“Pretty much everywhere I go, I end up coming home with a kitten,” Hannah Shaw told Travel + Leisure.
Shaw is a humane educator and advocate who focuses on the rescue and care of neonatal kittens. She has a hard time going anywhere — even on vacation — without rescuing a kitten in need. You may have even heard of her: She’s the “Kitten Lady.”
Shaw and her boyfriend, professional cat photographer Andrew Marttila, had spent their vacation in Peru trekking through the jungle, hiking the Andes, and visiting the ancient city of Machu Picchu. After touring the Lost City of the Incas, Shaw and Marttila explored the small town of Aguas Caliente while waiting for the train back to Cusco.
“I heard this scream,” Shaw said. “I was like: That is a kitten.”
Shaw followed the sound and found a young boy with a tiny, blue-eyed kitten in his hands. There was no mother cat around, and the kitten was visibly trembling.
“There [was] no animal shelter,” Shaw said. “There was nowhere to take her. It was just not a good situation.” Fortunately, Shaw even had food on her for the ravenous kitten. “I had cat food in my bag because — of course I did,” she said.
With their train rapidly approaching, Marttila suggested to Shaw they try to take the kitten back to the United States. They smuggled her onto the train, and then onto a van. By the time they arrived in Cusco, it was near midnight. They needed to be at the airport at 10:00 in the morning.
“I’ve done all sorts of really crazy rescues before,” Shaw said. ‘I will always figure it out.”
The couple spent the evening making phone calls and grooming the kitten for her upcoming airport inspection. They named her Munay Michi, (pronounced moon-eye) which means “pretty cat” in Quechua.
Despite the language barrier and the roaming charges (“We haven’t gotten the phone bills yet, but it probably won’t be pretty”), Shaw and Marttila determined that Munay would need her own ticket to board the airplane, as well as vaccines and an international health certificate. In the morning, they rushed her to a local veterinarian, and “then we took a cab and hauled ass to the airport.”
The final test of Shaw and Marttila’s efforts came at customs in Atlanta. On the customs declaration form, Shaw had checked that, yes, she was indeed bringing: “b) Meats, animals, animal/wildlife products.”
“[The gate agent],” Shaw recalled, “said, ‘what food item would you like to declare?'”
“Well, I have a cat,” Shaw replied. “But she’s not a food item.”
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The gate agent laughed, stamped her form, and that was the end of the trio’s exhausting return trip from Machu Picchu.
“If you find an animal in a very sad situation, or even if you just fall in love with an animal and want to bring them back, you can do that,” Shaw said, but added that just because an animal is living on the street it doesn’t mean they’re in crisis. “Assess the situation. Any small act of kindness is a fantastic thing to do, even if all you do is provide some food.”
At the airport, the official paperwork was in order, and Munay was permitted onto the domestic Avianca flight to Lima. Flying internationally with Delta was just as easy. “Munay did great — and that’s a long flight from Lima to Atlanta,” said Shaw. “She slept for most of the flight.”
Now, Munay has been transformed from a scrappy-looking street kitty into a healthy kitten. She will be adopted into her forever home in a week. For those who can’t get enough of Munay or her heartwarming story, the Kitten Lady is selling a Munay Moon-Eye t-shirt. A percentage of the proceeds will help support the work of cat rescuers in Peru at the temporary shelter, Oh my Cat, in Lima.