YouTuber and kitten fostering expert Hannah “Kitten Lady” Shaw’s newest book only just dropped this past week but it’s darting up the sales charts to become one of the hottest books of the moment. It’s not hard to see why. Beyond just being a celebrity book about cute kittens, it’s also a solid resource for people interested in learning how to raise neo-natal kittens.
Violence: Some descriptions of kittens dying.
Sexual Content: None.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None.
Spiritual Content: None.
Language/Crude Humor: No coarse language.
Other Negative Content: None.
Anybody who knows me personally knows I’m obsessed with cats. For example, if anyone reading this has read my twitter, you’d see my timeline is seriously buried in cat videos. Due to personal circumstances, I’m unable to adopt any animals at the moment, so I tend to get my daily fix of adorable felines from the internet. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of those. I’m a regular viewer of multiple YouTube channels, Twitter, Pintrest, Facebook, and Instagram pages that do nothing but put out images and videos of cats and kittens. One of my favorite YouTube channels for my cat fix is that of Kitten Lady. The channel, run by activist and animal fosterer Hannah Shaw, specializes in teaching people how to care for neo-natal kittens.
Neo-natal kittens are unique in the animal fostering world because of the immense difficulty needed in raising them. Under eight weeks of age, most cats aren’t prepared to be adopted. They need to be fed every several hours and need assistance with pooping, which they can’t do on their own without stimulation from a mother cat or caretaker. Most animal shelters lack the necessary ability to care for animals 24/7. During breeding seasons, many such shelters are overwhelmed by newborn cats and are forced to euthanize newborn kittens because they’re physically incapable of caring for them in a merciful way. Given that there is rampant breeding of stray and feral cats in the United States, thousands upon thousands of neo-natal cats are brought into animal shelters each year that have to be put down. The only way orphaned neo-natal kitten survive is with specialized care from a foster home like the kind Hannah Shaw plays host to.
To help spread awareness for the difficult positions that thousands of cats are put in every year and to help continue to teach neo-natal kitten weaning to wannabe cat foster parents, Hannah recently released her first book: Tiny but Mighty: Kitten Lady’s Guide to Saving the Most Vulnerable Felines. In just its first week of publication, the book has already darted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, as well as the bestseller lists of the Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly’s. All things considered, the book is actually quite instructive and detailed. There’s a lot to digest here if you’re going into kitten fostering. Alas, I’m not personally a kitten fosterer, so the journey was more of a distant one that it might’ve been otherwise.
My favorite aspect of the book was, of course, the personal stories. Many of these are transcribed and more detailed versions of stories she’s told on her YouTube channel, but they’re all fun to revisit. Shaw uses every story to brilliantly highlight some aspect of her kitten rescuing operation to teach lessons about how to easily find access to TNR programs. These help cut down on the excessively high birthrates of feral cats. She also shares personal stories about how each new kitten she’s cared for has personally challenged her skills as a fosterer. Some of them are there just to show the extremes her job has taken her to, such as one story in which she saved a kitten on a vacation to Peru and had to rush getting the cat proper veterinary treatment for a flight back to the United States.
Beyond finding the book engaging, I can’t speak to the technical know-how of neo-natal cat fostering. I would be a liar if I tried to nitpick any of the book’s explanations for how to do so. By all means, Hannah Shaw’s influence in an area of study that seems to lack consistent scientific knowledge is likely invaluable as research to people who work in this line of fostering. Put simply, there’s not a lot of science out there on the biology of neo-natal kittens. Her experience fostering hundreds of kittens is some of the best information available to the public. As she explains in the book, the actual research available for her to learn how to do her job is limited. Most veterinarians aren’t even trained on how to care for kittens under the age of eight weeks, and they aren’t willing to risk hurting an infant kitten.
Maybe the book’s most valuable knowledge for the layman is its willingness to take on a lot of the common misconceptions about the nature of the industry of taking care of animals. Her chapter on kill-shelters and no-kill shelters is an invaluable reality check into one of the most wrongly maligned industries working in animal welfare. If you did a double-take at that sentence, allow me to explain. As Hannah describes in her book, there are two kinds of shelters available to the public. Public shelters legally have to take in all animals submitted to them, while private shelters are allowed to turn away animals at their whim. Neither model is necessarily wrong, but the infamous “kill shelters” are just names for public shelters with extremely limited resources and no ability to turn away animals. Often they just have to euthanize animals for their own good because there’s no room for them. In the case of neo-natal kittens, there are literally no resources available for 24/7 animal care. “No-kill shelters” are just shelters that have the right to turn away excess animals they don’t have the resources to care for. It’s a tragic reality that thousands of animals have to suffer and die every year, but that’s the reality of runaway breeding.
For that reason, Shaw spends a great deal of the book advocating for TNR (trap-neuter-release) programs for stray and feral cats which allow them to live lives comfortably in outdoor colonies without the burden of bringing multiple liters of kittens into the world with depressingly high mortality rates. As Hannah explains in the book, the rise of TNR programs has helped cut back on the numbers of euthanized neo-natal kittens tremendously. Hannah is also a deeply outspoken advocate against breeding cats which she says contributes to the ongoing deaths of thousands of cats each year which could use a home that would otherwise go to a pure-bred.
As strident and unusual as some of Hannah’s stances may seem to the novice, there’s a strong desire running through the entirety of the book that animal life is precious and needs to be preserved. As a non-fosterer, that was my biggest takeaway from the book. The world as it is doesn’t know the full reality of the situation regarding what’s truly hurting cats. Rampant breeding is causing more pain than “kill shelters.” For that reason, the book serves as a needed call to action in it’s darker moments. At the same time, though, Tiny by Mighty is very much light reading material. It’s a brisk, often quite cozy book that’s done a lot to correct the record on issues I knew nothing about while offering the joy of reading heart-warming stories of kitten adoptions. The eccentrics that come with the job of neo-natal kitten fostering are rather strange, being that they involve midnight feedings and helping baby kittens to poop by using tissues. I can say that regardless of my newly obtained knowledge of kitten evacuation cycles, my need to indulge my kitten obsession is well satiated!
Special thanks to Penguin Randomhouse for providing Geeks Under Grace with a review copy of Tiny but Mighty!
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