humane:
“Hi Mollie, We have a special situation of a Tuxedo long hair cat that needs a placement. Are you interested? I can refer you to our media Director for more details. You came to mind since I know you had a recent loss. (It may be too soon to think this way). I apologize if this is poor timing. I just thought you’d be the ideal home. K.”
I had just lost my great and wonderful Dirty Harry a few weeks earlier. His death, though anything but sudden, took a great toll on me. He had been with me for 12 years; I had watched the super-smart black & white go from youth to mid-age to old to dying. I remember when he started feeling his years he would lie in his donut bed and stare at me, his eyes saying, “What’s happening to me? Why do I feel this way?” He was a stubborn thing and didn’t want to let go. I didn’t want to let go either. But death comes to us all. Still, the passing of this gorgeous, funky, obstinate, playful, curious, dirty, hairy boy hurt like nothing I’ve endured before.
K. was right, it was probably too soon to think about taking on another cat, yet something about her query intrigued me. I replied:
“Thanks for thinking of me. I would be interested to know more, though I can’t make any promises at this time. (I have 3 other cats besides the one who died) I take it this isn’t a foster situation; that you are looking for an adopter?”
I had also discovered a more generic request on the private OHS Foster Facebook page:
“Hi Guys, I have a special request. We are looking to privately place into a home a male, four year old cat. This cat has long hair and tuxedo markings. He needs to find a new quiet home, preferably the only pet, but may do well with older, low energy pets. No kids under 10. Do you know of the perfect home? After a lot of transition, he just needs a calm place to call home! Please email if you know of a great foster to adopt situation and thanks.”
This request was somewhat different that K.’s direct contact with me. Curiouser and curiouser. I hadn’t heard back from her, so I emailed her again:
“I saw the note on the facebook foster page. I assume it’s about this same cat, and I am in a good position to foster. I was out of town for a couple of days so Snowball, the foster I had, went to someone else. I’m home now… But again, not sure about what is meant by “foster to adopt…” Anyway if you need a foster, I can pick kitty up tomorrow after work. Uh, Media director…?”
I was beginning to wonder…
Maybe it was the passing of Harry that spurred me on to take the leap of faith with Lux; maybe it was arrogance; maybe it was a deep-seated desire for my fifteen minutes of fame; maybe I just wanted to help a cat in need.
On March 9, 2014, Lux shot to Internet stardom when he supposedly trapped his owners in their bedroom and they called 911. The attack cat story gained national attention when headlines like ABC’s 911 Call Reveals Family Held Hostage by Fat Cat and KGW’s House cat goes berserk, scares Portland family hit papers, television and social media. Basically the story went like this:
PORTLAND – A 22-pound house cat scared a Portland family into calling 911 for help Sunday. The family called 911 at 7:55 p.m., telling dispatchers the huge cat named Lux attacked their baby and then forced them to flee into a bedroom, where they remained holed up inside. The baby was not injured but the 911 operator could hear Lux screeching in the background.
“I kicked him in the rear and he just went off, over the edge,” the caller told the 911 dispatcher. “We are not safe around the cat. We’re trapped in the bedroom. He won’t let us out of the door.”
When officers arrived, the man, who sounded slightly shaken, told the dispatcher he was reluctant to let the police in because, “If I leave the bedroom, I’m going to have to fight the cat. Tell them to be careful, the police.”
The dispatcher stayed on the phone with the caller to make sure everyone, including the family dog, was safe. Police managed to apprehend the suspect with cleverness, instead of sheer force.
“They saw the black-and-white Himalayan dart into the kitchen, attempting to flee custody,” said Sgt. Pete Simpson with the Portland Police Bureau. “Officers were able to outwit the high-strung Himalayan, who climbed on to the top of the refrigerator, and get a snare around the cat and safely get the cat behind bars in its crate.”
Simpson told KGW that “it could have been catastrophic had it been attacking the officers.” The mother said with a new baby in their lives, perhaps it’s time to find another home for the cat.
“Maybe it’s something that can be worked out through mediation between the family and cat,” Simpson said.
Lux was the lead story on Inside Edition and a big headline on Huffington Post. He was also a hot topic of discussion for Whoopi Goldberg on The View. Chris Hardwick opened his Comedy Central show @Midnight by asking his guests to translate Lux’s screeching in the 911 call.
AND THEN: March 17 – LUX SENT TO SHELTER. Lux, the angry cat that that trapped a family of three in a bedroom, has been sent to a shelter. The owners of the now-infamous black-and-white house cat contacted Multnomah County Animal Services and asked them to come get the cat, said the director of the shelter in Troutdale.
BUT SOON AFTER: Animal Planet’s cat whisperer, Jackson Galaxy, offered to work with Lux and his family for an upcoming episode, My Cat from Hell.
AND THE CAT CAME BACK: March 20 – The owners of a cat that went on a rampage after being kicked by the owner’s boyfriend for scratching the baby told the Multnomah County Animal Shelter that they decided they wanted him back.
Note: Lux weighs only 12 pounds and is a Domestic Long Hair, not a Himalayan. But who’s counting?
I’m not the sort of person you see on TV, or if you did, I would probably be playing a homeless lady or someone with an illness. Not that I’m gross or anything; but face it, the people we see on television are not real. Especially the women. They are thin to the point of emaciation, made up by professionals with products that cost more than the mortgage on a house, dressed in designer clothing that has been fitted to them, then filmed by technological magicians who never get their bad side.
Still, I admit, I had longed to be out there, maybe just to prove I could do it. I have in fact been on television before, doing background for Boston Legal, Leverage and Portlandia. It was awesome fun, but the part I really liked was being behind the scenes on the set. The tenth of a second that I actually appeared after the final cuts was merely secondary.
I had decided to answer the call for foster, and rang up OHS’s media director as instructed. By her second or third “I can’t tell you unless you sign a confidentiality agreement,” I had guessed what it was about. After all, how many famous cats do we have in Portland?
I signed the agreement.
I was elated! As a volunteer, one doesn’t always get the recognition one thinks one deserves. After all, that’s what volunteering is all about, a selfless act, helping others. I worked hard at my volunteering and loved the idea that it had finally paid off. The old adage, “Pride cometh before a fall”, never entered my mind. I was too blinded by thought of bright lights and craft trucks, of working with famous cat behaviorist, Jackson Galaxy.
And more than anything, I wanted to meet Lux.
When the story of Lux broke, I don’t remember meeting one person who didn’t have an opinion. Some were right there with the dad, righteous to do anything that would save their child from pain. The animal advocates questioned why anyone would leave a baby alone with a cat in the first place.
The cat’s tail was pulled; the cat was kicked. Speculation about the type of person who would call 911 on their cat ran rampant. No one really believed the cat could have been as vicious as they made out. Most people blamed the guardians, assuming they just didn’t know about cats. I was right there with them, thinking that would never have happened had Lux been mine.
Now it looked like I was about to put my hubris to the test. The plan was for my husband and me to foster the big cat in our home for one week, follow Jackson Galaxy’s plan, and see what happened, see if living with quiet, cat-savvy people in a safe environment would make a difference. It was all very hush hush, but I gathered Jackson had been working with Lux and his family in their home. Apparently the problem hadn’t been solved.
My first meeting with both Jackson Galaxy and Lux was to be filmed. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I don’t look like TV people and I was nervous, but I was excited as well. Underneath everything—the show, the TV crew, the big-name personality, the 15 minutes of fame—ran one constant: This was about Lux. Given other circumstances, Lux might have been euthanized for his outburst. Jackson was offering Lux a chance for a normal life, and through Lux, through My Cat From Hell, advocating for other “crazy” cats as well.
