Animal Rescue of the Week: Episode 48 – Orphan Kitten Club

Orphan Kitten Club is on a mission to end the killing of neonatal kittens–and to give every kitten a chance at a full and happy life. They are building a safer world for the tiniest felines by rescuing them in their state-of-the-art kitten nursery, ending the cycle of reproduction through sterilization, and providing the world’s first grant program targeted at saving neonatal kittens.


Welcome to the ARPA Animal Shelter of the week podcast where we introduce you to incredible organizations around the country that are focused on helping animals. We’re proud to be sponsored by Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters, and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Let’s meet this week’s featured animal rescue.

The Orphan Kitten Club is on a mission to end the killing of neonatal kittens and to give every kitten a chance at a full and happy life. They’re building a safer world for the tiniest felines by rescuing them in their state of the art kitten nursery, ending the cycle of reproduction through sterilization, and providing the world’s first grant program targeted at saving neonatal kittens.

Hi Sonia, welcome to the show. Hi, thank you so much for having me. Of course, we’re so excited to learn more about you guys. You guys are a part of the Orphan Kitten Club in San Diego, California, and you’re the Program Manager, is that right? Yes. Perfect. Well, I’m very excited to learn about you guys. Your website is very intriguing and I’m really interested in learning more about, you know, what you guys do. So can you tell me a little bit about your organization? Yeah. Orphan Kitten Club is a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded by Hannah Shaw. She’s known online as Kitten Lady, and this is her nonprofit that is focused on helping neonatal kittens. So all of our programs directly impact the tiniest felines. That is, I love that. Can you elaborate a little bit on that? So when you say that you guys care for the teeny tiny little felines, how does that work? So with our nursery program, which is where we’re directly working with neonatal kittens, our kittens are brought to us by various rescues that we partner with. We’ve also taken kittens in from veterinarian’s offices and so forth. We generally don’t take kittens from the public, we do get a lot of inquiries about that, and I always redirect people to the appropriate group that can help them. But whenever kitten has been to us, we request where they were found, and then our team will go out and try and find the colony that the kitten came from, and then we TNR the whole colony. So we sterilize all the cats there. Oh, wow. Okay, so you guys care for the neonatal kittens? But you guys are also big on the TNR program as well.

So right now, we have three programs. Our first program is our kitten nursery. This is an in house nursery, and we have two rooms where we do that. Our first room is our neonatal room, and there we have incubator set up and all the things that you would need to care for a kitten, 0-2 weeks of age. In our other room, we have our socialization area, and that has been customized so that it’s like a giant playroom for kittens where they can really express themselves and learn how to be cats. So when you guys take it, I know that you had said that you take them in from other rescue organizations. How long is a kitten usually in your care? Do you guys care for that neonatal kitten? And then they move to that socialization room and then do you guys also work to adopt them out? I kind of, I kind of just added a bunch of questions in there. But I’m just curious as to how long you guys normally have one of these kittens in your care. Yeah, no, that’s a great question. So what we do is we care for the kittens until they are a surgery away, which is two pounds. Generally that’s at eight weeks of age. A lot of times we end up doing surgery at nine weeks because our babies do come to us, and they’re very tiny and underweight. And sometimes they need that extra week to really bulk up. A lot of times they’re adopted on at nine weeks. Traditionally, it’s 2 pounds, 8 weeks, but that milestone is kind of challenging for kittens sometimes. So at that point, generally when they’re like six weeks of age, I’ll start looking for adopters and set everything up so that they have at least two weeks where we know where they’re going. And then we kind of work with the adopter is to help nest and get their homes ready for kittens and prepare them for this big responsibility they’re about to take. Oh Yes, definitely. Um, do you guys care for, like, kittens in general? Or do you guys just focus on those neonatal kittens? So our focus is really neonatal and special needs kittens. We really try to bring in kittens that are under four weeks of age, or have some sort of illness, or injury or something that we can work through. A lot of times we’ll transfer out kittens from our local shelter that have some kind of challenge.

Recently, we had a kitten, Gooseberry, and she had a severe overbite, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it actually is because her teeth were impaling the roof of her mouth. Oh my goodness. And this is the type of thing that a shelter is not comfortable adopting out a kitten like that because they don’t have the follow through with an adopter. So in our adoption contract for Gooseberry, she had her baby teeth, her baby canines and incisors on the bottom removed, and then in the contract, it states that 6 to 7 months of age when her adult teeth are growing in, which is now, I’m working with her doctor right now, we will pay for her dental care, but she has to go to a dentist and then see if they need to file them or remove them completely. So she’s, like, kind of a, simple, straightforward, special needs case that we’ve had. We’ve also had kittens who were–had visual impairments, who had issues with their limbs and, like, twisted leg syndrome and those sort of things. So we kind of just try to help the ones that need the most help. You guys are doing some amazing stuff over there. Thank you. Yeah, not a problem.

