Ashley was in New York recovering from surgery after participating as a living liver donor for her father, when her friend shared a video of Kitten Lady, aka Hannah Shaw, with her. For the next two weeks, Ashley binge-watched Hannah’s videos about caring for neonatal kittens, and when Ashley returned home to California, she began fostering cats for her local rescue.
However, a few months later, one of Ashley’s beloved kittens, Priscilla, passed away from feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), a viral disease that is progressive and almost always fatal. “Suddenly, fostering was off the table for a while,” says Ashley. “Presley [Priscilla’s sister] and I were devastated and lonely, so we got a dog, Adelaide, and started fostering with a dog rescue!”
After fostering dogs for a while, it became that apparent that while Presley loved Adelaide, she missed having a feline companion, so Ashley resumed fostering kittens. She also began volunteering overnight at her local animal shelter, giving Ashley lots of experience caring for kittens with medical issues and convincing her that she was ready to adopt another cat.
“I knew I only had space in my home for one more cat for the next 15 years, and I was in a unique position to be able to handle a less adoptable cat, and if I could, I should,” explains Ashley. “So I gave direction to my rescue friends: ‘Find me something with less than two eyes, or less than four paws.’ “
Around this time, Hannah the Kitten Lady posted a video of Flower, a kitten who appeared to have the early signs of cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), a non-progressive neurological condition, so Ashley applied to adopt the young cat through Shaw’s rescue, Orphan Kitten Club (OKC). Much to Ashley’s surprise, OKC reached out to her, asking if she would be interested in adopting Dapper Dan, an adorable tuxedo with hind leg paralysis and incontinence, instead.
“I was terrified,” remembers Ashley. “I told them: ‘I work a lot and I worry that I won’t be able to provide him the immediate care he would need if he can’t use the litter box.’ ” After all, Ashley’s only exposure to paralyzed and incontinent cats had come through Hannah Shaw’s videos and photos, and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to express a cat’s bladder and bowels multiple times a day.
Fortunately, Ashley discovered Chloe, an Orphan Kitten Club alumni with paralysis and incontinence, had been adopted by a family who lived near her home in San Jose, and they graciously offered to provide her with firsthand experience. “They without hesitation welcomed me into their home to give expressing Chloe a try!” says Ashley, and she was successfully able to manually empty the young feline’s bladder and bowels. “I knew that I physically could handle it.”
However, Ashley still had her reservations, including concerns about teaching someone else to care for Dan in her absence, but after long conversations with both Hannah and Shanta — Dan’s foster mom — she was convinced she was meant to adopt the incredibly cute special needs kitten. “He was going to be a perfect fit for my family; I just couldn’t say no.” remembers Ashley, and in June 2019, she flew to Shanta’s home in Los Angeles.
Not only was she greeted by Shanta and Hannah, Ashley met Shanta’s many paralyzed and incontinent adopted and foster cats, but one of them was noticeably absent. “I turned to Shanta to ask where Dan was, but before I could get the words out, Dan was pulling on my pant leg to be picked up for our first snuggle,” says Ashley. “I was promptly smothered in face kisses and purrs galore. It was absolutely love at first sight.”
Smitten with the friendly 3-month-old kitten — who was rescued from the streets of San Diego during a trap-neuter-return (TNR) project when he was just six weeks old — Ashley adopted Dan, bringing him back to San Jose with her. Just as she’d expected, the black and white kitten quickly became a part of her family, and two months later, Dan is thriving in his forever home.
“Dan and my cat Presley became partners in crime, so Presley climbs up onto the counters that Dan can’t reach and then knocks stuff down for Dan to shred, like paper towels and bags of treats,” says Ashley.
In addition to making mischief with his new big sister, Dan enjoys going for walks with his mom, whether he’s in a stroller or a baby carrier, but there’s nothing he loves more than meeting new people. “He went to the cat convention in San Jose last weekend and made so many new friends,” explains Ashley. “He danced, he raved, he snoozed. I imagine he’s going to be a super adventure cat when it’s a little cooler outside.”
While Dan is a very happy and playful young cat, he does need a bit more care than the average feline. This handsome kitten, who experts suspect was born with a spinal abnormality, has to have his bladder and bowels emptied multiple times a day. However, within a matter of just a few weeks, Ashley has gotten each bathroom session down to approximately five minutes, cumulatively less time than it takes her to walk her dog.
“I need to be considerate of his potty needs, the same as I am about my dog,” says Ashley. “As a kitten his bladder fills more quickly, but once he’s older he will only need to be expressed twice a day, and this won’t really be an issue anymore.”
Also, while people often worry cats with special needs will require more medical care than the average feline, making them much more expensive to look after, Ashley believes the intimacy she and Dan share enables her to catch any health issues when they first begin.
“When a cat uses the litter box, you don’t see them struggle to urinate or defecate — you don’t get to see it or smell it in real time — and infections get way worse when they aren’t caught early,” explains Ashley. “I can easily treat something quickly if something doesn’t look or feel right, and that will definitely save me some traumatic vet bills down the road.”
This extra level care has also allowed Ashley to develop an emotional connection with Dan that is unlike any she has had with another pet, and she credits him with keeping her optimistic and calm while dealing with sickly foster kittens. While she didn’t expect to share such a deep bond with Dan, it’s one Ashley’s incredibly grateful, especially after enduring the stress of participating as a living donor for her father and coping with the tragic passing of Priscilla, her beloved kitten.
“I’ve learned so much about what I’m physically and emotionally capable of handling in my life — even after a year of crazy trauma, he taught me I can pretty much do anything,” says Ashley. “Finding Dan has turned out to be the most beautiful gift.”
To learn more about this handsome kitten, you can follow Dapper Dan on Instagram.