Neonatal Kitten Warrior, Hannah Shaw, leverages her 95 thousand Instagram followers to raise awareness for at-risk kittens. As she documents her rescue efforts, comprised of bottle feeding and raising kittens less than eight weeks old, loyal fans not only get a daily dose of cuteness but also a quick lesson on neonatal kitten care. We chatted with the Kitten Lady about her longtime passion for animals, what’s in her bag, and why she loves goodbyes.
When did you turn from animal advocate to Kitten Warrior?
I did have a turning point but it was pretty far into my animal advocacy work. I was twenty and living in Philadelphia. I was walking through a park and I looked up in a tree and saw a little black speck and thought, “Is that a kitten?” I was determined to climb the tree and save the kitten but I was wearing flip-flops. I asked a stranger if I could borrow his shoes, I put them on and climbed the tree, put the kitten in my shirt, shimmied back down and I was like, “Oh yay! I have the kitten!” then I was like, “Oh crap, I have the kitten. Now what?”
I went back to my office and looked online, there was nothing about how to take care of young kittens anywhere. I went to the vet who also didn’t know what to do with a kitten that small. I discovered, very quickly, the need for resources on neonatal kitten care. That kitten became my cat, Coco. She’s my inspiration for everything I’ve done.
Your Instagram is cuteness overload but it’s more than just adorable kittens, tell us about it.
I’ve been doing advocacy work forever, so I’m used to working with organizations that are knowledgeable about animal welfare. Through social media, I’ve found an outlet where that knowledge is not in existence. It all started when Cats of Instagram shared a picture that I posted and my followers grew by 10,000 overnight. As people find me through other cat profiles that are not necessarily rescue-based, it gives me an opportunity to educate an entire audience of cat lovers that don’t really understand the problems facing stray or abandoned pets. There are all these young people who need inspiration and education about animal welfare, and it’s the best feeling in the world that I get to be that resource. People say to me, “You make fostering seem cool.” I don’t think of myself as cool but if being a tattooed lady with cute shoes makes people think, “Hey, I can be cool and save lives too,” I’ll take it.
Speaking of accessories, you’re known to carry some fashionable handbags too
You can find me strolling around Washington DC, carrying many, many bags—inside those bags are the orphans I care for around-the-clock. A lot of people think being the Kitten Lady is my full-time job but I also work in animal protection and do non-profit consulting. Every few hours the kittens need to be fed so I’ll go to work and they come with me, I have purse kennels that are designed to not look like I have a litter of kittens in them.
As a huge animal lover, did you grow up with a ton of pets at home?
I grew up in Manhattan, a total city kid and had no pets growing up. Even though I didn’t have that experience growing up, I always loved animals. I have a very specific memory of when I was young and for some reason, my family and I went to a barn and there was a kitten there that I picked up and (it) fell asleep in my arms. I remember my mom saying, “That means she trusts you” and that moment is burned into my head. That’s part of why I do what I do because I loved that feeling—knowing that this kitten trusted me.
What does the term “Cat Lady” mean to you?
It’s funny because my name is the Kitten Lady, but let’s just take gender out of it and let anyone who wants to help cats do just that. I hear a lot of men tell me, “Oh, I’m more of a dog person,” it doesn’t have to be either/or, it’s not a dichotomy. Nobody should feel like their masculinity is threatened because they like cats. There are so many animals that need help, when we feminize cat rescue, I think it ultimately hurts cats because it makes half of the population feel like they shouldn't participate.
Is it tough raising kittens only to say goodbye?
Goodbye is the goal—that’s the parameter for success. If you don’t get to the goodbye, then something went wrong. I’m happy when I’m saying goodbye. I don’t need to have these kittens; I just need to make sure the kittens stay alive. Once they don’t need me anymore, it’s time for them to go be alive with someone else. I tell them, “Congratulations you made it! Now you guys are moochers, what are you still doing here?”