“This has all happened much to my surprise and delight,” said Shaw, founder of the nonprofit Orphan Kitten Club, which provides lifesaving operations and the world’s first grant program specifically funding innovation in kitten welfare. “When people realize that these babies are all unique and so worthy of protection, I think that it gets a lot of people to go out and sign up to foster in their own communities.”
Nicknamed the “Kitten Lady,” Shaw provides educational media and training resources on her website and social media, as well as instructional workshops, all to help individuals and animal shelters learn how to save the lives of kittens.
“I wanted to create a fun community where people could see up close and personal what it looks like to rescue kittens, and also help people to feel like they know the individual animal,” said Shaw, who tries to share all the intimate moments she has with her rescued kittens, from helping them through a disease to helping them hit their first steps, making them hats or even writing songs about the kittens.
“It hopefully helps with finding adopters and encouraging more fostering,”
Working closely with the San Diego Humane Society, East County Animal Rescue and Love Your Feral Felines, Shaw has helped to rescue dozens of kittens (and two neonatal piglets) since moving from Washington to San Diego, including Flapjack, a malnourished orange tabby who was covered in fleas when Shaw and her team found him in Spring Valley.
“Hannah has done a great deal for kittens all across the world through her humane education program, and now that Hannah is local to San Diego, we are proud to have her Orphan Kitten Club as a rescue partner,” said Jackie Noble, nursery manager at San Diego Humane Society. “Not only does OKC care for these kittens at their in-home Kitten Nursery, they also help out our community through their Full Circle TNR (trap-neuter-return) program. Talk about the ‘purr-fect’ partnership!”
Though his brother didn’t survive, Flapjack regained his health and was the inspiration for Shaw’s new Full Circle Program, where Shaw and her nonprofit team go out and sterilize the family, or colony, of the kitten they rescue.
“When we picked him up, we saw just how many cats there were in just his colony living as strays,” said Shaw. “These cats are coming into shelters at the rate that they are because there’s so many community cats outside. There’s no harsh winters in San Diego, so it’s kitten season year-round here.”
Orphan Kitten Club also takes on cases where the kitten’s condition is more challenging, perhaps too challenging for the average shelter, such as their most recent addition to Shaw kitty nursery, the tuxedo kitten named Apple. Apple was born with Swimmer Syndrome so her hind legs spread out like a frog’s, inhibiting her from walking.
For the next few weeks, Shaw will be wrapping and taping Apple’s legs so they can grow in a normal posture.
“A lot of kittens like her are euthanized because she can’t walk, but with us she will get to live a normal life,” said Shaw. “We work with the kittens that no one else will.”
Shaw is also a New York Times bestselling author, with her educational book on the U.S. kitten crisis “Tiny But Mighty.” Shaw also has an upcoming children’s book, “Kitten Lady’s Big Book of Little Kittens,” which releases Tuesday, Oct. 8. The book takes children through the life of foster kittens. Both books can be found at Barnes & Noble or on Shaw’s website, kittenlady.org.
“It’s all a lot more personal for me now,” said Shaw, who had been an activist for many years but never planned on getting this hands-on with the work.
“It’s not just theoretical. It’s not just data. You’re not just trying to convince people something matters because you read a statistic,” she said. You’re literally looking at a little life in the palm of your hand and knowing that there are so many other little lives like that who are out there in need of love and support and care.
“That’s why, whenever I teach, I teach using stories. It’s not a theory, it’s a real kitten that you can hold and see and feel and that needs your help.”
To apply to adopt any of Shaw’s rescues, visit orphankittenclub.org.