Cat people don’t exactly have the same real-world communities that dog lovers enjoy. There’s no cat equivalent to the dog park, after all, and most cats don’t want to go for a walk on a leash to meet new people. But there is one place where cat lovers thrive, says animal advocate Hannah Shaw: online.
“I always say, dog people have dog parks and cat people have the internet,” she explains with a laugh.
Shaw, known to many by her online moniker Kitten Lady, is an advocate for orphaned kittens, fostering as many as she can and using the internet to spread her message of kindness to kitties.
How Hannah Shaw Became the “Kitten Lady”
It all started one day 10 years ago, when Shaw found a small, helpless kitten outside her home. Moved by compassion, she took the kitten inside and immediately searched the web for what to do to save this animal.
“I realized there were not a lot of resources for how to do this work well and how to do it in an effective, humane and sustainable way,” Shaw says.
She continued to rescue many at-risk kittens and with each one, she learned something new about how to take care of such a vulnerable animal.
“I started sharing information on YouTube about simple things, like how to bottle feed a kitten or how to stimulate a kitten to go to the bathroom, and people started to use the information,” she says.
Since then, Shaw has made it her personal mission to share what she has learned in this journey with others. She accomplishes this by working with local shelters and hosting workshops all across the country. In addition, she manages a successful online presence—with over 2.3 million followers across Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Using the Internet to Help Homeless Kittens
Shaw, who lives in San Diego, California, spends her days educating people about humane ways to rescue at-risk kittens. Sure, she shares hundreds of photos on her social media pages of adorable foster kittens with their curious, sweet gazes. But she mainly uses her channels to share educational content.
“My primary goal in life is to educate as many people as possible about why kittens are so at-risk and how every single person can do something to change that,” she says.
“We use social media to connect in so many ways and it’s been life-changing for me,” Shaw adds. “It’s how I’ve made a lot of friendships that have turned into amazing projects.”
One such project is the nonprofit she founded back in 2016 called Orphan Kitten Club. Through its programs, Orphan Kitten Club aims to save the lives of orphaned neonatal kittens. In addition to the nursery and kitten care, one of their biggest programs is routine trap-neuter-return (TNR) efforts.
While she has a formidable social presence, this year, Shaw expanded into print, penning two books on her favorite subject.
Reaching the Next Generation
Shaw’s first book, “Tiny But Mighty,” details the basics of newborn kitten fostering (along with hundreds of adorable photos of baby cats). Her second, “Kitten Lady’s Big Book of Little Kittens,” was released this month and spreads her message of animal awareness to a new group of readers: kids.
“A huge portion of people who come to my events are children,” Shaw explains. “They put their cat ears on and sit there and listen to me talk for the whole day.”
But the workshops she organizes are tailored more toward adults, she admits, which is why she wanted to do something specifically for her younger audience.
“There isn’t anything like ‘Kitten Lady’s Big Book of Little Kittens’ out there for kids,” she says. “There are a lot of books about cats, but none that really educate children on what’s really happening with cats in this country and showing them how they can help.”
Shaw says she gets comments online from kids all the time asking how they can help orphaned kittens.
“[With this book,] kids will learn tangible ways to help and [the book will] hopefully also inspire compassion in them,” she says.
A Passion for Fostering Kittens
What Shaw admires the most about cats—aside from their cuteness—is their resiliency.
“Cats have a strong will to live and to survive and with just a little bit of care we can help them do that,” she says.
Recently, she took in a kitten who was covered in fleas and maggots eating at their flesh.
“When you get a kitten like that, a lot of people think you can’t save them,” she says. “But then you turn them into these beautiful, wonderful companions who play and thrive, and you would never know they came from such a horrific condition.”
Shaw has three cats who she describes as permanent residents in her home, but on average she fosters about eight to 10 kittens at a time.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but [many] shelters aren’t equipped to take care of orphaned [newborn] kittens,” because they need extra care like frequent bottle-feeding, she says. “So if a [newborn] kitten enters a shelter, they’re likely euthanized.” The only way many shelters can save these powerless babies is through a foster program, Shaw says.
When she first started her kitten rescue work 10 years ago, Shaw says, many shelters didn’t have foster programs. She had to show up at individual shelters and ask them to call her if they took in any orphaned kittens. Today, she says, volunteer kitten fostering efforts are more widespread—and that makes fostering easier for the average person to do.
“Time, space, and money are always the three concerns [when it comes to fostering],” says Shaw. “But one thing that’s important for people to know is that when you work with a rescue or shelter, they pay for your veterinary expenses.”
Shaw also helps wannabe foster parents with space and time concerns, guiding them through the process of setting up a “kitten corner” in their living rooms, equipped with everything a baby cat needs to grow and thrive.
“You can do all that and still go to work full time,” she says.
And Shaw should know—the best-selling author certainly keeps busy. She plans to spend the remainder of her year on a book tour and hosting workshops before going to Peru in December to teach about kitten welfare. In addition, Shaw is working on creating more educational content for her website to complement her two published books.
When it comes to giving kittens a chance, she says, “There’s always more to do.”