We met for the shoot at the Oregon Humane Society after it was closed. I knew some of the people, staff from the shelter, and that made me feel a little more at ease. A little…
My memory of those hours is bathed in flood lights and laughter. Jackson Galaxy entered with the aura of a rockstar buddha, emanating love for everything feline and for Lux in particular. He joked with the crew and welcomed my husband and me into the group. We chatted before cameras rolled, letting Lux settle from his ride. Jackson asked how many cats I’d fostered, and I said it’s around 45. I felt a little uncomfortable because there are foster parents who had done so much more. Still, I’d been chosen to represent them all, and I did the best I could.
The producer, an enthusiastic young woman in levis and a gauzy scarf, read us through the script, which was not so much lines as an plan of how the scene would go. I nodded and smiled, as I would continue to do long into the night. My husband, Jim, backed me up like a trouper. Lux hunkered in his carrier. They had got the jumbo size so he wouldn’t feel confined. It could have fit a greyhound, but all I saw on my first glance was a kitty bump under a soft blue blanket.
It began just as you see it on the show, “911 My Cat’s Holding Me Hostage,” which would air so many months and plot-twists later: Jackson comes in the foster office with Luxie in the carrier; he greets us, then gets down to business- literally, as all but the sound man got down on the floor to say hello to the star performer. We ended up removing the top of the carrier since Lux was determined to stay put. Once the lid was off, he poked his head up, lovely cat. His ears were perky, his eyes wide but not dilated, no fear. He looked at each of us and gave Jackson a love blink. Jackson blinked back, a quiet moment between them.
Carefully we petted Lux’s luxurious fur. He was soft as a Siamese. He didn’t respond to the petting but he didn’t cringe from it either. It was as if he were in a world of his own. I would soon learn more about that world, and the monsters that lurked therein.
A nose, a whisker, a big round eyeball was my first glimpse of the Cat from Hell. I peered inside the huge carrier, past the blue baby blanket under which he was hiding and called his name. A little part of me feared he would charge, claws bared, fangs dripping blood, but the frightened figure just hunched farther into his concealment.
Lux is a cat. A housecat. Felis catus.
Not wild; not even feral.
We arrived home from OHS at about 9:45pm. Lux traveled well, very quiet. We installed him in his room to let him rest and get used to being safe in a new place. He seemed, if anything, melancholy, and we hoped a quiet night will restore his spirits. I began writing the journal I would keep throughout his stay:
Note: Lux is cautious. He moves slowly and low to the ground. Eyes are big. He likes being under the blanket.
The first night I took Lux into my home, after getting him settled in his kennel where he could safely adjust to his new digs, I wrote in my journal, “Lux – Ghost cat into my heart.” I’m not sure, even now, what caused me to think of him that way. The lost, almost haunted look in his eyes? The poignant way his cat mind touched mine? But there was something spirit-like in him, a strong, smart spirit who was trying to make its way to freedom.
That face, the black side and the white side, like Bele from the original Star Trek’s “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (with a few extra spots thrown in.) I still see it as clearly as if he were on the table before me, trying to walk on my keys and brush his fur across my monitor touch-screen, driving the image all sorts of crazy. His chin, fur as soft and fine as a kitten’s, and his mouth a smile of pink. But he didn’t smile, at least not at first. The slow cat-blink that cat aficionados know to mean love went nowhere with Lux. He just stared back, looking haunted as ever. I have another cat, Big Red, who was severely traumatized before he came to me. Only now, after four years of total safety under my roof, has he begun to blink back. Does Lux have some form of PTSD? Is that part of his problem? Maybe they will find a kitty psychic to ask him, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
When I first met Lux, I had little doubt that whatever his problem, I could help. I am an experienced foster mom; have had all sorts of special cat training; have Level 3 cattery clearance at OHS, which means I’m qualified to handle the “difficult” cats. I felt confident in my ability to unlock Lux’s secrets and help him on his way to becoming whole again. But confidence can be an illusion.
Lux was in the house! Big cat; huge personality.
From that moment on, Jim’s and my world revolved around him. We both worked, but the moment we were home, it was all about Luxie: How was he feeling? What was he going to do next? Neither of us considered him dangerous or even feisty. I see more difficult cats at the shelter every day.
Lux was like a child, inexperienced in catly ways. Watching him learn about play, about food, about his new digs was heartwarming and fascinating. Every day he seemed to come out of that shell a bit more, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to that first day:
Adapted from my Lux Journal:
Day 1: Jim and I got up for work. Lux was sleeping by his water. He enjoyed being petted but then went back under the blanket. I let him roam the room. He was curious but still crouching and nervous. He hadn’t eaten anything overnight.
When I got home from work, we moved Lux to a bigger room. Lux was friendly and curious about the new surroundings. Explored, used litter box, checked out cat tree and window. Then he went back to his litter box and vomited a small amount of liquid. After that, he retreated under the coffee table, where he hissed at me for the first time. His hiss was nonthreatening; at first I thought it was a yawn. I petted him, and he enjoyed it, but when I stopped, he hissed again. Since he still hadn’t eaten and had vomited, he probably wasn’t feeling too good.
Day 2: Over the next night, Lux ate some tuna, which seemed to break the ice for eating. By evening, he was gobbling all food in sight, wet and dry. He became more outgoing, sitting by the window and on his cat tree.
Lux’s people said that Lux didn’t play. Jackson wanted to get him to play, since it’s so much a part of being a cat. Play also reduces stress. I tried a ribbon toy. He was very tentative, though he did follow it around the room a little. He was also interested in some shredded paper I was working with. All the world is a cat toy…
Later that night, Lux became a little hissy, but still accepted pets and loving.
10: LUX – FIRST DAYS, 2
Adapted from my Lux Journal:
Day 3: Lux was under the comforter on the bed when I came in this morning. Overnight he ate all food. Now to introduce him to my other cats.
We have 3 cats: Tinkerbelle, an elderly OHS rescue who is now a therapy cat; Little who is also an OHS rescue; and Big Red who came to live on our porch and never left (He’s an inside cat now, of course). Usually I would give them more time to get used to a newcomer, but Jackson needed an assessment of Lux asap so he could decide what direction he wanted to take the case. How Lux fit with other cats was an important concern. Lux had never seen another cat. He was rejected by his mother at birth, and his owner bottle-fed him as a kitten. We were about to find out what he thought of these things with fur and whiskers and meows and scents similar to his own.
Jackson gave us a feeding exercise to start out introducing the cats safely. It entailed feeding both cats on opposite sides of a door with a gap underneath. Our first try was with Red. It went without incident so we continued giving each of the cats a turn. Red and Tinkerbelle showed no interest in Lux at this point, and Little, my official greeter of all who entered my house, really wanted to meet him. I let her briefly into the room. Both she and Lux hissed but passively. I took her out again. Normal first greeting.
Read more about introducing cats at http://jacksongalaxy.com/2010/10/01/cat-to-cat-introductions/
Note: Lux is making progress, yet not the progress I’d hoped for. It’s a short time to unwind a very tense cat. He is confused by my other cats. I doubt he’ll happily accept them in the time allotted though I think it would happen eventually. Lux is creating new memories. He is already adopting a routine. He is very intelligent. Glad to note he’s sitting straighter now, not hunched.
Evening: We got some toys from Jackson and are trying to inspire Lux to play, something he never did according to his family. He likes the Cat Catcher, but seems unsure what to do with it. He did finally sit up and grab for it, then turned to Jim and hissed as if he was proud of himself. No interest yet in catnip mice, pillows or crinkle balls.
Night: I tried sleeping in Lux’s room, but after I turned off the light, he began to prowl. He rattled the blinds, wanting to see out the window. He hissed a little when I turned on the light and moved toward the blinds to open them. I left at 1:30 since I needed some real sleep before work the next morning.
Lux was still prowling………………………….
