Reinventing the Cat Lady

Let's play Mad Libs. "________ Cat Lady." What adjective do you choose?
By: Hannah Shaw
The Cat Lady

It’s no doubt that our culture has done a great job of cementing the ubiquitous term “crazy cat lady.” The most common pop cultural depiction of cat lovers is this: a lonely old woman with frazzled hair and a bathrobe covered in fur. You can buy this image as an action figure, a board game, and even a Halloween costume! But do these images accurately depict the life of a modern cat lady?

I’m a cat lady by profession and passion, and I say no.

My life is dedicated to saving felines’ lives, and I live a balanced, healthy and very fun life. I’m a modern day cat lady and I say it’s time to retire this tired old trope. It’s time to get out the hair brush, toss out the ratty old bath robe and step into the sunlight and out into the world. It’s time to reinvent the cat lady.

I run a project called Kitten Lady and my mission is to change the world for orphaned kittens.

There is a critical need to address the widespread euthanasia of kittens in the U.S. shelter system, and I spend every day of my life developing resources that save lives. I am extremely driven, and I am laser-focused on elevating the status of orphaned kittens. So sure, you could say that cats are a defining part of my life. I’ve certainly been called a “crazy cat lady.”

And yet, I’m also a dynamic individual. I have an active social life and a passport full of stamps. I’m a total busybody and an extrovert, and I certainly can’t be defined by the crazy cat lady stereotype. One day I’m in a blazer advocating for policy change for cats, and the next day I’m in dirty jeans and a t-shirt trapping cats for TNR (trap-neuter-return) … but most of the time I’m in a vintage dress, carrying a cute bag that may or may not contain sleeping orphans.

My wardrobe is as variable as the actions I take to save lives. Cats need so much help in the United States; there is an absolute abundance of ways to help them. There is no one way to be a cat advocate.

Kitten Lady Reinvented

If there’s anything sociology teaches us about stereotypes, it’s that representation plays a key role in the ways we understand who we are and who we can be. We know that media influences our beliefs, and that our beliefs then drive our behaviors. Humans are social individuals who learn through observation of others – so when we only observe cat rescuers as unhinged, lonely women, it does have a measurable impact on both the outlook of people involved in cat rescue, and their willingness to get involved in the first place.

With such a negative stigma against the archetypal crazy cat lady, it’s no surprise that only 20 percent of cat owners are men, and that 31 percent fewer people report being attracted to “cat people” than “dog people.”

The resulting impact is that fewer cats are saved.

As a person who spends her whole life dedicated to ending the euthanasia of cats, I recognize a need for a shift in consciousness in the way we think about and perceive cats and the people who save them.

My favorite thing about operating one of the largest social media accounts for cat advocates is that I’m able to depict to a large audience what the modern cat lady can be. To me, being a cat lady is about more than loving cats.

A cat lady in 2016 is a socially-conscious advocate who cares deeply about the protection of animals, and who strives to find innovative ways to protect them.

We need positive role models who show us how to become self-actualized, cat-saving superheroes, no matter what our lifestyle is.

We need women like Dr. Shayda, a megababe veterinarian who not only performs lifesaving surgeries on vulnerable shelter animals but also helped the Palm Springs Animal Shelter achieve no-kill standards under her leadership. Or Ellen Carozza, a badass, tattooed LVT with a passion for discovering and teaching innovative treatments for neonates, and an Instagram full of kittens in tiny hats.

Kitten Lady Hannah Shaw

Or Kate Benjamin, a rock star style expert who founded the company Hauspanther, which essentially proves that cat design can be chic, contemporary and cool. That’s the thing: these are cool women. These are beautiful women. These are smart women and these are women you want to be friends with. That’s the modern cat lady. Cool, talented, put-together, and changing the game for cats.

So with all these incredible examples of the modern cat lady, why are cats still associated with introversion and reclusiveness? I believe this has to do with the very nature of where cats live: in the home. It’s traditionally been harder for cat people to find each other, and to see each other. See, dog people have the dog park, but cat people have the internet. As social networking grows, more and more cat lovers are finding each other, and establishing a new definition of cat lady – one where the participants can collaborate, learn from one another, and save the world together.

Personally, I cannot wait to see what the future holds for cats and society. As we expand our understanding of not only the issues impacting cats, but also the myriad ways that a diverse group of people can get involved, we expand our capacity to help. When we promote positive, measured, and accessible approaches, we not only improve our own lives – we also break down barriers to survival for cats.

As I always say, “it doesn’t have to be crazy to save lives.”