Meowrry Cat-mas (sorry/not sorry) with the Kitten Lady and Cat Daddies
A very special holiday issue of AWKSD devoted entirely to cats!!!!
Ten years ago, while living in Philadelphia, Hannah Shaw found a baby kitten stuck in a tree.
“I didn't know anything about kittens at all, but I knew I wanted to help her,” Shaw says. “So I climbed the tree and brought her back down. I started looking into resources, and I very quickly learned that kittens under eight weeks old are one of the most euthanized populations at animal shelters. They’re not eligible for adoption yet and they have a lot of needs that exceed the resources inside an animal shelter. Especially 10 years ago.”
Upon learning that the kitten’s chances of survival were slim at the animal shelter, Shaw chose to bring the cat home—a difficult decision made even harder when she discovered that information about neonatal kittens (0-4 weeks old) was extremely limited. This realization prompted Shaw to learn everything she could about baby kitten care, and thus, the Kitten Lady was born.
“For the first several years, I fostered independently, and then I started working with animal shelters who needed my help.” she says. “But about four years ago, it became very clear to me that I needed to start my own organization because the work that I do is very specific.”
Shaw founded the Orphan Kitten Club in 2016, which now boasts a state-of-the-art kitten nursery with resources not available at a typical animal shelter. Orphan Kitten Club also specializes in feline sterilization (meOW!... jk/sorry) and raising grant money to help save neonatal kittens worldwide.
“Orphan Kitten Club was really was born out of necessity. It started in Washington D.C., but we moved to San Diego in 2018. Since I've been out here, I would say our impact has skyrocketed. We collaborate a lot with our local groups. We have our very unique nurseries set up here in San Diego. It has been a very big year for us.”
Suffice it to say, Shaw has built a kitten care empire by fostering strays, educating people how to care for kittens, and raising awareness through her massively popular and engaging social media channels (@kittenxlady has over 1 million followers on Instagram). In an age where so many social media influencers hock shoes or handbags or their own butts, the Kitten Lady’s presence is a reminder that good still exists in the world.
Oh, and somewhere between saving kitten lives, fostering community awareness and raising grant money, Shaw has somehow found the time to write two books that came out this year: Tiny But Mighty, a guide on saving vulnerable kittens, and the children’s book Kitten Lady’s Big Book of Tiny Kittens. Perhaps there’s a literal element to Shaw’s Kitten Lady moniker, because she’s already accomplished enough to fill nine lifespans.
Given the insurmountable number of felines Shaw sees every day, I can’t think of a better person to consult for my own cat queries. In fact, during the interview, my own cat Harvey sits next to me, purring so loudly that I can hear it on the audio recording. I can’t tell if it’s because he knows that I’m talking to someone who knows a great deal about his species, or if he’s just being a dick. Probably the latter (I love Harv Harv, but he’s a jerk). However, Harvey’s attempts at distraction remind me to ask Shaw how Coco—the cat she saved from the tree (“my BFF”)—gets along with all her other foster kittens.
“Because we're working with a compromised population, we keep them separate,” Shaw says. “This is for their health and safety. So the kittens are in their own designated space, and my cats don't really have to deal with them.”
Shaw laughs when I tell her about how Harvey has only slightly warmed up to my younger cat Vincent, despite the three years we’ve had Vincent. Did I mention that Harvey’s kind of a jerk?
“I mean, there are things that you can do but there's also only so much you can do,” Shaw says. “People ask me for advice on that and I say sometimes they're just not going to get along. But the point of fostering is not to get your whole house to be best friends with each other. The point of fostering is to temporarily give an animal a safe space.”
I always get my cats presents for Christmas. I don’t know what level of insufferableness that makes me as a cat parent, but I’m of the belief that if you don’t get—and wrap—gifts for your pets during the holidays, you’re doing it wrong, even if they only like the wrapping paper.
“Okay,” I ask Shaw near the end of our call, “Let’s say you’re a cat. What do you want for Christmas?”
“More attention, definitely,” she says. “A cat has evolved to be a predator species that lives outdoors and is taking in new information all the time—hunting, climbing, doing all this wonderful stuff that’s hard to to do indoors. Unfortunately, a lot of cats who live indoors are very bored. I think any kind of enrichment gifts are good, which could be something as simple as a cat tree or a new scratching post or some kind of interactive toy. I think probably the thing that a cat wishes more than anything this Christmas is more playtime. I’m a big advocate of playing with your cat every single day.”
Shaw admits that perhaps she’s a little biased, but also she recommends her book as a gift for cat people.
“It has everything you need to to be able to save lives.”
