By Hannah Stevens @Hannahshewans
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Videographer / director: Colin Weatherby
Producer: Hannah Stevens, Ruby Coote
Editor: Ross Dower
In 2012, Shawn Simons, 50, set up Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats in Los Angeles after recovering from temporary paralysis caused by a double disc rupture in her spine, and giving up her life as a high flier in the television industry.
Shawn developed her own curriculum for the cats and has dedicated her entire life to changing theirs. Since then the ‘Headmistress' has successfully rescued and rehabilitated thousands of cats.
Shawn told Barcroft Animals: “We probably have about a 98 percent success rate of cats being able to move into a home and live lovely happy lives. The other two percent are placed into Working Cat programmes where they are taken care of."
“I’m not Dr Doolittle. I don’t speak to them but I try and understand where they are coming from.
“In three words, the best part about running the organisation is progress, people and pussies.”
Shawn came up with the idea for the charm school when she and her husband found a stray cat living in their back garden, who kept dropping litters of kittens.
Realising that she was going round in circles, Shawn decided to refocus her efforts on trapping, neutering and returning stray cats to the streets and reducing the population of stray kittens.
She explained: “Part of being humane is being human and there was a problem and I could see - that there was an over population of cats in the neighbourhood that I lived in.
“The city of Los Angeles was killing about 75 percent of the cats that went into the shelter, which is a crazy amount of cats, and I didn’t look at it like: 'Oh, I love cats, I wanna rescue cats.'
“I looked at it like: 'There is a problem in my city and I think I can help solve it', and that’s how this really started, when this really began.”
Kitty Bungalow operates as a trap, neuter, return system, offers medical check ups and advice for people who’ve adopted strays and rehabilitates strays for adoption.
Shawn said: “Kitty Bungalow Charm School For Wayward Cats is the only 100 percent feral cat socialisation facility in the entire US.
“We provide services in all aspects of that from trap-neuter-return, to make sure that we’re ending the over population problem, to the socialisation of these feral kittens, so that they turn into loving lap cats.
“What we really do at the bungalow is take cats from hiss to home.”
A lot of the charm school’s curriculum focuses on developing the kitten’s social skills and helping them to manage their anxiety around.
Shawn said: “We developed our own sort of system and we really take a psychological approach to that and, for me, that changed everything.
“The first of the feral cats, I really thought that the cat was gonna jump on me and de-bowel my intestine and run away, but what I realised is that the cats weren’t at all aggressive - they are anxious.
“There is no feeling like seeing a cat change and grow and become a super adoptable social cat.”
While she has dedicated her life to rescuing and rehabilitating cats, Shawn hasn’t gone full cat lady just yet.
She said: “I have two cats now and that is usually really depressing for people, or they are really disappointed.
“They want me to say I have 82 cats and I live alone but I have two cats, and they are fascinating interesting creatures and they follow me around wherever I go.”
Since founding the charm school, Shawn has tamed and socialised over 1,700 cats and, with the addition of growing and diverse programming and with the help of hundreds of volunteers each year, the organisation has neutered close to 7,000 and found homes for over 2,600 street cats.
She said: “I couldn’t imagine there are people who are still buying cats out there, I just find that queasy.
“So don’t buy cats, there are awesome, fabulous, adoptable cats at all of your local rescues and shelters - go get a couple!”
Find out more about the at: https://www.kittybungalow.org/