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Show of hands: Who’d like to quit their job to hang out with kittens all day?
Because that is exactly what Abdul Hawramani did, thus manifesting all our dreams. As the face of Abdul’s Cats, the DC-based cat whisperer has amassed an ever-growing following that turns to him for pet-parenting advise, not to mention adorable videos (often captured by his school-teacher wife) of Abdul playing with the kittens.
If you’re a believer in fate, Abdul’s story is a compelling one. “I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t a cat person,” he says of life before fostering. “I just never had any pets growing up.” That all changed when he met his wife, the fosters she took in, and her adult cat Bambi — a foster fail who diligently teaches the little ones important life lessons (such as using kitty litter).
The gratification of raising these spirited little creatures quickly captivated him. Today, he works with three shelters and estimates that in the three years he’s fostered, he’s raised about 40 kittens and placed all of them in homes. (If you see a kitten you’d like to adopt, be sure to DM him on Instagram.) We reached out to the amiable, soft-spoken Abdul to chat about his devotion to kittens, and then milked him for a lot of tips on raising them.
You know, I heard things about cats: They keep to themselves. They’re distant, aloof. My experience is different. When I come home, they run to me. They want to cuddle and sleep with me. We had one cat who could open a door! Like at night, we’d close the door, and she’d jump from the TV stand and just hang on a doorknob, swinging back and forth until it opened.
How many fosters do you have at any given time?
We had to set ground rules. Because if it was up to my wife, we’d have 100 kittens in the house at once. I was like, “Okay, well, let’s try one out.” A couple of months later, we got two. Then three, four. I think the most we’ve ever had at once was probably seven.
How hard can it get?
It hasn’t been too many bad situations. I think the worst was when I had a litter with fleas, which was my first experience dealing with fleas. Some cats are not socialized. That process can take weeks. I sit in with them in a room until they get used to my scent. If they’re under the bed, I’ll push the food bowl closer and closer to me. I’ll pet them while they’re eating, so they get used to human contact. Eventually they love you. It’s kind of a patience thing.
What do you get out of fostering?
The joy of helping, knowing I’m helping these innocent creatures find a new home. I have anxiety — I’m kind of like an introvert myself. I noticed they helped me with anxiety, which I think is from past problems and childhood trauma. The more I was around cats, the happier I was. My mood shifted.
What also makes your work so important is how underrepresented people of color, especially Black Americans, are in animal rescue.
It’s a societal bias, on all levels. That’s what made my Instagram unique. I don’t really see anybody who looks like me. I’m Muslim. I’m six-four. I have tattoos. I have ’locks. And I’m just playing with these kittens. I get messages all the time saying, “Oh, thank you for changing the stereotype, or showing that Black people or people of color love animals, or love cats.” It encourages people. I love getting, “Because of you, I fostered or adopted a cat or dog.”
Want a kitten? Here are some tips from Abdul…
1. Don’t adopt too young.
2. Save up.
“You need money. Kittens eat a lot. They burn that food off quickly. I have four right now, and we probably run through 12 cans a day. They also need a lot of toys.” (If the rescue hasn’t done their due diligence, you may also need pay for vaccinations, and later spaying/neutering.)
3. Socialize them.
“Everyone sees videos of kittens are sleeping on you and playing, but a lot of them are scared at first. Just be patient, and give them affection. Give them their time and distance, and eventually they’ll come around.” If you have cats from different litters, “You probably have to separate them for, like, a week or so — until they get used to each others’ smells. They’re gonna do a lot of hissing.”
4. Invest the time.
“They need a lot of entertainment. I play with them a couple of hours a day, maybe three or four hours a day. That’s a lot of time. The first hour or two-hour session is good, but we after about three or four hours, you’re tired.”
5. Be diligent.
“I wouldn’t say it’s hard work, but it’s a lot of dedication, especially when they’re so young and fragile. Make sure they’re healthy, make sure they’re drinking water. I give them wet food because they’re so young and wet food has more nutrition.”
6. Create a cat-friendly home.
“Be comfortable with getting your furniture scratched. I have a lot of cat scratchers around the house, against any furniture I don’t want to get scratched. Have one more litter box than you have kittens. So if you have four kittens, you should have five litter boxes. They’re very clean and hate when litter boxes are dirty. Your house may smell, because they’re going to use the bathroom a lot! We have a lot of air fresheners and open windows a lot.”
7. Keep in touch with your foster.
“We keep in contact with everyone who adopts. I text them. I call them in case they have questions. And they always keep me up to date, send pictures so I can see how big they’ve gotten. They grow so quick.”
The rapper-turned-trapper quit his music career to start a cat rescue, has saved the lives of thousands of strays, and is promoting diversity in the animal welfare world. This spring, he’s taking things international.
Ready to make a difference in a kitten’s life?
Feels high stakes because it kind of is.
A loud-mouthed, bread-stealing feline with a cleft lip is saving cats around the world.
Nisha Gopalan has been a writer/editor for The New York Times, New York magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and NYLON magazines. She currently resides in Los Angeles.