December 29, 2009 05:28 PM

Jill Rappaport spent much of her career reporting on celebrities for Today. But in recent years, the proud rescue-dog mom has found a new calling: bringing attention to pets in need. “I like to joke that I went from the red carpet to the wee-wee pad,” she tells “But some of these animals have changed my life forever.”

In her latest project, a children’s book called 500 Cats ($9.99), Rappaport follows kitten Mitten’s daily adventures at Cat House on the Kings, the largest no-kill, no-cage sanctuary in California. Founded in 1992 by Lynea Lattanzio, a woman who at the time was looking for a life change, it sits on 12 acres along the Kings River in Parlier, Calif., and houses more than 700 animals. “It’s a magical place,” Rappaport says. “It’s withstood the test of time and saved literally thousands of cats, and dogs, too. To base my book on the organization was truly special.”

The photos unarguably make the story as adorable images filled with fluffy cats jump off the pages. “I couldn’t believe the beautiful shots Bob [Carey, her photographer] got,” she says. “Seeing the way the eyes came through, how the light hit the cats. It’s a feat to even get cats to sit still for a photo, let alone show their spirits the way he did.”

Though the book isn’t much more than 150 words, Rappaport believes it conveys a special meaning to kids. “Sometimes we underestimate children, and think they can’t handle a story that’s scary to them, like one about a kitten without a home,” she says of Mittens, who has since been adopted. “But they can handle more. When you look at the photos, the kitten is happy and surrounded by love. He’s waiting for a home, yes, but he’s at peace. He knows he’s taken care of, and that’s what matters.” She continues, “It’s a much bigger story than this little book tells. If it wasn’t for this organization, these animals wouldn’t have a second chance.”

Check out Rappaport’s first book, Jack & Jill: The Miracle Dog with a Happy Tail to Tell.

Learn about worthy animal charities on
Katherine Heigl’s Foundation Saves the Lives of 25 Chihuahuas
First-Ever Santa Paws Drive to Raise Toys for Shelter Pets

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