So I saw a program–was your Mightycat Program? Yeah, our Mightycat Program is wonderful. It is my favorite part of my job. It’s actually the very first grant program in the world to specifically fund the care and protection of neonatal kittens. So our grants are specifically just for neonates. This is our way of having more of a macro impact. Our more micro impact would be our kitten nursery. And then it goes into our TNR that we do with a full circle program which I’ll tell you about later. And then our biggest impact is with our Mightycat Program. With our grant program, we connect with different shelters and rescues from around the country, and this is by invitation only right now, which means I do a lot of research and I will reach out to organizations and have them apply to become a partner organization. For them to be a partner organization, it really means that our missions need to align. We need to see that they are focused on the 0 to 8 weeks age range of kittens, and that they could possibly grow or need help. Our Mightycat Grants have two different kinds. We have individual kitten grants, and larger program mighty grants. Our individual kitten grants are grants that are specifically for kittens within these organizations that need some sort of medical care that goes above and beyond what the rescues would normally do for a kitten. An example would be, an enucleation of an eye or needs CT scan. Sometimes those could be $2,500 and those are the kind of things that a small rescue generally cannot pay for. Yeah.

And also with larger rescues, they have a herd mentality. I come from a shelter background. So when you’re looking at a single life and you’re like, “wow, this kitten need this and this, this is going to be this many thousands of dollars or this and this and this.” A lot of times it’s easier to move forward with human euthanasia, which is an outcome that happens sometimes. So our individual kitten grants are a way for these rescues to not have to move forward with that, and to request a grant specifically for the care of that kitchen. And it’s been really great so far. We have worked with organizations all over the country, and it’s been a really interesting process for me. A lot of learning. It’s been challenging because if you have to set up boundaries and parameters. Yeah. Like I can’t have it open to everyone. It can’t be opened to individuals. They have to be 501(c)3 nonprofits. There’s a lot that goes into becoming a partner, and those boundaries are set for my own sanity. Yeah.

We’re still a small organization. But we have amazing donors, and this is our way of giving back with the donations because we’re 100% funded by donations. And we don’t use–we can’t possibly use all of the donations for our kittens that we have in-house. And this is our creative way of giving back and yeah, we’re very proud of that. We’re very lucky. We have amazing donors. We have one time donations and then we also have monthly donors that are really our bread and butter, and they allow us to have programs like this that are very unique and specialized. We kind of think of ourselves as, like more boutique, like we get to do things in a very cool, innovative way, that’s not traditional. Absolutely. I hope that this is a program that you guys can eventually grow over time because it truly is amazing. Yeah, thank you. It’s, um, it’s definitely getting bigger. We do have another branch through our Mightycat Grants as well, which I could briefly go over. Um, these are our programmatic grants, and so this is our way of giving a larger amount to the organizations that we work with.

Right now, I have 24 Mightycat partners. So this is something that we offer to all of them in different cycles of the year. We’ve done two cycles so far of programmatic grants. Um, and I’m about to send out all of the grant agreements to everyone in this next week, which is really exciting, because there’s nothing better than opening an email with someone being like, “Hey, we’re gonna give you money.” Yes. So, it’s really great. Our programmatic grants, um, leave it kind of open ended and we have numerous questions, but it’s–we ask the organizations to come up with creative ways, they’d like to be funded for either a new or an existing program that directly affects neonatal kittens. And we have had some really interesting grant applications. Um, they kind of vary from some organizations, really, just in incubators. And incubators could be up to $1,000, and that’s a lot of money for a small organization to spend. Um, so sometimes that’s really what they need, and we will grant them funds to get the incubators, and in return, we just ask that they send up some stories and photographs so that we can share with our audience and then continue to fundraise. Um, we also have funded grants for foster kits. So the organizations will give us a List, itemized of everything they’d want a foster kit, how much they would need. And we’ll, grant them those funds. And then they’ll create the kits so that they can get those out to their fosters, because one of the biggest challenges with organizations having foster parents, is a lot of times, even larger rescues cannot pay for all of the supplies needed to care for kittens, because there’s a lot that goes into kitten care. And so this was, kind of, our way to give them a little leg up. When it comes to kitten season next year, it’s like, “Okay, here you go, make your kits.” And then when they get a litter of kittens, they find a foster. They could just give the foster parent this kit and they’ll be ready to go. Also, those are some move the grants we’ve done. We’ve also, um, funded different positions within an organization. Um, we worked with ACCT Philly, and they really needed to have, someone who could help find fosters, and also care for the kittens that come into their care until they’re sent to foster. They create a job position called the Advocate position. And we funded, um, two different employees part time for their last kitten season, to  have that job. And it made a big impact, which is great.

