The Future of Lux, the 22-Pound Cat

By now everyone has heard the story about Lux the cat. Angry cat lashed out at the 8-month-old who pulled his tail, horrified father kicks cat, traumatized cat corners the family who then has to call 911 for help.It’s a sad story for everyone involved, including the cat and the family who now find themselves the center of a media frenzy. Everyone has an opinion, from animal rights activists and rescue groups to people who think this cat got off easy, so far anyway.

AP Photo/Lee Palmer
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There was so much wrong in this situation that I hardly know where to begin! Let’s start with the television reporters I saw telling this story, which was my first time hearing about it. The female reporter took the cat’s side, the male reporter painted all cats as evil. Sensationalism sells, I know, and this was truly presented in a way to polarize the public.

I was outraged by the way this has been portrayed. Many people who don’t completely understand the nature of cats, especially if they have kids, might be quick to eye their own cats with worry after hearing the story told in this manner.

When I was contacted by Shane Dixon Kavanaugh, a reporter at Vocativ, a web-based news magazine that is reminiscent of TMZ, I was happy to give him my thoughts on the matter. Anything to help this cat in particular, and other cats who may, too, find themselves in a similar predicament.

Shane and I spoke on the phone at length, which I then followed up with an email, and he asked about my thoughts on the situation. You can read his article here at Putting Portland’s Cat Lux On The Therapists Couch. All three of us behaviorists who were interviewed for this story have pretty much the same take on the matter: It’s not the cat’s fault, it’s not the baby’s fault, and the father for sure over-reacted.

When Shane emailed me after we spoke to ask if I thought Lux could fully recover from the trauma, this is what I wrote back to him:

To me, there is no such thing as a cat that cannot recover from a situation like this. But it is going to take time. It’s not a set number of sessions he needs, it’s the owners being given the right toolset and then applying these consistently that will be the key to recovery.

Lux will need his security rebuilt. His confidence in his surroundings has been shattered and he is now most like very insecure, which leaves him vulnerable and prone to lash out. Trust between Lux and his owners would need to be rebuilt through positive and consistent actions over time. He needs to live in an environment that supports his needs, such as high cat trees and kitty cubby holes so he can get away when he needs to retreat, interaction and playtime with his owners to stimulate his mind and his emotional needs, and reinforcement of positive actions by rewards such as praise and treats.

The child should be taught to treat the cat very gently, once Lux has calmed down and feels better about his surroundings. And of course, supervise cat and child together at all times for now. All this, of course, is after medical analysis by a veterinarian has been done to either identify or rule out medical issues that could be a contributing factor to Lux’s aggression.

Most important, whether or not there are any medical issues at play here, Lux must never be hit or kicked or even yelled at ever again! Cats remember it. I have a cat that was abused. He was consistently kicked out of his home and left to fend for himself outside. I wasn’t told this part, but I know by his reaction when a friend of mine picked up her shoes that someone had thrown shoes at this cat in the past. Long term consistent abuse leave a permanent mental and emotional scar. Some cats withdraw and become passive, others become aggressive.

Now I don’t know this cat’s specific history. Was he abused before coming into this home, was he abused in this home, is he neglected now that the baby is here as to cause Lux to feel jealous and displaced? All of these factors, and so many more factors unknown, could be coming into play. All can be dealt with, but only if the family is committed to making things work out right. It’s hard work, and it takes time and consistency.

My sincere hope is when all the hoopla has died down that somehow Lux lands on his feet in a home with people who love him. The worst case scenario is the family quietly dumps Lux at a shelter, where his fate would be all but sealed. We know what happens to adult animals at most shelters, especially those with aggression in their histories…