11: LUX – FIRST DAYS 3
Adapted from my Lux Journal:
Day 4: Today we let Lux explore the kitchen. He looked into every corner, jumped on counters (not a problem with us), even the top of the fridge. He walked low to the ground at first but later walked normally. Now he’s taken it as his own, tail up, enjoying the space. Lux explored until about 11:30, then went back in his room for a nap. He’s settled into what was the top half of a covered litter box which I call his Kitty Cabana. It’s underneath a pinball machine and very secluded. He feels safe there. Lux napped in his cabana most of the afternoon and early evening. That seems to be the routine for him: nocturnal.
Day 5, morning: Lux in the kitchen again. More confident. He comes to get petted when Jim or I call, raising his tail and trotting right over.
Evening: Lux is being extra sweet tonight. I just got home from work and Jim is at a meeting so Lux has been on his own. He’s checking out the kitchen and sticking close to me. Jackson wants us to try to draw him out from the cabana. Right now he is sitting on my computer desk looking out the window. That’s progress.
Day 6, morning: Lux greeted me enthusiastically this morning. He flopped over on his back and let me pet his belly. He is talkative, for the first time.
Brief introduction to Tinkerbelle, slowly closing the door in between when Lux started hissing. He’s very curious about the other cats, but not quite ready to meet face to face.
Evening: Lux “helped” me clean the kitchen. He jumped up to some high places and wanted to go everywhere. My cleaning was producing rattling sounds and Lux began to chirp.
12: LUX – SHOWTIME !
Day 7, morning: This is it! Tonight we film My Cat From Hell in my kitchen. Jackson Galaxy, who has been following Lux’s progress by phone, text and film, will speak to his family, reveal Lux’s progress in my home, and ask them what they want to do. What they decide will shape Lux’s future, with them or with me. I wouldn’t know the outcome until Jackson arrived.
If you’ve never had a film crew in your kitchen, consider yourself lucky. Jim and I cleaned like maniacs, but my century-old Victorian house refused to give up its patina. Oh, well. I hoped they’d be distracted by my collection of eclectic clutter and not focus on the grit.
Then we waited. The producers and film crew showed up first, and finally the man, himself. Lux was unaware his fate hung in the balance and napped in his room like any normal cat.
For those of you who saw the show, that was pretty much how it went. Jackson sitting at my grandmother’s mission oak table, Jim and I listening and talking about Lux. Everyone had fallen totally in love with the big cat, Jackson no exception. As we discussed what he thought was best for Lux, we began to guess what was coming. And by the time he asked if we would adopt Lux into our home, I answered, Absolutely!
Adapted from my Lux Journal:
NOTES: 04/09/14 – 04/16/14
Lux is very curious. He wants to see everything, go through every door, explore every corner, cupboard and cranny.
Lux pushes into my hand when I pet his head and sideburns. His tail goes up and he arches when I pet his back. I can pet all the way up his tail. Not too hot on having his paws or stomach touched, but there seem to be no “no” zones for touching.
Lux’s hisses seem relatively nonthreatening. There is no body action with them. He just opens his mouth and hisses. At first I thought it was a yawn.
Note: Lux sometimes “buries” food and water bowls before or after eating/drinking.
Note: Without play, Lux gets little exercise. He moves slowly and cautiously. There must be pent-up energy that isn’t being expelled in normal cat ways, i.e. play. I’ve never seen such a tense cat, though he’s improved over the week.
Nocturnal, naps throughout afternoon. It seems possible that if he doesn’t get the rest he needs during the day, he could get overtired.
Conclusions: Lux is a normal cat who has been stressed. Over the week, he has expanded his circle of comfort within normal parameters.
Lux has shown no unpredictable behavior.
15: LUX – 3 WEEKS OF BLISS & A PITFALL, APRIL 2014
After filming My Cat From Hell in my kitchen, life went back to normal. Jim and I were just two people with a new cat in our family. We began to expose Lux to other rooms, other stimuli. We introduced him slowly to our other 3 cats with varying degrees of acceptance. Lux hissed, but was detached; Little, the most gregarious of my clowder, began to play with him. Watching the two chase each other up and down the cat tree was pure joy. Lux had never met another cat before.
I quit taking notes and heard very little from Jackson. Life went on, soft and furry. Friends came to visit, and I introduced Lux as his alias, Mr. Lucky, which I thought rhymed with Luxie. I always wanted a cat named Lucky, and in that time and space, we thought Lux was the luckiest cat in the world. He had escaped euthanasia and was found to be a normal cat. He now had a forever home where he could come out of his shell and thrive.
Unfortunately life threw us a few curves, a few stumbles, and a major pitfall.
On May 1, 2014, Lux had another outburst.
It was May 1st, May Day, when children make flower baskets to leave on a loved ones’ doorstep; when girls dance around a May pole, and spring perfumes the air. Okay, maybe that’s a bit old-fashioned, but it was a lovely day. Sun streamed through the big windows, glistening on Lux’s fur as I readied him for a photo shoot with the Oregon Humane Society’s media person who was going to do a feature on his success. I had brushed him many times before, because being an extremely long-haired cat, (the fur on his tail is 4 inches!) he needed consistent grooming to prevent hairballs. He liked it. I thought.
Suddenly and without warning, he began to hiss, and not the cute little breathy hisses I’d seen previously. His ears flattened to his head; his eyes dilated until there was nothing but black; the hair on his back stood up straight, making him look more like a wolverine than a cat. The hiss became a moan and then a yowl, banshee-like and eerie. I dropped the brush, not believing what I saw. I tried petting his sideburns which he usually loves, but he just got louder. He was possessed, not the Lux of the past 3 weeks. Not a Lux I had ever seen before.
This was Lux, the 911 cat.
I grabbed Little, who had been sitting on the bedside, and left the room. Behind the closed door, Lux continued his tirade, screaming up the empty walls.
17: LUX – ARROGANCE UNDONE, MAY 1, 2014
On May 1st, Lux had his second outburst, the first being when his family called 911 on him. Since I’d met him a month before, I was silently but condescendingly laughing at the original event, thinking his people had overreacted, that they just weren’t as cat-savvy as me. As time wore on, it had seemed more and more likely that the outburst had been wildly blown out of proportion – after all, the baby pulled Lux’s tail. We all knew that babies shouldn’t be left alone with cats for that very reason.
I was arrogant. I admit it. I paid for my shortsightedness.
Though Lux didn’t attack during the brushing incident, everything about his stance was fearsome. In all my cat experience, I’d never seen anything like it, and I’ve seen a lot of cats: Feral cats; fraidy-cats; angry cats; cornered cats; injured cats; and starving cats, fighting for scraps. Lux’s outburst was not like any of them.
With shaking hands, I called Jackson’s producer, the OHS media person, and my husband. Lux’s howls had cut off and now there was only silence from his room. As I sat on my couch, cold fear pressing at my heart, I knew this was a pivotal event; that nothing would be the same.
Jackson got back to me immediately, wonderfully compassionate and sad that this had happened. He never once questioned my cat-handling ability and for that, I was thankful. I personally felt like the hugest failure on earth. What had I done wrong? I kept going over those moments preceding the outburst: Had I done something to precipitate it? I continued to come up with the same answer: No.
Jackson gave some instructions on what to do next, and when Jim came home, we went to visit our boy. He was still anxious and aloof but no longer vocal. We spent some time with him but he seemed to be in his own world. After a while, his anxiety began to mount. We fed him, made sure he had water and toys, and left him to it, hoping that the night would calm him.
18: LUX – FRAGILE MENTAL HEALTH & A CAT, MAY 2, 2014
May 2nd, 2014 is a date scorched into my brain. That is the day Lux attacked.
