09/13/2017 12:26 EDT

This Man Has Helped Rescue Hundreds Of Pets – By Photographing Them

Turning a passion into purpose.

Photo courtesy of Josh Norem, The Furrtographer
Stockton is a tortie who was born with paralysis in her lower body. 

Let’s face it, we could all use a little help making a good first impression, even oh-so-adorable adoptable kittens and cats. That’s why we’re partnering with Fresh Step Litter to tell you about Josh Norem, a.k.a. The Furrtographer, who specializes in getting Instagram ― and adoption ― worthy shots of felines of all shapes and sizes.

One blind cat changed the course of Norem’s life, sparking a multi-decade career in professional pet photography. Not only has he been lauded as the Bay Area’s Best Pet Photographer (5 years in a row!) but, in his spare time, he has fostered a love affair for rescue cats and has used his skills to their benefit.

Photo courtesy of Josh Norem, The Furrtographer
Kanga Roo is a special kitten with Radial Agenesis, or missing bones in her front paws. 

When Norem moved into his first tiny apartment around 1999, he decided one thing that would make his house a home was a furry friend. So he went to the local SPCA. “I said, ‘I need a cat that’s not going to move around too much, not a kitten and or even an active cat,’” he says. They asked if he’d be interested in a blind cat. “I’d never even heard of a blind cat before, so I thought about it for a second and, well, wouldn’t hurt to meet this cat.”

Photo courtesy of Josh Norem, The Furrtographer
Gigi was Norem's first blind cat - one of many he's adopted over the years.

Enter Gigi, the mellow cat of his dreams, normal in every way apart from her non-functioning eyes. After Gigi came two blind kittens, then more fosters and rescues. Norem began volunteering at animal shelters and picked up a digital camera. With no formal photography training, he began honing his skills, learning how best to capture rescue animals’ unique personalities. On the surface, elderly cats or those with special needs can seem like a harder sell, thereby increasing the chance that they’ll be euthanized. A great photo can mean the difference between finding a forever home or suffering a tragic fate.

He began working with Saving Grace, a shelter that houses special needs felines.

“I just want people to see how these cats can be beautiful, because a normal cell phone picture, unless you can get it just perfect, just isn’t as good,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Josh Norem The Furrtographer
Carmen had to have her ears and associated parts removed due to tumors.  

His skills grew with the thousands of cats he’s photographed over the last 17 years, leading to building a portfolio and going pro, plus being voted the best pet photographer in San Francisco for several years running. He photographed Carmen, whose ears were removed due to extensive tumors, and wobbled at the resulting lack of balance. There’s Rufus, a blind cat who would snuggle up next to Norem in bed while he read every night. Not to forget Cyrus, a blind-from-birth cat who struck Reddit gold when Norem posted a GIF of her expertly dismounting a four-foot cat tree backwards.

These special rescue cats not only offer companionship, Norem says, but lessons in resilience. “The cats don’t know they’re any different from any other cat. They certainly don’t sit around crying about it all the time.”

And if you’re worried about any potential drawbacks to taking in a rescue cat, special needs, elderly or not, Norem assures that they’ll more than make up for any special care they need.

Photo courtesy of Josh Norem, The Furrtographer
Rufus was Norem's long term blind cat, who most likely suffered an eye injury as a kitten. He passed away in 2016. 

“I would just say that they’re not any different from any other cat and the only way they’re different to me at least is that they’re more special, more unique,” he said. “All the ones that I’ve had have been extremely loving, super super affectionate, completely able to overcome whatever situation they’ve been dealt with. It just makes life more interesting.”

“I feel like my life has been improved by knowing these cats and letting them into my life for periods of time.”

Photo courtesy of Josh Norem, The Furrtographer
Astro suffered neurological damage due to malnutrition and anemia, causing him to go blind and suffer seizures and tremors.

There are thousands of cats in shelters waiting to be adopted – and who couldn’t use a little more love in their life? Fresh Step Litter is committed to helping furry friends find their forever homes. That’s why they donate over one million scoops of Fresh Step Litter to shelters around the country every year. To learn more about what Fresh Step is doing to help shelters and shelter cats, and to join our Paw Points program to start donating your points to shelters in need, visit