Speaking with Hannah Shaw reminds me of my own experience finding a vulnerable kitten:
About five years ago, my wife and I heard a strange noise coming from the vacant property next to our house. It wasn’t unusual to hear noises coming from that yard—stray cats fighting, possums hissing, and there were a few times when we heard squatters rummaging around—but this was different. It was the cry of an animal. The mewling of a baby kitten.
We jumped the fence and found a little kitty inside a discarded tire. It was in sad shape: ragged and shaking, its eyes glued shut from infection. The kitten was so small it felt like I would break it just by picking it up. It couldn’t have been more than a few weeks old.
We took the kitten in, put it in a crate with a bowl of water. My cat Harvey looked at the little creature and then up at me, as if saying, Why’d you bring this dying thing into my home?
The kitten slept through the night. The next day, the vet informed us that it was unlikely the kitten would survive. Our hearts were broken. The only consolation I felt was the fact the kitten experienced little bit of comfort, warmth and safety during its brief and tragic life. I wish I had known about Hannah Shaw back then. I just felt so helpless.
I often think of that cat whenever the world seems unfair, because it’s never been as unfair as it was to that little kitten.
LIGHTS, CAMERA… CAT-TION!
I used to cringe at the concept of pet parents. I’d quietly judge the people who brought their dogs everywhere or dressed their cats up in clothing. Have some dignity, I would think. Or at least let your pets have some dignity.
But then I got a cat, and that all changed.
I now have no problem with calling myself a “cat dad.” I don’t even experience a lick of shame (probably because whatever produces shame has been frosted over with a thick coating of toxoplasmosis).
When the trailer to Cat Daddies—a documentary in the making—shows up in my Facebook feed, there’s no way I’m not going to click on it. Based on the title alone, I don’t think there’s a film better suited for me. It’s my catnip, if you will.
But the trailer takes me by surprise. Rather than simply being a celebration of cat dads—with which I would be totally fine—the film confronts and deconstructs the concept of masculinity by deep diving into the phenomenon of cat dads. It’s a fascinating idea—and one that that filmmaker Mye Hoang has been thinking about ever since a cat came into her husband’s life (caveat: Hoang’s husband Dave Boyle is my cousin and also a very talented filmmaker).
“A cat sort of came in his life and adopted him.” Hoang says. “I had grown up with cats, so when this cat showed up one day, he was kind of like ‘what do I do?’ He was not a cat person. I mean, he tolerated them, but this cat just totally converted him. He just became this deeply involved, concerned and committed dad to this stray cat who now lives with us.”
Watching her husband’s transformation into a more caring, compassionate person sparked Hoang’s fascination with the relationships between men and their cats, as well as the effect of cats on humans in general. Namely: how they teach us to be better human beings.
“I feel like there are things that we can learn from interacting with cats that will help us interact with each other as people,” she says. “Because you can't approach a cat the same way you approach a dog. They almost have to teach you how to approach them, and I feel like there's something to be learned from that. How you treat a cat should be similar to how you should treat a woman. You just can't assume that the cat is okay with you picking it up. There’s a trust that that has to be gained.”
Turns out, Hoang’s theories may be more than conjecture, and she’s witnessed the progressive power of cats in surprising places, including a fire station in South Carolina—a deep red state—that was totally changed when Flame, the Arson Cat showed up at the station.
“Everyone at the fire department, they were all dog people, and they used to be on-guard and only talk about what men usually talk about,” Hoang says. “But all these men were very surprised at how hard they fell for Flame, and now they all take turns taking care of him. The cat emotionally opened them up. They now think about things that they don't wouldn't necessarily want to think about. Like, you know, mortality and what’s going to happen when the cat’s gone.”
Hoang is currently raising funds through Kickstarter to finish Cat Daddies, which she expects to be a more substantial portrayal of cat dads than what we’re used to seeing on social media.
“The cat dads you see on social media, you're just getting glimpses—very quick one second, two second glimpses of people's lives. I want this documentary to go really in depth and get a diverse profile of different cat dads.”
Sounds purrfect (jk/sorry/not sorry).
THE ONLY CONCERT CALENDAR THAT MATTERS™
Wednesday, Dec. 11
OPTION 1: Child of Night, Lunacy, Body Worship @ The Whistle Stop. I can’t tell when goth becomes a parody of itself. Objectively, Child of Night feels like a band that hit the “Joy Division, but, like, way more Joy Division-y” and “The Lost Boys flying scene music” buttons while in the recording studio. But it’s hard to keep an objective point of view when the music is so engaging. Better to just throw on the eyeliner and have a good time.
OPTION 2: Son Little, Christopher Paul Stelling @ Soda Bar. Son Little’s stripped-down R&B feels simultaneously bombastic and intimate. It’s also kinda sultry and dark, which is how I like my soul music.