Things started out calm and quiet. Though I had been trepidatious at first, Lux seemed over his outburst and back to his friendly self. A little too friendly, I realized after the fact. He was craving attention and affection. I was happy to give it to him, hoping and praying that yesterday had been a fluke, a mistake, a hallucination – anything but a prelude to the behavior that caused a grown man to call 911 on his cat.
I was working on my computer, Lux beside me, on top of me, on the keyboard, on my lap. He was hyper so we played for a while to diffuse the energy of the big young boy. Finally it was time for me to make dinner.
I got up and started for the door. Instantly Lux began to growl, and before I’d walked two steps, he was in full-blown outburst mode again. Adrenaline hit my system, and I moved faster for the door. Yes, I was scared shitless! He rushed me from behind, clawing one ankle and biting deeply into the other. I screamed and pushed him away, got through the door and closed it. He threw himself against the door, trying to get at me.
In tears, I called Jackson and Jim. I didn’t care who I talked to so long as someone helped me make sense of what had just happened. I knew I had to get medical help for the bite: cat bites can be terribly infectious and I needed antibiotics immediately, but if I went to emergency, they would put Lux in bite quarantine, and that would be all sorts of bad. In the end, I went to my clinic where a doctor who happened to be a cat-lover let me convince him both wounds were scratches and though deep, didn’t require a report to the county. Lux remained anonymous, I got my antibiotics, and all was well.
All was not well. Since I was a child, I have been prone to anxiety and panic attacks. They come more rarely now, but the event with Lux threw me head-first into the abyss of mental anguish. It happened so fast I didn’t know what hit me. For those who have suffered from anxiety, you know. For those who haven’t, consider yourselves blessed and take my word that the best description of the place I go without a moment’s warning is hell. Hell. Though his attack had instigated, it wasn’t Lux’s fault, nor was it mine, but I was in hell.
19: LUX – CAUGHT IN THE VOID, MAY, 2014
The trouble with being in hell is that everything else goes as usual. Bills need to be paid, meals cooked, obligations fulfilled. And as I sat in that doctor’s office while the nurses cleaned up my wounds, I knew I had a cat to go back to. A crazy cat. A 911 cat, whom, to complicate matters, I loved with all my heart. I had seen the anguish in his eyes as he threw his fit. I wasn’t the only one in pain: Lux was in his own hell. There had to be a reason, and Jackson promised we would find out what it was.
That was good and all, but meanwhile, demons were eating my brain. Time had gone pear-shaped. Any stimulus was too much. To think ahead caused anxiety and fear, a glut of emotion so intense it was nauseating. Within the next few days, I quit my volunteering duties at OHS and Hospice, I stayed away from facebook and the gem game I like to play on my phone – even those little popping lights were too much for me. I canceled every appointment I had, no matter how important it was or embarrassing to bow out. I stopped writing my book. I made appointments with my therapist, begging her on her voicemail to fit me in. Then I laid low.
I continued to visit Lux in his room but was fearful every time which I’m sure he sensed. We couldn’t let him out anymore, which he hated. Something had to be done and fast.
Jackson put me in touch with a local vet who was familiar with Lux’s case and had seen him before. She prescribed medication to relieve his symptoms and talked about possible causes for the unpredictable behavior, such as a brain tumor or anomaly, a pain condition, or a seizure-like event where all the nerves fire inappropriately, creating a pain/fear reaction. There would have to be tests. Though Lux had been extensively tested during the weeks before he came to me, there was more they could do, and Jackson wanted to do all of it. He was not about to let this wonderful cat suffer.
20: LUX – A SHORT GOODBYE, May 2014
Lux continued to have outbursts. We tried giving him the meds, a combination of anti-depressant and an anticonvulsant/ analgesic, but it was difficult. We didn’t want to rile him by stuffing them down his throat, and he refused to take them in food. He was eating only sparsely.
Another strange thing about Lux’s outbursts was that they lingered: even after he calmed down, he would still be aloof, unresponsive, almost as if he were in a different world. It was a sad, scary world; I could see it in his eyes.
And I was still in hell, though I walked and talked like a normal person when I was required to. Still went to work, but kept to myself. I stuttered, forgot common words. People who knew me, knew something was wrong, but how could I tell them I was crazy? How could I tell them I no longer wanted to work with cats?
My life was so built around my care of cats, and now that was over. I’d see a kitty on the street and joke, “Careful, that thing is dangerous,” or “Look out, it might attack!” Funny? No, heartbreaking. I was afraid, and what was worse, I had no idea if I’d ever get over it. On May 10th, I wrote:
“This incident has changed the way I look at cats.”
Between my fear and the inability to feed Lux his meds, it was decided he would go into boarding where he could be watched and cared for by professionals. It was a nice place where everybody knew and loved him, and I had no doubt it was for the best. I would have breathed a sigh of relief if I hadn’t been so ashamed of myself. Stripped of my cat-persona, who was I?
I visited Lux on Saturdays. We met in a room where Lux – Mr Lucky on the records because he was still a high-profile cat – would prowl and sniff. I’m not sure he cared that I was there. I believe he did, but my emotions were confusing and probably confused him even more.
Luxie had been set up for an MRI of his brain and spine, and Jackson would be flying up to Portland for the procedure. Everyone hoped it would show something, then hoped it wouldn’t. What would we do if he had a tumor? Animal Planet had been more than generous so far, but would they spring for surgery?
22: LUX – CAT SCAN, MAY 13, 2014
It was actually an MRI, not a cat scan, and we were set to meet Jackson Galaxy and his producer at the medical center. It was a perfect May day, warm and sunshine-filled. We had picked up Lux from boarding and he seemed sweet as ever. My heart went out to him and I felt no fear. That’s a lie – I felt fear, the same as I’d been feeling for the past two long agonizing weeks, but it wasn’t his fault and I was damned if I’d let it color my time with him. Hopefully later in the day, the mystery would be solved. We would find out the cause of his outbursts and work on the cure. Then everything would be good again.
Like any medical procedure, there was the interview with the doctor and then the long wait. It was going to be several hours until the anesthetic wore off and we could pick Lux up so we went to lunch at a vegan place since Jackson and the producer are vegan. I had kale salad of which I ate only a few bites. Not that I don’t love kale, but along with the other manifestations of my anxiety, I had quit eating.
Still, it was a good time. As wise and knowledgeable as Jackson is, he is also a good listener. He’s interested in what other people have to say. We talked about the shelter system; the ASAP (Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland*) who had banded together all the local animal welfare groups, making a drastic difference in euthanasia rates; as well as other things, some having nothing to do with cats!
Then we went home to hang on for the news.
*“ASAP stands for the Animal Shelter Alliance of Portland, greater metro area. This acronym was chosen because the mission of ASAP is, indeed, one of urgency. Our mission is to end the euthanasia of social, healthy, and treatable cats and dogs in our local shelters by collaborating on spay/neuter programs, educational and outreach efforts, and the promotion of humane alternatives for feral cats. In the past 7 years, ASAP has reduced euthanasia in Portland’s shelters by 76% and now saves 91% of cats and dogs – making our community one of the safest for pets in the nation!”
23: LUX – THE DIAGNOSIS, MAY 13, 2014
Lux’s outburst had put a wrench in the works for the Cat From Hell episode, which had wrapped on the joyful note that Lux was a normal, if misunderstood, cat, now to be adopted by quiet cat people with whom he could live happily ever after. That no longer rang true; would the couple still want to adopt without the assurance of a happy ending? Reassessment was necessary and some re-filming needed to be done. Again we set up in my kitchen; again we sat around my grandmother’s table and talked about Lux. These are the takes you see in the episode.
It was nearly 7:00 when we got the call. Jim and I met Jackson and the film crew at Lux’s veterinary clinic where the results of the tests were to be revealed. If Lux was okay, Jim and I would pick him up from the medical center where he was still sleeping off his encounter and take him home; if he wasn’t… well, we had to wait and see.
