Choosing our favorite Catster Heroes feels a lot like choosing which shoe we like best: the left or the right. There are so many incredible individuals and organizations across the country doing great work to ensure feral cats are spayed and neutered, “unadoptable” kitties in shelters get a second chance, and broken cats are nursed back to health.
Here are 10 people, cats, and organizations that overcame seemingly insurmountable odds this year to make the world a more compassionate — and adorable — place, one kitty at a time.
Many shelters are wary of taking in FIV-positive cats, leaving kitties infected with the virus more likely to be euthanized. Fortunately, that is not the case at Tabby’s Place, a cat sanctuary in Ringoes, New Jersey, that houses many special-needs and otherwise “unadoptable” residents. The shelter’s FIV suite gives hope to infected felines and teaches visitors that FIV need not be a death sentence.
“FIV-positive cats can live normal and healthy lives,” says Angela Townsend, development director at Tabby’s Place. “Although cats can live with FIV for many happy, healthy years, the condition tends to scare away potential adopters.”
Self-described “neonatal kitten warrior” Hannah Shaw got into the cat rescue game by accident. Walking down the street in Philadelphia, she looked up into a tree and saw “a teeny tiny kitten looking down at me,” she says. That was seven years ago, and Shaw has been rescuing kittens ever since, documenting her progress through her seriously adorable Instagram account — and drawing attention to the plight homeless kittens face.
“It’s really interesting that a lot of people are surprised that kittens are such an at-risk population,” Shaw says.
A live-in therapy cat at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island, Oscar the cat has a knack for befriending residents who are facing their final days. His ability to detect impending death and provide comfort to people in their twilight hours has made Oscar the “miracle cat” the celebrated subject of an academic paper and a bestselling book.
Though Oscar is getting up in years himself, the handsome gray tabby still finds time to make his daily rounds.
It’s no secret that feral and homeless cats are a significant concern in communities across the globe. When Karn Myers and her husband, Mark Dodge, discovered there were nearly 2 million homeless kitties in Los Angeles alone, they founded FixNation, a nonprofit organization that spays and neuters approximately 14,000 community cats each year. Since 2007, FixNation has altered more than 115,000 cats, and it’s still going strong.
“The best way people can help is by taking action and getting involved,” Karn says. “It takes a lot of commitment and perseverance, but the results are tangible and monumental.”
When this handsome, 37-pound tuxedo cat grew too fat to use his litter box, his owners simply abandoned him instead of buying a larger box or helping their cat lose weight. Fortunately, Sir Winston was scooped up by Nancy Sayle, CEO of Fur & Feather Animal Sanctuary, who is committed to helping the kitty lose weight and get healthy.
To cover Sir Winston’s medical costs, Sayle has created a YouCaring page, which is accepting donations through the end of the year.
Veterinary care isn’t cheap, but Santa Rosa, California-based organization Compassion Without Borders doesn’t want to see any more pets end up in shelters because their owners could not afford the vet bill. The Compassion Without Borders volunteer team primarily provides free basic veterinary care in the U.S. and Mexico for animals who, if they ended up in a shelter, would have less than a 20 percent chance of making it out alive.
According to Compassion Without Borders vet Christi Camblor, the need for this kind of care cannot be overstated, with a clinic in October drawing 130 people before 9 a.m.
San Francisco-based photographer Josh Norem, also known as the Furrtographer, has spent the last three years taking pictures of special-needs cats. During his many years in animal rescue, Norem has adopted several blind cats of his own. His main goal is to help adoptable pets find homes — particularly the ones who may be considered “less adoptable” due to their disabilities.
“Every single special-needs cat I have ever photographed has been adopted, with just one exception, out of hundreds,” Norem says. “That’s a pretty good average!”
After being rescued from a hoarding situation in 2014, famously fluffy Buzz the Fuzz has really been on a roll. After serving as an advocate against animal abuse via his Facebook page, Buzz became a certified therapy cat through Paws for Friendship earlier this year. Working as a therapy cat has allowed Buzz to spread his unique brand of feline companionship to individuals in nursing homes and hospitals.
When badass biker dude Pat Doody found an injured kitten alongside the road, the tough-looking road warrior showed his soft side. Doody grabbed the kitty and drove home with the animal riding close to his heart — literally, tucked inside his denim vest. Just when you thought the story couldn’t get any better, Doody named the orange tabby Party Cat — and yes, he totally adopted him.
Despite having to recover from the shock of sharing his new home with a dog, today Party Cat is happy and healthy — and he and Doody both look great on Instagram.
This sassy, 15-year-old senior was rescued by Eden Nava, a caring woman who renamed the cat Marzipan — but “she’s deaf, so she doesn’t really respond to either,” Nava says. When the Seattle Persian and Himalayan Rescue posted a video of a sick, broken Fancy languishing in the shelter, Nava decided to give the cat a second chance — and the “best retirement ever.”
Initially, Nava assumed Fancy would only live a couple of weeks because the cat was in such bad shape — but more than a year later, Fancy is still making Instagram more adorable.
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.