Thursday, Dec. 12
OPTION 1: La Dispute, Touché Amoré, Empath @ House of Blues. What a dream pairing. There aren’t many hardcore bands as provocatively earnest as La Dispute and Touché Amoré, both of whom aren’t afraid to delve into difficult topics and musical stylings. Touché Amoré’s 2016 album Stage Four—an absolutely heart-wrenching record about the singer’s mom’s battle with cancer—is one of my favorite albums of the decade. La Dispute’s latest, Panorama, also deals with grief and death, but takes a lot of experimental musical detours that hardcore fans don’t generally like. It’s definitely one of the most ambitious albums of the year.
OPTION 2: Thievery Corporation, Brazilian Girls @ Belly Up Tavern. I always thought Thievery Corporation was the musical equivalent of a cool indie film made in the late ‘90s or early ‘00s—a hodgepodge of influences that shouldn’t work together, but do (in this case, trip-hop, acid jazz, reggae and dub).
Friday, Dec. 13
OPTION 1: Uno Lady, Beating (record release), Passengers, D. Wrex @ The Whistle Stop. Uno Lady is the moniker of Christa Ebert, who creates haunting compositions by layering and looping her voice. I’m so impressed with people who know how to do this stuff, and I’m more than a little obsessed with this clip of her performing on PBS. Also, this is a record release show for Beating (formerly Beaters), which is reason enough to go. Beaters was one of San Diego record label Volar Records’s first releases, and it’s the one that clued me into the dark music going on in this city. Hey, Uno Lady is also a Volar release! Go to this show and support Volar Records.
OPTION 2: Fictitious Dishes, Deep Sea Thunder Beast, Hurricane Kate, Black Cat Sabbath @ Black Cat Bar.Another killer lineup! Wait, what day is today?[checks calendar, notices it’s Friday the 13th, a good day for killers] Ah that makes sense.In case you’ve forgotten, I love the new Deep Sea Thunder Beast album, and am ready to have my ears exploded by them. (This show is a benefit for Second Chance San Diego, and you can either pay the $8 cover or bring three full-sized hygiene products like toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, razors, etc.)
Saturday, Dec. 14
OPTION 1: Kool Keith, MYOE & JKRUNK, T-Chronic, The Bermuda @ The Music Box. Kool Keith is a legend, a genius and also a complete weirdo. His music is laced with as much sex and horror as a Clive Barker novel, but goddamn, it bangs. His album Dr. Octagonecologyst is an absurd masterpiece.
OPTION 2: Nick Offerman @ Balboa Theatre. It’s hard to think of a fictional character from the 2010s who was more influential than Ron Swanson, the character Nick Offerman plays in Parks & Rec. Swanson’s schlubby-yet-unapologetic masculinity, paired with his compassion, thoughtfulness and hatred for bureaucracy made him a worthy role model.
DON’T GO: As I Lay Dying, Emmure @ Soma. Let’s never forget that As I Lay Dying’s singer Tim Lambesis tried to hire a hitman to kill his wife. I mean, the dude did his jail time, and I don’t think anyone is beyond reform, but take a hint and stay out of fucking spotlight, dude.
Sunday, Dec. 15
OPTION 1: Omni, Former, Jinx @ Soda Bar. Omni plays post-punk that reminds me a little of Parquet Courts, but a little happier and nerdier. Think “Talking Heads playing beach music.”
OPTION 2: The Fall of Troy, Strawberry Girls, Dead American, Andres, The Undertaking @ Brick By Brick. Mathy + screamy = Ryan likey (sorry).
OPTION 3: The Blind Boys of Alabama, Nicki Bluhm @ Belly Up Tavern. The Blind Boys have been making music and touring for eight decades. Imagine having that kind of endurance. When I set out to do 20 push-ups, I usually stop at 15.
Monday, Dec. 16
OPTION 1: Jean Caffeine, Neko! Neko! Neko! @ Red Brontosaurus Records. Jean Caffeine makes lo-fi, poppy punk that sounds a lot like The Vaselines. I’m into it, and I’m also stoked whenever there’s a show at Red Bronto, one of the few places that’s keeping North Park cool.
Tuesday, Dec. 17
OPTION 1: Chris Isaak @ Belly Up Tavern. I will go on record saying that Isaak’s “Wicked Game” is the sexiest song ever written. I hope whoever’s cleaning up after the show tonight wears rubber gloves.
OPTION 2: Silversun Pickups, Wrecks @ The Observatory. Turns out I’ve been enjoying Silversun Pickups song “Lazy Eye” for over 10 years without knowing who performed it. It’s not like I loved the song enough to look it up, but whenever it came on the radio, I didn’t turn it off. So, imagine my delight when I clicked on their most popular song on Spotify and realized, “Oh, that’s who sings that!”
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