Our wonderful vet, whose name was given in the show but I withhold from this blog since I don’t know if she would appreciate the publicity, took us into the surgery where we stood around an examination table, awaiting the word. She explained that all tests had come back normal – no tumor or anomaly in Lux’s brain. There were no problems with his spine either. He was a fit young cat.
She then told us about a syndrome she knew of called Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome* which could manifest itself in different ways. She considered Lux’s case to be atypical, because usually cats didn’t act out violently, but it wasn’t unheard of. FHS is a seizure disorder and can be treated with medication. It might take a little work to find the right combination for Lux, but hopes were high and we were more than willing to try.
A funny incident: As we were filming in the lobby of the vet clinic, a TV news truck rolled by. Lux’s story was still secret at this time and would be until the show aired, so everyone held their breath, wondering if we’d been found out. Lux was a big deal in Portland, and any news crew who uncovered his whereabouts would have had a story. The news truck slowed and we saw them look our way. They pulled into the parking lot across the street and took another pass, this time at a snail’s pace. We were sure we’d have some explaining to do. Then they sped off, never to be seen again. Oops on them!
*”Feline hyperesthesia syndrome, also known as rolling skin disease, is a rare illness in domestic cats that causes episodes of agitation, self-mutilation, and a characteristic rippling of the skin when touched. It is often described as a seizure disorder but the cause is unknown. During an episode cats show a number of typical signs, including skin rolling or twitching, self-directed pouncing, or aggressive behavior such as biting or attacking the tail. There may also be pupil dilation, vocalization and a general increase in activity.” Wikipedia
24: LUX – HOME AGAIN, SORT OF, Mid-May, 2014
Lux came home late the night of May 13th. The vet had given us 2 medications, pretty much the same as he’d had before but in different dosages. They had found he was extremely easy to pill if one held him like a baby, and this proved to be true. Jackson had given us all sorts of advice and tips, plus the okay to call him night or day with any concerns.
One of the things he suggested, just in case Luxie began to act out again, was to stash large sheets of cardboard in each room that could be used as sight barriers between us and him. We did this, hoping we would never need them. Then we went about our business.
Because we have other cats, we put Lux back in his room when we were gone. I’ve found in fostering that most cats like a smaller space while they get used to new surroundings. When they gain confidence, the space enlarges, and introductions to the resident cats are made until they have the run of the house. I was cautious in Lux’s case because I wanted things to work out this time.
I was still experiencing my endless anxiety attack. Every morning I recited the prayer:
“God, remove my fear, and direct my attention to what you would have me do.”
Every night I lay in bed concentrating on the pinpoint glow of the smoke alarm, reciting mantras, visualizing labyrinths and anything else I thought might calm the adrenaline enough for me to get to sleep. I wasn’t the only one who was depressed. The day after Lux came back, I wrote:
“Sad. I watch Lux explore the living room. This should be fun, joyful, but he has no joy. Not the “army crawl” but so aloof.”
Lux wasn’t happy. I could see it and feel it every moment I was with him. The next day, he had another outburst.
25: LUX – BAD VIBRATIONS, MAY 15, 2014
Lux had been back for only 2 days when he had the outburst. I was in the kitchen and luckily had a cardboard barrier nearby. He ran right up to me and began to growl. I placed the barrier in front of my legs from where I could safely watch the outburst manifest. As I looked down on him, he seemed so small, a tiny fluffy ball of fear and rage. The barrier made him angry and he clawed at it, putting long gouges in the soft paper. I was scared but tried to calm him. He was beyond comforting, in that other world, ears back, eyes wide, fearful and fearsome at the same time.
In spite of the barrier, I was petrified. Too clearly, I remembered the feel of claws and blood and teeth to the bone. The wounds had not yet heeled, and I didn’t want any more. I inched toward the door, thinking I could slip out, but in my panic, I’d forgotten my other cats. Tinkerbelle, little old grandma of a cat, was right there on the other side. When I cracked the door, in she raced like an attack dog.
She was on Lux in a heartbeat, and it took only a few moments before he ran off, away from the mini-beast. She didn’t hurt him, having been declawed long before she was mine, nor did he hurt her. That her attack quelled his outburst was significant, though I didn’t comprehend its meaning.
We had been warned that there might be another outburst; until we got the medication balanced, Lux would still be prone to the fear-seizures. We took it as well as possible, putting Lux in his room and keeping the barriers close. After that incident, he seemed to be through acting out. Though he was still extremely aloof, we were able to spend time with him.
The next day he was extremely hungry. He ate everything we put in front of him and asked for more. We thought it was a good sign because historically his food intake diminished when he was about to have an outburst. This wasn’t the case, however. Later that evening he became more aggressive than ever. He flew at Jim, scratching and yowling, and remained extremely hostile into the next day. We’d got him in his room where he was well supplied with food, water, toys, and litter, but we were unable to slip his meds through the doorway without him going crazy. We tried our best to get him to eat them on his own, using Pill Pockets and food we knew he liked. Doctor had upped the medication, but we couldn’t get him to take it.
It soon became clear we were out of our depth. Doctor came to get Lux and take him back into boarding while they adjusted his meds there. Beautiful woman that she is, she arrived in a crisp white skirt. (Jim and I were wearing flak jackets and boots!) She walked right in, coaxed him into the carrier without a mew, and left with a smile. Cats! Go figure!
26: LUX – PING-PONG, MAY INTO JUNE, 2014
Lux must have felt like a ping pong ball bouncing back and forth between my house and boarding. All this to a cat who, before a few months ago, had never left home. Now that home was far behind him and another one fading fast, though Jim and I still held out hope that once the drugs were stabilized, he could return for his long-delayed happily-ever-after.
This time everyone agreed we had to be sure of his behavior, sure he wouldn’t act out again – as sure as we could be. Cats hate change, and this boy had been subjected to far too much of it. Jackson and Lux’s care team took over. The plan was to stabilize the meds, then put him in a professionally supervised home simulation and see how he did. His care team was increasing; everyone Jackson reached out to was willing to help. So much depended on Lux’s ability to become a normal cat.
Jackson loved Lux, but the time he spent working with the boy wasn’t for Lux, alone. It was for all the cats who had similar behavior issues. It was for cats who would otherwise be euthanized for acting out. It was for the people who loved those cats but were caught between giving them up and keeping themselves safe. No one can live with a cat who viciously attacks out of the blue. If Jackson could find a way to quell those outbursts, the entire cat community would benefit.
Meanwhile, on June 13, Lux’s episode of My Cat From Hell aired. The world finally had a chance to see what had happened to the infamous 911 cat in 911, My Cat’s Holding Me Hostage.
As you can read in this blog, the episode was again incomplete. It was a wonderful episode, well done and absolutely honest in its chronicle of Lux’s journey, but it ended with our taking Luxie back into our home, while off the set, things were moving on in another direction.
I was stuck in a quandary. People who saw the show sent me congratulations and kudos for my heart and bravery which I absolutely didn’t deserve since I had given Lux up again. To complicate matters, I was bound not to discuss anything not covered in the show. That was when Jackson stepped in, writing an eloquent and heartfelt update letter. He explained everything, laid it all on the line. For those who haven’t read it, here you are:
Lux was ongoing. Sorry folks, this story wasn’t about to close all nice and neat in a one-hour time slot.
LUX: AN AFFIRMATION
In the desperate moments of darkness, between the joy of Lux and the sorrow, I wrote this affirmation. When I stuck by it, things went better; when I didn’t, I was lost. Nothing is perfect. The trip through anxiety is gruesome and grueling, but the key word is through. I was not about to give up with so much greatness in my life.