One of the questions that keeps coming in my head is how is the community like for your organization? Do you guys have, like, an over abundance of neonatal kittens? Is that kind of what started this? Or I mean, I like you don’t really hear about that. So I’m just kind of curious to see what that—what the community is like for you guys and how you guys kind of got this idea like, “Hey, we’re gonna care for neonatal kittens.” It’s pretty interesting. So as far as, I can’t really speak for Hannah, who’s our founder. But she has been working with neonatal kittens for the last decade. We became friends, just, it was kind of an interesting thing. I worked out a kitten nursery, um, in San Diego. I’ve taken care of kittens professionally for a number of years. And I was looking on Instagram, and I was like, “Hey, like that is the location of where I work. And it was a picture that she had taken when she came to visit the kitten nursery. And so we started talking. Um, and I applied to kind of volunteer with her, and that’s how I met her. And I got to learn about all the amazing work that she’s done as a humane educator. She travels around the country and now, really the world, to teach people about neonatal kitten care. They are the most vulnerable population in shelters. I saw that firsthand working at an animal shelter, and I just fell in love with the idea of helping these little babies.

And so she founded the organization in 2016, and I came on in 2018. I left my job at the shelter and became the program manager, and she moved out to San Diego. Um, there were a lot of reasons why she wanted to move out here from Washington D.C. area, but when she did, I warned her that it’s kitten season all year round. Oh wow. Because on the East Coast it’s—she would have trouble even getting kittens during the holiday time. I’m like, “Oh, you, you won’t have any trouble here,” because San Diego especially is, I mean, it’s warm all year round. Cats are constantly in heat. Um, and we have a lot of amazing rescues and shelters in San Diego County. Um, but it is a never ending cycle. Um, so, yeah, it’s a, it’s a community full of kittens. Um, that being said, we have worked very hard to become part of the community here and work alongside other organizations. Something that we both really want to focus on is making sure that we stay positive and supportive for the community both online and in person. We just had a dinner last week that we hosted, and we invited a bunch of different rescues that work with neonatal kittens just so that we could, kind of, get some face time and, kind of, meet each other in person if we hadn’t met before. Kind of, talk about kittens and just thank everyone for the amazing work that they do, because all rescues are afraid. And they all have different impacts. Um, and we want to make sure that we’re all, you know, focusing on our goal, which is helping kittens and cats. Um, so that was really great. We’re really proud of our community here.

There are a lot of amazing groups that we get to work with, um so yeah, that’s kind of our community in San Diego. And that’s good, because I mean, like, I had pointed out before, It seems like you guys are very in tune with your community, and I always love to hear that organizations are working together because, you know, you do have those few organizations that are like “we got it, we’re independent. we want to do this.” And that’s great, but it’s always nice to hear that organizations are working together towards the same goal because ultimately that’s what we’re doing, right? Yeah. We’re trying to save animals and give them a voice and, you know, so I find it amazing. And I did have that. I was gonna ask you a little bit about that dinner that you guys did. So I mean, I’m happy that you brought that up because that was one of the indicators that I saw that really, you know, strike me like, “Hey, they’re actually working really hard to, you know, bring organizations together.” So I find that amazing. Thank you.

