Ever since she left university, Hannah Shaw has dedicated her life and career to rescuing kittens. The 28-year-old now calls herself a “neonatal kitten warrior” who specialises in fostering abandoned newborn cats that would otherwise end up dead at shelters in Washington D.C. In the past eight years, she’s saved at least ‘a few hundred kittens’ from this terrible fate.
Shaw revealed that her passion for animals began at the age of 12, when she decided to quit eating meat. Since then, she’s been involved in several campaigns to protect various species – right from farm animals to big cats in sanctuaries. She started working with kittens, specifically, about eight years ago after she happened to rescue a “teeny tiny kitten” from a tree. She nestled the kitty in her shirt, took her home, named her Coco, and raised her on her own.
The incident compelled Shaw to look more closely at the plight of kittens in her neighborhood. “After rescuing Coco, I started seeing more kittens outside,” she said. “I also started getting calls from people saying they’d found a kitten and were asking me for help. It became a very fast, cumulative thing where I began learning more about kittens while also honing my kitten eyes, so like anytime I was outside and there was a kitten within a thousand feet of me, I’d hone in on her.”
Shaw revealed that rescuing kittens was a challenge in her early twenties, when she used to work in the public school system. “I would literally sneak tiny kittens to work in my shirt, and feed them in the bathroom so no one would notice!” But now that she’s working exclusively in the “animal nonprofit world,” she doesn’t have such a hard time bringing kittens into her office.
Apart from her rescue missions, Shaw spends her time raising awareness about the problems that kittens face in shelters. “Almost all orphaned neonatal kittens are found outdoors, born from unsterilized, free-roaming cats,” she explained. “Most of the time when people find orphaned kittens outside, they bring them to the shelter, where they are immediately killed.”
Shaw says that there’s plenty that people can do about the situation. For starters, she suggests developing relationships with shelters, so that when they get neonatal kittens they can call you to come and get them. But she points out that it’s important to find out if the kittens are really orphaned or not. “Sometimes people think they’re doing the right thing and that they’re helping out an orphaned kitten, but they’re actually taking a healthy kitten away from his mom. If the kitten has a mom, it’s so important she stays with the mom as she’s the best caregiver she can have.”
Fostering a kitten, Shaw says, is pretty much like having a newborn. “When I’m considering if I can take in a kitten, the first thing I do is take a look at my calendar for the next couple of weeks and make sure I’m really going to be available,” she said. “I’ll set my alarm every two to three hours through the night, and you have to be willing to get up! It’s some of the most intense fostering you’ll ever do.”
“I keep a steady revolving door of kittens – one litter at a time – so I’ll have anywhere between eight to ten babies at a time. I’m all about quick turnover when it comes to kittens; I believe the most efficient way to save the maximum amount of lives is to foster kittens only until they are the adoptable age of eight weeks old – then it’s time to get them adopted, take a little breather, and start again.”
So when the kittens are out of the neonatal phase, Shaw puts them up for adoption. And surprisingly, she does not find it heartbreaking to part with them. “Goodbye is the fun part because the whole reason why I do this is because I want these kittens to have a shot at life,” she said. “When they come into a shelter or they’re orphaned in the street, they have no chance to be a healthy adult cat in a loving home.”
“There’s nothing like saying, ‘Goodbye, good luck, you did great, now get out of my house!”
But before she gives them away, Shaw does come up with funny names for the kittens – like Gadzooks and Tofurkey. She also likes to give themed names to litters, after beans, noodles, and even the Golden Girls!
Photos: Hannah Shaw/Instagram