~Today I’m not going to make lists or look at lists I’ve already made. (This is not a list)
~Today I’m not going to try to explain why I’m not 110%, especially to myself who demands the most from me.
~Today I’m going to stop and acknowledge beauty when I see it. I will not run for the camera or Facebook, but just stop and look for myself in that moment only.
~Today I will cry when I need to.
~Today I will not feel guilty about what I might or might not have done.
~Today I will eat carefully, drink water, and take a walk. Or not.
~Today I will try to do just one thing at a time: single-tasking. I will not over-think.
~Today I will not worry about tomorrow.
27: LUX – THUNDERSHIRT
With Lux gone, the house felt emptier than ever. In March, we had lost our old cat, Dirty Harry, to kidney disease. Harry was the best, the smartest, the sassiest, the sweetest cat on this earth. Though our other 3 are all remarkable in their own ways, some cats are singular. Harry was one of those cats, and so is Lux.
I was still drowning in my ongoing panic attack, though it was improving slightly. I had learned ways to combat it, such as physical activity. I gardened and walked. I didn’t know I could push this old body so hard without triggering a heart attack.
I need to note that though most of the anxiety symptoms were unbearably oppressive, one odd side effect was the persistence of beauty. I perceived beauty in everything, places I would have ordinarily ignored. Nothing is without merit, even the abyss of mental illness.
Meanwhile, Jackson was making arrangements for the next step in Lux’s journey. A place was being created for him to live, his own apartment above a veterinary office. It was a beautiful and airy space in a small town. He could stay as long as it took, getting used to a home away from home. There were many windows and an elaborate climbing tree, complete with silk leaves. The tree was very pretty, a labor of love, but I told the doctor he would eat those leaves. Lux has Pica disorder*, with a preference for plastic. Sure enough, the first note I got back from her was how Lux had eaten the leaves and thrown up green silk all day.
But I get ahead of myself. Before Lux left Portland, Jackson bought him a Thundershirt, which is a soft fleece vest known to have a calming effect on both cats and dogs. It’s designed to use gentle hugging to calm an animal, and it was worth a try. Lux didn’t seem to mind it being put on over his ling fur. He looked very debonair in it. I wish I had a picture, but I was too busy playing with Lux for the last time before he left town.
*“Pica is the term used for the behavior of eating non-food material. The most common material associated with Pica is usually wool such as blankets, socks, jackets, etc., but some cats will nibble on just about anything from plastic grocery bags to litter.” catbehaviorassociates
28: LUX – TRAVELING CAT, Summer, 2014
Lux’s room was ready and we said our farewells. No more visits at the boarding facility, those sweet sad moments together where, cat-like, he mostly ignored me, preferring to sniff corners, jump on chairs, and try to chew the plastic waste basket bag. (Which I didn’t allow)
In a way, it was a relief. Something positive was being done. We held high hopes that by stabilizing his meds and giving constant positive reinforcement, time would do its magic and he would morph into the happy cat we so wanted him to be.
Lux left Portland and I went home to my cats, a little smaller for the loss. But I knew that having Lux living with us as he was, unhappy and combative, was out of the question. Think of it as another adventure.
I was safe; Lux was safe. So why did I feel so tenuous?
29: LUX – CALL IN THE FALL, September 2014
Time passed. Summer moved into autumn. Sunflowers grew from sprouts to stalks, from flowers to heads filled with birdseed. Blue skies threatened gray by the time we got another call.
My anxiety had healed with time and love, and when I heard Jackson’s voice on the phone, knowing what he was about to say, I was ecstatic.
Lux was ready. He was stable on his meds and had been incident-free for a good amount of time.
Do we want to try again? Jackson asked.
Hell, yes! Jim and I agreed.
Lux was coming home!
I told everyone the good news: my friends, family, neighbors, the gas station attendant and the jogger on the street. I was strong – Lux was strong. This time I was certain we would make it to forever, but again the universe had other plans.
30: LUX – BACK HOME BUT NOT FOR LONG, October 2014
After a substantial period of balancing Lux’s medications and working closely with him to make sure he was socially well-adjusted, his medical team proclaimed him ready to discharge into a home. Jim and I made the drive to pick up our boy in his hideaway. We were joyous, confident, enthusiastic. We welcomed him with open arms, but it didn’t take long to see there was still a problem. As I’ve said before, when Lux is happy, he is sweet, curious and attentive; when his demons come, he turns in an instant. He hates those episodes as much as we do.
This is what happened:
10/05/14: Arrived back in Portland Sunday evening. Lux was quiet on the trip, sleeping under his blanket. Once home, I put him in his kennel and gave him food which he ate. Used the litter box. We played for a while in his suite (2 rooms plus the kennel); mostly he wanted to explore. No aggression.
10/06/14 Morning: Let Lux roam around while I got ready for work. Curious. Hungry.
Evening: Worked on beading in Lux’s room while he watched from the kennel. The door was open so he could come and go as he pleased, but he liked lying in the bed and on the blankets. Everything was fine until suddenly it wasn’t.
Lux began vocalizing, hissing, eyes dilated. I moved to go and he chased me. I got out, then went back about 5 minutes later. He came at me again, attacking my shin. I dropped a towel over him and picked him up. Put him in the kennel and turned down the lights. I realized that he had bitten me hard. I got antibiotics from my doctor. Alerted Jackson. When I went back later to say goodnight, he hissed.
10/07/14 Morning: Lux was friendly and explored while I worked on writing. Then he turned on me, and I left.
Evening: Lux explored a bit after work, but slowly. He jumped up into his kennel, turned and began to vocalize. I closed the kennel door and left him to calm down.
10/08/14 Morning: About the same as yesterday morning, but a shorter time until he acted out.
Evening: I let him run around, me wearing boots and keeping a towel nearby. He attacked my boots, but since he couldn’t get a reaction from me, he settled down a bit.
10/09/14 Morning: Gave increased medication per Jackson. All good.
Evening: I am spending time with him but it’s difficult because he is striking almost every time now. (Yay, boots! I can be calm and talk baby talk, give him a treat and he calms but as quickly gets upset again.)
10/10/14 Morning: Increased medication doesn’t make a noticeable difference. He is still striking, then playing, then loving, then howling.
Evening: Aggressive and striking. Later calm and in his bed.
10/11/14 Morning: Some hissing and a half-hearted strike. (I don’t react because of the boots so maybe not as satisfying?) Then I sat and beaded for an hour. Lux explored and then settled on the table nearby. Was quiet, but still defensive if I moved around. We are taking him into boarding later today while Jackson and the team come up with a new plan.
Maybe if I’d read the vet notes a little more closely; maybe if I’d thought with my brain instead of my heart, things would have happened differently. I felt terrible, abandoning Lux yet again, but it was plain it was not meant to be.
Right before we got Luxie back, I had been asked by the Oregon Humane Society to foster a difficult cat and make an assessment on her temperament. She had been in the shelter for far too long and at some point, had begun to have wild outbursts of aggression. She had been adopted and returned twice, and they needed to know if this cat was too violent for a normal adoption. Long story short, it took only a few days to pinpoint Edie Fisher’s triggers, and a few more to implement techniques to diffuse her hostility and make her feel secure. Edie was easy, and the timing was perfect to help me see that Luxie was not.
31: LUX – THE FINAL UPDATE
How many strikes does it take till you’re out? In baseball and drunk driving, the number is 3. Luckily we are dealing with a cat – a living feeling sentient being – so there is no limit.
The story continues. Is Lux warped? Did his mother abandon him because she sensed something wrong? Does he have feline hyperesthesia syndrome? Did he ingest drugs? Is there a brain dysfunction or chemical imbalance that our tests did not reveal? Will he grow out of it? What could I have done differently? Questions that can never be answered and we just have to move on.
