Every great story has a humble beginning. For Hannah Shaw, it all started in her hometown of Philadelphia eight years ago when she stumbled upon a kitten stuck in a tree. That was the beginning of a love story between Shaw and cats and the foundation of a rescue and advocacy project called Kitten Lady. Interestingly, Shaw was never much of a cat lady. Even after climbing the tree and getting the kitten down, she didn’t have a clue what to do next. The kitten – whom she later named Coco – was just a few weeks old and needed special care. She didn’t get very far with the vets and shelter volunteers, and even the internet seemed to have very limited resources for kittens.
She decided to adopt Coco. Four years later, she adopted another rescue cat called Eloise, only to realize that there were numerous other kittens that needed the same help. In fact, according to ASPCA, about 7.6 million companion animals find their way into shelters in the U.S alone every year. Almost half of these are cats, and an astonishing 70% of them are euthanized every year. Neonatal kittens are at a higher risk of being killed due to the lack of resources to care for them. What’s more, the number of kittens in the shelters tends to increase during the spring and summer months, or as it is commonly called: the “kitten season”. Shaw decided to adopt another kitten named Rufus, who was coincidentally stranded in a tree too, and then Zeke. Zeke was much younger and significantly smaller than Rufus and Coco, and had been abandoned in the alleyway of her friend. When Shaw went to pick her up, she was so overwhelmed by the helplessness of the kitten (who was around three or four days old) that she just broke down into tears. She knew it was extremely hard to find someone to help little Zeke, but she was determined to take care of the young kitten. However, this would require a higher level of attention due to the kitten’s tender age.
As usual, Shaw turned to the internet and other avenues for any relevant information she could get. The quandary was that she was just 20 or 21 years old at that time and had no money. Her friend agreed to co- foster the kitten and they both put some money aside for supplies. They purchased a nursing kit, kitten formula, and other supplies such as toys, litter, and blankets. Her website – Kitten Lady – contains a comprehensive list of supplies needed to care for young kittens. Back then, Shaw used to work in public schools in her hometown and had to sneak the kitten into school because he needed to eat every few hours. She would wear a scarf around her neck, and then hid the kitten in there. Every once and then she would just excuse herself to go to the teachers’ lounge or bathroom where she would feed Zeke.
Eventually, everyone found out about Zeke. To her surprise, the other staff was very supportive and she was able to have him join her classroom a little bit. He actually learned his first steps on the floor of the classroom she was working in! When Zeke reached about eight weeks old, Shaw found a home for him at her friend in Arlington, Virginia. In a way, Zeke made Shaw realize that she was born to save baby kittens. Her Kitten Lady project was inspired by the lack of resources to care for young kittens. Today, most of her time is spent speaking to the media, running educational events and programs, and providing animal shelters with an aim of eliminating the euthanasia of kittens.