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So, um, you’ve mentioned all of these great programs and all the great work that you guys are doing for the kittens, and for the community, and other organizations. What would you guys say is the biggest challenge for your organization? I think our biggest challenge, and this sounds really silly, but it’s honestly taking things slow. Um, both Hannah and myself have a lot of ideas and a lot of things that we want to do. But we are a small organization, and it is mainly the two of us coming up with ideas, um, and then figuring out how we’re gonna follow them through. That being said, we have a lot of amazing support. We have an incredible board. We bring consultants. Her partner, Andrew, is wonderful and helps us directly with the kitten care and also with creating these beautiful images that we get to use for our website, and for promotional uses. That’s another thing that makes us a little bit different, is we really try to make things visually appealing. Um, that’s challenging because, like with TNR. TNR is not cute, like trapping cats–I was out on Saturday. I was trying to trap cats in the rain, like, covered in like mud, and cat food, and it was not cute. But we really try to show people that it’s cool to be part of this community. Um, so with images that Andrew is able to capture of our babies in the nursery and when we’re out, Um, working with cats doing TNR. Uh, it’s really helpful because we’re able to show that to everyone online and be like, “Hey, no, this is cool.” And so we try to brand things. We have acute logo. When we go out trapping, we use these amazing trap covers that were made by, um, donors. They send them in the mail to us, and they’re beautiful, made with gorgeous fabric. So it’s not just the towel. And we try to educate people and show them like how impactful and important these things are. Um, so yeah, it’s–that is a challenge for us as well. But it’s really fun. That’s–and that, but you know what? Moving too fast and having that vision and having you know so many ideas, I mean that–that’s amazing, you know, because some people don’t have that. They’re just kind of working here now and, you know, and so I love it. And I love that you pointed out your images, because if any of our listeners want to go check out your website, I mean, I highly recommend it. Your guys’ is images and your photos and everything. They are so amazing, like well done. I love them. And for me, when I was doing the research and I went to your team’s page and I kind of like, you know, looked around it. You guys are actually realize, like, Hey, you guys are actually the ones that are in these photos And yeah, that was amazing to me. So I love it. I recommend anybody to go and check them out.

So it’s amazing that in three years, you know, this whole organization has made such a huge impact, and it seems like it’s doing so well for you guys. Yeah, thank you. No it’s, it’s a lot of fun. Um, it’s a lot of work getting everything together. Um, the website is sometimes I haven’t updated everything on there, but we try to keep it, um as up to date as possible. And we recently launched social media this summer, which we’re kind of waiting on doing, um because it’s a whole–. Yeah. It’s a whole other thing. But it’s been really great, and we enjoy sharing stories with people, and hearing from people who follow us, and support what we’re doing, and people who have been inspired by the work that we’re doing because that’s that’s why we do this, because we want to be the organization that people can look up to and be like, “Hey, they’re doing it right. Well, let’s do that,” Yes, and that’s–that’s important.

So Sonia, you seem like you’ve been in the animal field for quite a while. Do you have any type of memorable story that you’d like to share with us? That kind of either got you into animal welfare where you were just like, “Hey, this is what I want to do with my life.” Yeah, I can tell you about how I got started and also a nice memory from especially working with Orphan Kitten Club. I got started working animal welfare a little bit later in my life. I’m in my thirties now. Went to college for art, professionally sold antiques and vintage online for many years. But I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I felt like I wasn’t helping, and I always wanted to work with animals. I’m vegan and very much into animal rights, so I decided to go back to school and I went to a vocational school to become a veterinary assistant, and when I was doing my internship for six weeks after the program was over, I got an internship at the kitten nursery. So, um, that’s when I fell in love with neonatal kitten care. And I remember from the first day I was hooked and I worked my butt off and I was hired during my internship. And that’s how I started working and shelters. And it’s been it’s been an interesting journey. I worked in the kitten nursery. I worked at the Behavior Center. I was a humane law officer. Wow. So I’ve worked in animal control, uh, which is very interesting, but it was a shaping experience for me. I think seeing working directly with victims of cruelty was very hard. Yes, But I think it made my passion grow even more. Seeing these animals that had been abused and neglected and then prosecuting people for it. That was amazing. Um, I’m very glad I did that, but when I got the opportunity to kind of focus more on my biggest passion, which is neonatal kittens and this came up and I went for it and I’m so happy to work for Orphan Kitten Club because this is exactly what I want to be doing. I have so many great memories here. I’ve worked with just incredible kittens that have really made a lasting impact. One of them I have tattooed on my chest. Oh wow! Because I fell in love with him. His name was DeepDish. He was from our pizza boy litter. Oh, goodness. I loved him so much. I’m still in contact with his adopter. His family is wonderful, but yeah, I’ve learned a lot. I think, um, some of the big things for me as far as kitten care was when Hannah taught me how to tube feed and having to tube feed kittens, that are 3 to 5 days old every two hours. It’s extremely challenging and scary. Um, but that was like a big deal for me and medically, like a memory where I’m like, “wow, I feel confident in my skills now” and that’s that’s great, because I didn’t know how to do that before. I also have wonderful memories with our mighty cut grants. Um, seeing the after photos of kittens that we’ve helped. There’s nothing better. There really isn’t. It seems like you really have been around a little bit, too, you know, learn new things. And ultimately, it sounds like all of the, you know, the experiences that you had really put you to where you are now. It’s always something. It’s either medically with kittens. Um, like, before this, I was just deworming the kittens upstairs like, it’s I’m gonna have my grandson working on later today. It’s all different stuff. And yeah, I got to go get my TNR supplies from this weekend. I’ve got to pick them up from a volunteer. So it’s busy all the time, but I love it. And we are all so proud of this organization. I know this I what Hannah dreamed of. And Orphan Kitten Club is really just surpassing all that we have already thought that it could be. Yes.