Sadly we again couldn’t keep Lux in our home, but this time he gets to go where he can have his Happily Ever After. I can’t disclose the location, because he and his new people need their privacy, but I can definitely say he will live out his life where he will be cared for and given all the attention, understanding, and love he needs. Jackson, as with all his cats, will continue to be part of his life, as will we. I’m sure you understand, considering how high-profile Lux’s case has been. Lux is happy and safe, the outcome we all were looking for. Sweet boy can finally have a try at a normal life.
32: LUX – EPILOGUE
Everything I went through with Lux was worth it. Every moment of fear or uncertainty; every bit of physical pain. Even the anxiety attack that led me to the edge of my own hell was a lesson. Lux and the experience of trying to give him a home taught me so much:
Things always work out. Not necessarily the way I think they will or the way I would like them too, but that’s a good thing because if life were limited to my puny human imagination, how dull it would be! God’s infinite possibilities are much more fun and wise.
There are a lot of great people out there. Good people are everywhere, and without their help, there would be no story. Even Jackson can’t do it alone. Part of his power is in pulling together a great team. Teamwork makes things happen. Even though we sometimes feel alone, there is a team waiting for us somewhere: go out and find them.
Love diminishes fear. Hope, faith, and a positive attitude go far in making my life whole, no matter what happens or what surprises fall in my path.
The story continues. There is no beginning, no end, no front or back, no middle. There is no good or bad, right or wrong, up or down. Life is a pool, a river, a whirling infinity. We go on.
Where is Lux now? He is somewhere safe, somewhere warm. Somewhere he can be his true self, whatever that turns out to be. Will he ever be “normal”? Maybe – maybe not. The story continues. Will I ever see him again, touch his little spotted furry face? Yes, I have no doubt about it!
Thank you for following my journey and for your compassion and love of Lux.
33: LUX – ONE YEAR LATER
A year ago today I met Lux. Though I knew it was an important meeting, I had no idea at the time how defining that moment would be for me. Not being clairvoyant, I knew nothing of the bonding, the betrayal, the anxiety, heartbreak and ultimate triumph to come. I couldn’t even have imagined it, since nothing in my life had come close to what happened next.
I have described my journey in the previous pages and have nothing new to add. Still, it seems important to mark this anniversary, and what better way than with poor but heartfelt poetry?
Ghost cat, into my heart.
Eyes, questioning sorrow.
Fur soft as roses
Is that what happens inside your loving head?
Can I take back?
Take you back?
Would it be the end of us
or another beginning?
That ship has sailed.
You have moved on.
I will see you again.
34: LUX – EXONERATION 2015
I’ve seen Lux.
He is healthy, happy, fed, and loved.
That’s all I can tell you, since Lux is Jackson Galaxy’s story and not mine. The story is ongoing; someday we will have a resolution, but that will not be up to me.
The story that is mine, however, is one that began with a wonderful and terrible cat. I loved Lux with all my heart and then feared him when he turned on me. I had a panic attack and sent him away because I couldn’t cope with his outbursts, but I never felt right about it. Adoption is forever, for better or worse, like marriage. I didn’t want to give up. I never wanted a divorce.
What I’ve learned now is that I had no choice. Lux didn’t turn on me because I was bad. He didn’t turn because I did something wrong. He turned because of something haywire inside him. I know he hates it too, and good, smart people are working with him to make him well. I am not a pro. I could not have done the work he needs.
So finally after months of wondering, months of guilt, I am able to let it go. I did my best for Lux. I could have done nothing more. He is in the best hands now, and his future is bright. It will not be with me; at least I don’t think so. But he will always be a part of my life.
LUX: AN OFFICIAL (& NOT SO OFFICIAL) UPDATE
December 2016: I’m happy to announce – finally – an update on Lux, Portland’s own 911 cat.
As most of you know, 2 1/2 years ago, Lux frightened a couple with a baby into locking themselves in their bedroom and calling 911. For anyone who wants to catch up, here is the original story from the Oregonian, March 10, 2014: Aggravated Cat Is Subdued By Portland Police After Terrorizing Family
Like you, I really want to know what’s happening with my sweetie, Lux, so a short time ago, I checked the internet and found this interview with Jackson Galaxy. The interviewer, Stephanie Stephens, M.A. (Digital Health, Lifestyle, Celeb Journalist/Producer/Host) asks Jackson:
SS: What’s the toughest cat situation you’ve ever faced on the show?
JG: It has to be Lux, “The 911 Cat.” He scared his family into locking themselves in a room and calling 911. Yes, really. He challenged me, and that’s a tough one for someone like me. He’s in a sanctuary now, living a great life.
I was glad to see this admission from Jackson, because for so long there has been no official word. I know we all want to see Lux “fixed” and normal – that may never happen but his future is looking brighter all the time.
Last year, I was able to visit Lux in his sanctuary and saw for myself what a wonderful place it was. The peaceful environment was a perfect place to address his triggers and phobias. He had a lovely, large space and a throng of caregivers to cater to his needs and whims. Everyone loved him, and he was making great strides.
What made Lux act out in such a divergent way? We will probably never know, though many possibilities have been suggested. When Lux had the full-body MRI in 2014, it turned up no abnormalities, but it is still possible there was a physical cause that the tests missed. For a while, he was thought to have a form of feline hyperesthesia syndrome, but that was pretty well ruled out by the doctors at the sanctuary. (Lux takes no medication now and hasn’t for approximately 2 years.)
So if it wasn’t physical, was it mental? Cats hate change. Was the introduction of a husband, dog, and baby into Lux’s life too much for him? Most commonly, a cat stressed by change will become reclusive or adopt inappropriate litterbox habits, not turn into a wolverine.
Lux had definite triggers that spurred the onset of an episode. He hated when a person turned away from him to walk out of a room. The drive for a cat to attack when someone leaves the room is not unheard-of. Though most cats aren’t as brutal as Lux, I’ve since been told of several cases. Simply put, kitty doesn’t want you to go.
Clutter was another no-no for Lux, which made my house with its many rooms of knick-knacks and collectibles a bad fit. He liked to see what was going on around him. When things blocked his line of sight, he became nervous and unsure, and then an outburst could occur.
For a normal cat, none of those things should be traumatic enough to throw him into all-out aggression. According to his original family, there had been no hint of what was to come previous to the 2014 outburst. If this is true, what made a 4-year-old cat suddenly change his disposition? Usually by 4, a cat’s personality is somewhat set. According to the Cat Life Stage Table, 4 is “Prime”, approximating an age of 32 in human years.
Luxie is now 6. I hope to visit him again sometime soon. I hope even more that Jackson Galaxy can finally solve his mystery or at least conquer his demons once and for all. Jackson hasn’t forgotten Lux. The story is still playing out. Meanwhile I’m thrilled at the news that he is happy and gratified knowing he is safe and loved.
35: LUX, October 2017
Every once in a while, I find a tidbit about Lux, the difficult cat I fostered for celebrity cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy in 2014. Because I can’t run around the country visiting cats as often as I’d wish, I have to take information where I can get it.
I recently came across an article posted last year by Pet Health Network, Jackson Galaxy: Thinking outside the Box to Improve Cat Behavior. In it, Jackson has a few things to say about Lux and his ongoing saga. Again he calls Lux his most difficult case. He still doesn’t name Lux’s whereabouts, so neither can I.
I want to see Lux again and hope in the coming year to travel more. Meanwhile, you are in the same position I am when it comes to Lux: watching the internet.
36: LUX NEWS FROM TWO SOURCES, Nov. 2017
Though I haven’t seen Lux, Portland’s famous 911 cat, for over two years, I’ve been keeping up with his progress as best I can. The news about Lux comes rarely, his location and condition still a guarded secret.
