Before the June 14 episode of “My Cat From Hell” aired, Jackson Galaxy called its subject, Lux — the Portland “attack cat” whose guardians called 911 for help in controlling him — “the most complicated character I think I’ve ever dealt with.”
As Galaxy said in a phone interview with The Oregonian days before the broadcast, “It’s a very complicated case, and it continues to be.”
Indeed it does. While the “My Cat From Hell” episode ended with Lux being given a new, calmer home with foster guardians, Lux’s story has taken another turn. As the Associated Press reports, Lux’s attacks continued, even in his new home. The couple who took him in, identified in the show only as Mollie and Jim, contacted Galaxy to say Lux had more violent episodes, despite the cat being treated with medication. For their own safety, they couldn’t keep Lux.
“It was the worst letdown,” Galaxy told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a bigger shock. This is the hardest case I have ever worked.”
As viewers of the Animal Planet show saw last weekend, a veterinarian with the Cat Hospital of Portland suggested Lux’s puzzling behavior — one minute, docile and affectionate, the next lashing out — could be a form of feline hyperesthesia syndrome, a complicated condition that can make a cat behave unpredictably.
The behavior connected to the syndrome can sometimes be controlled with medication, and when we left Lux at the end of the episode, a postscript said the cat had so far been responding to the medication.
The veterinarian shown treating Lux in “My Cat From Hell” was gone for a few days, according to a staffer at the Cat Hospital of Portland.
“(Lux) is currently being fostered,” says the staffer, who asked not to have her name used. “For his protection, we’re not able to disclose where he’s staying. He’s being well-taken care of, and he’s doing great. We are continuing to be involved in his long-term care.”
The difficulty of figuring out exactly what’s going on with a cat like Lux, and determining the best way to treat the animal, is a tricky, time-consuming, trial-and-error process, say veterinary experts.
Alexandra McLaughry, veterinarian and owner of Portland’s Barbur Boulevard Veterinary Hospital, hasn’t treated Lux. But she has dealt with cats who show signs of feline hyperesthesia syndrome.
In such cases, she says, “I would do the full workup and to control them, and so they don’t hurt anyone, I would put them on an anti-seizure medication.”
Cases of feline hyperesthesia syndrome are not common, McLaughry says, “but I have seen it. It’s an emotional thing for the family. It’s tough for everyone.”
In trying to determine the best course of treatment, or whether further medication is called for, McLaughry says, she often turns for consulting help to Christopher Pachel, a board certified veterinary behaviorist who operates the Animal Behavior Clinic in Portland.
Pachel has been aware of the case of Lux, though he hasn’t treated the cat and is reluctant to draw any conclusions from the news coverage the 911 call inspired. “And I’ve only seen snippets of the actual airing of ‘My Cat From Hell,’ as I was out of town much of last week,” he says.
“Without knowing all of the details, and even if I watched every bit of media coverage that’s out there,” Pachel says, “that’s no substitute for observing the cat directly and getting an opportunity to interview people first hand.”
While comments about the Lux situation have raged from the first report — that Lux’s original owners, Lee Palmer and Teresa Barker, called 911 after their baby son pulled Lux’s tail, the cat scratched the baby, and Palmer kicked Lux to get him away from the child — Pachel says onlookers can’t really know specifics of a situation.
“When you only get one or two pieces of the overall clinical picture, things can look very different from what’s actually going on.”
Treating a cat that is acting out in the way Lux has demonstrated presents any number of avenues to explore, Pachel says.
“In my practice, I tend to look at feline hyperesthesia syndrome as a syndrome, not an end point,” Pachel says. The hyperesthesia may be secondary to other triggers, such as social stress, environmental stress, or physical conditions.
“It’s not a completely understood condition,” Pachel says. And exploring all the possible factors involved in a cat’s aggressive behavior takes time and patience. In the past, a difficult cat like Lux may have been euthanized. While that still happens, Pachel says pet owners’ relationship to their animals has evolved.
“I think we’re seeing a lot more attempts at intervention,” he says. “The role that animals are playing in peoples’ lives are changing much more quickly that animals themselves are changing.”
And the media attention devoted to Lux may be positive, Pachel says. “I think every time something like this comes up, it’s an opportunity for education.”
— Kristi Turnquist