When 'the kitty lady' met the 'cat photographer'

Over the past decade, Hannah René Shaw has become a leading educator and advocate for kittens nationally and globally. She is known as the “Kitten Lady”, and her 1.2 million followers on Instagram seek her out for advice on things like what to do if you find a stray cat or how to get a baby kitten to eat.

But she’s also followed by the barrage of high-quality kitty photos that appear on her account, some of them taken by Andrew Jared Marttila, known as the “cat photographer.” The love in the photographs is palpable; After all, this is the story of how the kitty lady and the cat photographer fell in love.

In 2016, Ms. Shaw, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from George Mason University, was not looking for a partner. “She was 28 years old and she wasn’t very interested in being in a committed relationship at that point in life,” she said.

She was hosting her nonprofit orphan kitten club and working professionally with cat rescue organizations, helping them create programs dedicated to the most vulnerable cats: orphaned newborn kittens, known as “bottle babies,” because without a mother, they must rely on bottle feeding to survive.

Someone she met through her job suggested she follow a photographer on Instagram named @iamthecatphotographer, who, yes, specialized in photographing cats. Mrs. Shaw was intrigued. “I was like, that sounds weird, how can someone be a professional cat photographer?” She forgot about the suggestion until, thanks to her overlapping worlds, the cat photographer appeared on her Instagram account anyway.

“There was a picture on his page of him in an ugly Christmas sweater with his cat in a Santa hat, posed like a cheesy 1980s Sears family portrait,” she recalled. “He made me laugh a lot, and I also said, wait, this guy is really cute.”

Mr. Marttila, 37, lived in Philadelphia; Ms. Shaw, 35, was in Washington. She sent him a message asking if he would be willing to come to Washington to take pictures of some of her foster kittens. She offered him lodging in her spare room.

“At the time I would have said it was just professional,” Shaw said.

“…But I knew what it was,” Mr. Marttila added.

On April 2, 2016, they met in Washington for dinner at Busboys and Poets. Mrs. Shaw thought that, at best, there might be an affair: she didn’t have time for much else and she had a date planned with someone else for the following weekend. “I thought, OK, this is a great guy to meet,” she said. “We’ll take some pictures, maybe we’ll kiss, then he’ll go home and I’ll go on my date next weekend.”

Instead, they connected over their obvious love of animals, but also over topics that had nothing to do with kittens. Ms Shaw was impressed by what she describes as Mr Marttila’s “serious depth”.

“It was something I immediately understood and now I have seven years of evidence,” he said. “She is a self-reflective person who has worked hard to grow into a stable, introspective person who is a very good match.”

They couldn’t stop talking, so Mr. Marttila stayed for the weekend. He said that he wished she didn’t have a date planned for the following weekend, because he wanted to invite her to an event that he thought she would be the perfect date for: a red carpet premiere of the movie Jordan Peele comedy.” Keanu”, about a kitten kidnapped by gangsters. Some live and adoptable cats would be walking the red carpet in gold chains, and Mr. Marttila had been hired to film the scene.

Ms. Shaw wondered aloud if she should cancel her appointment in order to attend and decided to flip a coin to decide. The coin said to cancel, and so, for her second date, they met Mr. Peele.

Mr. Marttila had found his way into feline photography almost by accident. In 2011, while studying for a neuroscience degree at Temple University, he began taking photos of his new cat and posting them on Instagram. As the number of people liking his photos increased, he branched out to photograph other pets to supplement his income.

“When I graduated, I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to try to do this for a year, and if I’m broke, I’ll go to graduate school,’” Mr. Marttila said. Instead, in 2015, he landed his first book deal, “Shop Cats of New York.” He met Ms. Shaw a few months before the book was published by Harper Design.

The two quickly found synergy in their love of cats and began to inspire each other at work. “When I met Andrew, I thought I wish I could focus on writing a book on kitten welfare, and then Andrew published a book and it was great to see another young person actually doing these things,” said Ms Shaw. . “I was looking for another job, but Andrew was the one who told me, ‘Just try for three months.’”

She said that having someone believe in her enough to say “just give it a try” changed her perspective. “I already had this passion for something that there was no work for, and that made me go and create it myself.” Mr Marttila said Ms Shaw also renewed her passion for animals and her hustle inspired him to expand her own work ethic. They say that they are each other’s “exaggerated person”.

After 10 months of long-distance dating, Ms. Shaw told Mr. Marttila that if he wanted their relationship to continue, he would have to move to Washington. “So I rented a U-Haul on Valentine’s Day 2017 and moved in,” Marttila said.

“Andrew told me when we first met that his dream was to be a stay-at-home cat dad,” Ms Shaw said. “And I was like, I have a lot of dreams in life, so I think I can make that happen.”

After about a year and a half of living together, they realized that with the two of them working from home, three cats between them, and a room dedicated to foster kittens, they had outgrown their space. “We thought, where do you live when you can live anywhere?” And in August 2018, they started up again in San Diego.

On a trip to Thailand in February 2019, after kayaking to an uninhabited island, Mr. Marttila proposed to Ms. Shaw. “Even from that first date, I knew I had met someone who shared the same paradigm as me,” Mr. Marttila said.

They both lead an alcohol-free, vegan, and animal-friendly lifestyle, so when it came time to plan a wedding, those values ​​became guiding philosophies for the event. They chose a friend’s animal sanctuary as the setting, because it’s a place where animals can live their best lives. “I think it’s a significant space,” Ms. Shaw said, “because it’s about how amazing it is when you give someone the promise of refuge, and shouldn’t that be a relationship?’

Ms. Shaw and Mr. Marttila were married on April 2 at the Farm Animal Refuge in Campo, California. Her friend and veterinarian, Dr. Rachel Wallach, who was ordained for the occasion by American Marriage Ministries, officiated, and internationally renowned harpist Mary Lattimore played a version of The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” during the procession. .

Afterwards, 100 guests enjoyed a mocktail bar and an all-vegan meal of crispy squash blossoms, braised tempeh, beetroot cracklings and saffron cavatelli. Guests were then invited to take centerpieces from the edible vegetable basket of zucchini, tomatoes, and kale and feed them to the farm animals.

As a special surprise, Mrs. Shaw presented Mr. Marttila with a basket of calico kittens, his new foster pets. As he cradled the little babies, Mrs. Shaw leaned in to hug him. Mr. Marttila’s eyes filled with tears as he said, “This is a dream come true.”

When April 2, 2023

Where Farm Animal Shelter, Campo, California.

An unusual ring bearer The ring was carried down the aisle by Hugo, a pig Mr. Marttila and Mrs. Shaw rescued as an emaciated newborn from behind a Los Angeles taco stand. Hugo looked dapper in a white collar with a black bow tie. To motivate him down the aisle, the flower girl dropped popcorn, his favorite treat.

a watermelon toss Instead of throwing a bouquet, the couple decided to throw a watermelon over the fence and into the pig pen. The melon landed with a crash on the floor, the trigger sound that makes happy pigs run for a mouthful of the juicy snack. There were more than enough snacks to go around, as the couple had set up a mock fruit and vegetable stand that guests could also feed to the animals.

Woolly Wedding Ringer In organizing the wedding layout, the couple arranged to make a portion of the space, where food and drink for humans were served, inaccessible to animals. A big sheep named Joey didn’t get that memo. She managed to sneak into the wedding, skirting the barriers and frolicking in the forbidden zone. When the bride, groom and guests tried to herd the sheep, they were outwitted: she snatched a flower arrangement from one of the tables and proudly left.