But there was news last week. Jackson Galaxy came to Portland on a tour for his new book, Total Cat Mojo, and he must have known our first question would be: What about Lux? Following is a snip from an interview by Kristi Turnquist of OregonLive:
Galaxy has been to Portland several times before, including trips here working with Lux, the so-called “911 cat.” Lux, a long-haired black-and-white cat, made national news in 2014, when his owners hid in the bedroom of their home and called 911, because they were frightened by the cat’s aggressive behavior.
In a 2014 episode of “My Cat From Hell,” Galaxy took on the case of Lux, recommending the couple give up the cat. Galaxy brought Lux to a veterinary hospital for an exam and tests. Another Portland couple tried to provide a home for Lux, but the cat’s unpredictable bursts of violent behavior ultimately proved too difficult to deal with.
“He’s a mentally ill cat,” says Galaxy of Lux. “He really has problems that are organic, and behavior problems on top of that.” It was tough to watch Lux struggle, Galaxy recalls. “It still sticks with me, and that’s why I’m still involved with his life. Lux, for his own good, shouldn’t be living in a home, so I have him placed in a great sanctuary. He’s got a great life, and he’s a very happy guy. He just needs to be in a place where he can’t damage anybody.”
The saga of Lux caught the attention of all sorts of people, Galaxy says. “The Portland community was so incredibly supportive. The folks at the Oregon Humane Society went out of their way to help. The show is called ‘My Cat From Hell,’ but people cared about the outcome of Lux’s story. People cared about what happened to him.”
And they still care. That’s why you are reading this, and that’s why I wrote it.
A few things stand out in Jackson’s interview, firstly, his statement that he believes Lux has a mental illness. In 2014, a full battery of medical tests revealed nothing that could account for Lux’s violent outbursts. By process of elimination, he was thought to have a form of feline hyperesthesia syndrome known to cause crazy behavior in cats, but when he didn’t react to the medications used for FHS, the doctors needed to look elsewhere. Off medication completely, he worked with veterinarian behaviorists who were trained specifically to diagnose and treat psychological disorders. They discovered some of the triggers that set him off, such as noise, clutter, and even walking away from him, and worked on neutralizing those. Though he went for longer and longer periods between outbursts, one terrible day, out of the blue, it would always happen again.
Jackson’s point that Lux is not a good candidate for home adoption comes as a surprise but not a big one. It’s been optimistically assumed up until now that with the “right” family, he could someday go home, but there are so many contingencies. It would have to be someone who can center their entire life around him and his idiosyncrasies, someone who could be ever vigilant and without fear. Often people think they can face a raging cat, but how many have actually done it? Of those who have, how many could live with that every day? I couldn’t. I knew that back in 2014. I thought it was my own failing, but now I understand it’s a rare person who can live under that pressure without it taking toll.
Lux is great right where he is. He is as loved as he would be in anyone’s home. He is expertly cared for every day of his life. He gets to do pretty much what he wants, safely and without danger to himself or others*.
*Remember that when Lux has an outburst, he not only flays anyone around him but goes into a personal period of shock. I can’t imagine what goes on behind those saucer-like eyes, that piloerected fur, but if I had to use one word, it would be terror. Absolute terror.
My second bit of Lux news comes from one of his current caregivers. I can’t quote our lengthy conversation, but I can tell you how much she loves Lux. He is spoiled and happy. He is cherished every day of his life. This person, unlike Jackson, speculates there maybe an adoption somewhere in Lux’s future. Nothing is impossible when it comes to an anomaly like Lux.
This one cat, who would have been cast aside three years ago if not for the help of Jackson Galaxy, the Multnomah County Animal Shelter, the Oregon Humane Society, the Cat Hospital of Portland, the Chico Veterinary Hospital, as well as his current shelter sanctuary and all the people like you and me who care, will live a long and happy life.
He still has a lot more story to tell.
37: LUX: TERESA SPEAKS OUT, Aug. 2018
Something amazing happened a few weeks ago. Teresa Barker, Lux’s original human-mom left a comment on one of my blogposts. Teresa is the woman who gave Lux up through Jackson after Lux scratched her baby and terrorized her family in 2014. She is the beginning of the story, and though she declined to do an interview with me, she did approve my sharing her comments in a blogpost.
This is what she wrote: (My comments are in bold)
Teresa Barker, Jul 26, 2018
“So for those of you out there who do not know, I was the one who raised Lux since the very day his mother gave birth to him in my apartment! I kept him and his mom. He was the only one out of the litter I did keep. He was tiny and a bit feisty then, but all for good because he was still in the sack left there when I came to his rescue. I chose to keep him after weeks of dropper feeding him, and if not for me, he probably would have been left for dead by his momma. Now I don’t know if mom cats can tell if something is wrong with their kittens, because she was great with the other three— just not with Lux, so I had a soft spot for him and kept him.”
That’s an interesting question: Did Lux’s mother know there was something different about him right from the start?
“He was great over the years, my best friend who always slept right next to me. A year before all this happened, I had my son’s grandma passing away, and I moved in with her several days out of the week to take care of her. I was staying in two places, but I would always come home to Lux every day or so and give him food and water and check on him and play with him. Then I ended up pregnant, and shorty after that, my son’s dad and I moved into an apartment together. Of course I took Lux with me, and he took his dog that was given to him when his mom (my son’s) grandma passed away. The cat and the dog were fine together— me and my son’s dad were not getting along very well though. He was constantly yelling at me to get rid of Lux. He didn’t like him. I, of course, refused.
“Lux never acted like this until after my son’s dad moved in, so I’m not exactly sure what all took place or what happened other than that day, but it makes me wonder if, when I wasn’t around, something else was going on. Needless to say my son’s dad and I are no longer together.”
Here is another insight. Was something happening while Teresa was gone that she didn’t know about?
“…Then he started attacking me when I walked away, and I didn’t like it. It scared me… he didn’t use to do that. I wish I had read the signs better; maybe I could have prevented some of what happened, but I’d just had a baby and was trying to please everyone around me…
“I lost my best friend. Even Jackson new how painful it was for me to give Lux up, but I didn’t do it because I didn’t want him— I did it because I felt in my heart that it was the best thing for him right then. I was juggling too much as a new-time mom and dealing with the stress of everything else…
“I think about Lux every day. I named him Lux because it meant light; he was white and black, and I wanted his name to complement his lighter colors. He was my best friend, and he is truly missed.”
I love finally knowing how he got his name!
“I just wanted to finally put my side of the story out there… I really feel people got the wrong impression of me. Lux was my world, I tell ya. He was a great cat, and there’s always two sides to every story. I’m not sure who to blame, but I know I was a great owner, and he was a great cat. What people don’t understand is I had Lux for 4 years, and he never once used to be like that. It truly makes me wonder, looking back, if something else was going on when I wasn’t home; however I can’t attest to that because I wasn’t around. I don’t even like to think about that because it’s awful. I will say I miss him and I love him and I still carry him in my heart every day.
I’m sorry, Luxie. You truly were the light of my life.
Love you, Lux!”
I am so moved by Teresa’s bravery, coming forward and telling her story so heartfully. People can be quick to judge, and when, during my first weeks of caring for Lux, he was nothing but sweet, I admit I did a little judging myself. As a shelter volunteer, I run into people all the time who basically don’t know how to interact with cats. It’s not their fault; no one is born with feline intuition— I earned mine through many years of work and study.
I just assumed the family was responsible for Lux’s outburst.
Then out of the blue and with no warning whatsoever, Lux attacked me! I had to change my preconceived notions fast! In the past 4 years, vets, behaviorists, and a cat psychic or two have been trying to unravel what goes on in that sweet cat’s mind when he suddenly turns into a monster. So far, we still don’t know it all.
Again I want to thank Teresa for allowing me to present her story.
38: THE NEWS YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR! LUX IS HOME! Feb. 2019