CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA – Before last year, Amanda Whitman probably would not have exactly described herself as a cat person. The 21-year-old had outdoor cats and a family dog as she was growing up in Logan County. But her life changed in February of 2015 when she saw on Facebook a post from a local rescue group about eight cats that were in need of new homes.
“I woke up and I just said I’m gonna go save those cats today,” Whitman said. “Random, I know. And I did.”
Whitman messaged two rescue groups in Charleston and Huntington, which were luckily able to take the cats.
“I was just lucky I guess that day — lucky or blessed one,” Whitman said. “They split the cats up — one took four and the other took four and that’s how it happened.
“And I’ve never stopped since then and it’s almost like an obsession.”
In August, Whitman had lost track of just how many cats she’s helped find rescue groups or homes. It’s been more than 500, she said.
“I started out taking a picture of every single one that I had,” she said. “And sometimes they would go to rescue so fast like I would just pick them up from the pound and be able to take them straight to rescue. And I sometimes wouldn’t get a picture and it would be a litter of six or seven. That’s how it’s become so many — I’ve moved litters.”
“It’s full-time work,” she said.
The cats are the very first and the very last things she thinks about each and every day and she asks everyone she meets if they’d like a cat.
“I am always networking these cats — all the time,” she said.
The cats have gone to rescue groups in all of the surrounding states and to Michigan, she said. She said she’s very proud that she’s not had to had pick which cats she helps and which she doesn’t.
“We have taken in cats that have had eyeballs hanging out, pregnant cats, cats with AIDS — we do not discriminate,” she said.
She keeps the cats in kennels in her home and does vaccinations and basic vet care herself — something she learned while she was working at Logan Animal Hospital, she said.
“I set them up really nice,” she said. “It’s like the Hilton for the cats. They have no worries.”
Her family, whose home is where the cats stay while they remain in her care, is supportive, she said, though sometimes her dad needs to be talked into bringing in more cats.
“He’s a little iffy, but my mom — she really believes in what were doing,” she said. “No one else would do it.”
Whitman credits her cat, Elvis, for inspiring her to go one with her mission. She adopted the cat who she found along the side of the road while she was on a family trip to Graceland. The trip was taken not long after her family lost their dog, a longtime family pet.
“That little cat changed everything for me,” she said. “I’m really glad he did, too.”
For about a year and a half, she also worked at Logan Animal Hospital. She hopes to work there again this coming summer. Owner and veterinarian Scott Siegel said he can’t say enough good things about the work Whitman has done an continues to do. Without her, hundreds of cats would be dead, he added.
“I never seen any one person that has done so much good for the animal kingdom as her,” Siegel said.
Lots of people just drop off their animals at the clinic and elsewhere in the county, he said. While a rescue group mostly aims to find homes for dogs, the cats were mostly overlooked, but that was before Whitman took an interest, he said.
“As far as cats are concerned, she’s it,” he said. “She’s a one-person shelter.”
Whitman is a junior at the University of Charleston, where she currently studies pre-professional biology in the school’s pre-veterinary school. Whitman is hoping to get into a program at Virginia Tech, however, it’s very competitive. She said she would apply to different places and go where she is accepted.
“I know heart and soul that’s what I want to do,” she said of being a veterinarian. “I think I’d be good at it. I think it’s something I could do the rest of my life.”
Whitman cares for these cats using her own resources, but she accepts monetary donations as well as supplies such as cat food, litter and cleaning supplies. She can also be reached at email@example.com.