A Feline Friend Helps a Shark Attack Survivor Heal

Paige Winter was only 17 years old when she lost a leg and part of a hand to a shark. Despite all she’s gone through, this inspiration teen remains an advocate for sharks and, with the guidance of professionals is taking brave steps to overcome her fears. She was recently featured in a special of National Geographic’s ninth-annual SHARKFEST.

Paige is also a big cat lover. She recently adopted a kitten named Sushi, and they’re inseparable. She credits Sushi with helping her through the healing process.

I had the opportunity to chat with Paige about her experience and her relationship with Sushi:

Catster: How did the shark attack happen?

Paige: I was at the wrong place at the wrong time on June 2, 2019. My family and I went for a typical beach day to go swim, and I got bit on my left leg by a shark, which I ended up losing later, but I don’t really miss it much.

How have you adjusted?

I’m doing great! I can walk and do all sorts of things on my own. I just got a job, my driver’s license, and I’m about to start my second semester in college for cosmetology.

Do you have any advice for other shark (or other animal) attack survivors? 

Not specifically for animal attack survivors, but seriously, don’t beat yourself up for struggling. Recovery isn’t linear and it takes time to get better

What was it like doing the show for Nat Geo?

It was so fun! And, after the production, the team even took me out for sushi, which is also the name of my cat. But overall, I felt it was really important to get my story out there and show people that even though I went through a bad experience, we don’t need to be afraid of sharks. Every time we get into the ocean, we’re entering shark’s homes, so we just need to learn how to better co-exist.

How and why did you get Sushi?

I was driving around with my boyfriend, and my mom texted me a picture of a little black kitten that her friend found and I begged her to let me go get him since I was already out. Best day ever!

Do you consider Sushi a therapy cat?

He’s definitely my little emotional support cat. Every time he hears me crying or if he senses my vibe is off he comes to snuggle with me. It’s clear to everyone who sees us that we’re each other’s people.

How does she give you comfort?

He’s so, so cute. He loves to snuggle and play with his dogs, and he’s a relatively small cat so he looks like a permanent kitten. Even just talking about him brings me comfort. I love him very much.

Anything you’d like to share about cats in general and why they’re such an important part of our lives?

I’d like to say to people that say they like dogs better because “cats are mean” that cats have different boundaries than dogs, and it’s important to respect those boundaries! Listen to their body language and you’ll be best friends forever, just like me and my son, the Snitten!

Check out the encore presentation of Paige’s episode on Nat Geo WILD tonight! You can also watch episodes on Disney+.

Paige’s full story will appear in Catster’s January/February 2022 issue!

Annie Butler Shirreffs has worked in the pet industry for 20 years and is currently the senior editor of Catster and Dogster magazines. A cat lover since she was a little girl, she has always had feline friends in her life. She and her husband share their Southern California home with their four cats and an ever-changing clowder of foster kittens, all of whom enjoy being testers for cool, new products.


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