And you just mentioned that you guys have volunteers. Do you guys–how many volunteers do you guys usually have that come in and help you guys? So, um, I have volunteers that kind of help with different aspects of the nonprofit. We have three volunteers that are actually on the east Coast that had volunteered for Hannah, um, and kitten lady stuff. And they currently helped me with all of our e-mails. Um, we have multiple email accounts and we do have quite a lot of visibility because of Hannah’s presence online. So we get lots of inquiries. Um, and it is a little bit too much for me personally to handle on top of my workload. So I have three volunteers Christie, Catherine and Brie, who I love. And they help with that. And then I have a volunteer team of about 10 people in San Diego that help with our full circle program and our TNR efforts. And so they’re the people that when we get a new litter of kittens, I put it on this spreadsheet, email everyone and say, “Hey, here’s the colony.” Then they sign up to either be a leader of support, and then I get them all supplies so that they can TNR the colony. So I have 10 people there. And then I also have a friend who helps me with all of the fun-not-so-fun cleaning that’s associated with caring for kittens. Um, we’re very much into keeping our kittens healthy and safe. I came from a quarantine background so I’m a little bit over the top with cleaning, but it’s you got to do it and you would not believe the laundry that from and just like everything is like it’s, it’s a lot and so there’s always a big project that I need help with. And I have my volunteer Sandy, who helps me with that. So, yeah, we have a great team of volunteers. People do e-mail us quite often about volunteering. I think that’s amazing, and I’m super grateful. But right now I think we’re okay. So we will always post on our social media. If we’re looking for volunteers or if we have any bigger projects next year, we will have lots of new stuff going on. So I’m sure I’ll need more help. And that, you know, that’s kind of great to hear you know that you guys, you guys are getting the help that you need and you’ve got those volunteers and, you know, usually organizations, you know, they’re always wanting more volunteers. So the fact that you guys have, you know, the great people that are there to help you and support you and everything like that that, that’s awesome.

And I wanted to kind of lead into that question as to what the future looks like for your organization’s. I’m happy that you kind of mentioned next year. Can you kind of give us a little sneak peek at, you know, what you–what your guy’s vision is for the future. I think next year really is going to be focused on building another program, which is in the works and also really community building. Um, like I said, it’s something that we’ve been working on. But this organization is still new in San Diego, and we really want to be a part of that community. Next year our Mightycat Grant Program, I have a feeling we’ll be even bigger and better. Um, there’s just so much I’m looking forward to with that. And yeah, we’re gonna just keep doing what we’re doing and showing people how important it is to care for neonatal kittens.

How can one go about getting in contact with you guys? Yeah, so our website is On our website, it has links to our Instagram and our Facebook. Our handle is just OrphanKittenClub. Um, we post regularly on there, and people are welcome to comment. If you want to get directly in touch with us, please email That is the best way to get in touch with us. We have a mailing address that’s on our website as well. If people want to send us anything in the mail. We do love when we get art from people. A lot of people fall in love with the kittens that we raised and they’ll make beautiful artwork and they send it to us and that—when the art comes to us, we will frame it and then hang it on our kitten nursery. So the walls of our socialization room are just full of beautiful artwork. So that’s really, really nice. So yeah, if you’re looking to volunteer in San Diego with cats or kittens, you are always welcome to e-mail us and we will send you in the direction of other rescues. That’s part of what we’ll do when people ask how they could help, I’ll say, “what do you want to do? Here’s the organizations that need your help.” Because a lot of other organizations are not as lucky as we are with our visibility. It is a lot harder to get volunteers, so we’re happy to share the wealth of our volunteers. That’s amazing Sonia, and thank you so much for sharing that. I hope that this kind of brings more light to you guys. And I love that you guys were willing to help out other organizations and everything like that.

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