Where there’s a paw there’s a way. That’s what business owner Janna Burhop has learned about rescuing cats.

Burhop started a cat rescue in the back of her vintage clothing shop 12 years ago and has been saving animals ever since. Her stockroom has grown into a non-profit shelter called Touched By A Paw Cat Rescue and Shelter, 182 W. Main St.

Unlike humane societies, which have to euthanize animals, Burhop’s rescue has never put down a cat. Burhop’s love of animals, faith and unconventional ways have allowed her to shelter or find a home for every cat that has crossed her path.

“It just happened. We call it a God thing,” Burhop said.

Because of the devotion of 50 volunteers, the shelter is spotless with no odor. Each cat gets its own cage Burhop calls a kitty apartment. A makeshift hammock, or a blanket suspended by hooks, is placed in each cage. Cats can be seen comfortably napping in them, with tails and paws leisurely hanging off the side.

“The hammocks save space and the cats love them,” Burhop said.

Burhop can house or rehabilitate just about any cat. A generous volunteer has opened her insulated garage to the cats with behavior problems. The cats with the worst health problems stay with Burhop in her home. Burhop is mother to a cat with club food, kidney problems and feline cerebral palsy.

Sickly cats are treated, no matter what the cost. Because a cat named Hobo has a heart condition and has to take expensive medication, he stays at the shelter full-time. A volunteer comes in to spend time with him.

When another cat came in with a hernia the size of a grapefruit, Burhop held a fund-raiser to raise the $1,400 necessary for his surgery. A woman later adopted the cat and sends the shelter pictures of him.

Although Burhop usually will only accept abandoned cats, she has made exceptions. When a man was dying of AIDS and had no family, Burhop took in the cat and helped place him in a home.

Burhop isn’t surprised she is running a cat rescue in back of her shop. When she was only 8 years old she rescued her first kitten and fed it with a doll bottle. With a difficult childhood, Burhop found comfort in cats. She would often huddle with them in a big blanket.

“They comforted me and repaired my soul. I owe them,” Burhop said. “God put domesticated animals on Earth to nurture our souls because they love us unconditionally.”

When Burhop first started her shop, Reflections of the Past, she started noticing all the abandoned cats in the alleys. Pretty soon she started setting up cages and adopting cats out to customers.

Now she has 35 cages and a community of support. Nursing homes have adopted some of the cats for their residents to play with and some area pet shops put the cats up for adoption. Approximately 22 families have agreed to foster cats in their homes until other homes can be found for the animals.

Burhop is aggressive at getting the cats adopted. She not only runs their pictures in the local newspapers, but writes a special poem about each cat. She also gives them names and describes their personalities in a humanistic way.

“Figaro is sleek and handsome and very serious about his mousies,” Burhop said. “Dane is a big doggy-cat and a marshmallow.”

Burhop said she tried to help pet owners find solutions when they need to get rid of their animals. She is reluctant, however, to take in a cat that an owner wants to surrender. When strays and abandoned animals come to the shelter, Burhop said they are making a step up. When a surrendered animals arrives, however, they are losing their family and warm home. One time a surrendered cat even refused to eat and died.

“ We stopped taking surrenders after that,” Burhop said.

Although it takes about $7,000 to $8,000 a month to run the shelter, the funds usually have a way of trickling in. Generous volunteers often mail checks in or donate food.

“Our goal is to be in our own building in three years. We are looking for someone to donate five acres of land in the Whitewater area,” Burhop said.