For more than 20 years, Willie Ortiz has had a rather expensive hobby. But he’s paid for it by selling scrap metal and cleaning people’s homes. And the street cats of Hartford, Connecticut are healthier and definitely happier for it.
Originally from Puerto Rico, Ortiz now calls Hartford home. Like a lot of large cities, Hartford has its share of stray cat colonies.
People Were Mistreating the Cats
So Ortiz, 77, decided to do something about it.
“I saw a lot of stray cats and people were pushing and kicking them,” he said.
He knew he couldn’t ignore the situation, so he feeds the cats daily and takes them in to be spayed and neutered when needed. Ortiz knows he can’t take all of the cats into his own home, but whenever one becomes sick, he brings the kitty home and provides it with love and care. He also finds homes for as many cats as he can.
“They need help,” he said. “I want to make sure they have food and that they stay healthy.”
He’s looking after 68 cats in 16 colonies
In general, groups of kitties prefer to hang out in colonies, usually near abandoned buildings, places where they can seek shelter.
With so many kitties to care for, he makes two stops during the day and does another round at night, the Mother Nature News Network reports. All told, it takes him three hours every day to do this, and he was paying out of pocket for all the kitties’ needs.
And because Ortiz works so hard, longtime friend Kathleen Schlentz has pitched in when she can.
“The colonies are always changing,” she said. “Sometimes the cats get hit by cars, or they don’t make it through the winter, and other cats wander in, or people drop them off when they can’t take care of them, or don’t want to take care of them. So the colonies change all the time.”
Then the two friends put their heads together and started a GoFundMe page.
For the street cats, this made all the difference in the world
Willie’s fundraising efforts got a push from a story published in the Hartford Courant, and that was posted on Reddit. The next thing he and Kathleen knew, the campaign was soaring. Donations came in from all over the world.
“I thought it was a mistake at first; I had never seen anything in my life like that,” Schlentz said. “When I called Willie to tell him, he was practically in tears.”
He’d hoped to receive $5,000 to care for his feline charges, but in barely one week, the campaign raised more than $26,000. That was in April 2017. The campaign has now set the goal at $250,000 and donations are closing in on that — reaching more than $246,400 so far.
And the cats are faring much better.
“Willie’s cats are all very healthy because he makes sure they get what they need to have as good and healthy a life as possible,” Schlentz said. “The life expectancy of a feral or stray cat is five years. Willie has cats he has been feeding for 15 years or longer.”
But that’s not all Ortiz does, she notes.
“He makes ‘cubby holes’ for the cats to keep warm in the snowy New England winters,” she notes on the GoFundMe page. “He takes pregnant mothers to his good friend, Roberta where they can have their babies out of the cold.”
When kittens are weaned and old enough, they are spayed or neutered (and of course, the moms are spayed too). Then Roberta finds homes for the cats (including mom if she’s not too feral). And if Willie finds friendly adult cats, Roberta finds forever homes for them as well.
“Right now, the most important thing to Willie is slowing down the feral and stray cat population as soon as possible — this is the only real solution,” Schlentz says.
It’s heartwarming to see these cats getting the help they need and to know that there are good people out there trying to make a difference. But it also makes a huge difference for Ortiz. And as the Hartford Courant noted last year, plans were in the works for Ortiz to open a savings account for the cats, so that the work to help them and other stray and abandoned animals could continue when he is no longer around to help them.
“I do this because I love it,” he said. “This is gonna help me keep doing it until I die, and maybe keep it alive after that.”
If you’ve ever loved a cat and listened to its purr, you know just how special they are. We should all be as kind as this man.
You can learn more about Ortiz’s work in the video below.
Featured image by SlideShow ForFun via YouTube video