Willie Ortiz is a 76-year-old retired veteran living in Hartford, Connecticut. Originally from Puerto Rico, Willie has been a school bus driver, mechanic, and a welder at the Hartford Hospital. Now, he spends his days selflessly helping our feline friends. Willie has been feeding the feral and stray cats in his community every single day for more than 20 years!
He drives 22 miles every day in his truck to 16 different stops starting at 6:30 PM to give food to the cats, and he finishes his rounds around 10 PM each evening. He pays for the cats’ food all on his own, so to help foot the bill, he collects and sells scrap metal. Now, thankfully, he has help!
In February of 2016, Willie’s friend, Kathleen Schlentz set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Willie’s efforts, after reading a story about him in the Hartford Courant. Amazingly, more than $39,000 have been raised to help him buy supplies and care for the feral and stray cats, well surpassing the original goal of $5,000. Amazing!
Willie’s crusade to help cats started way back in 1995 when he saw a stray cat rubbing against customers at a friend’s aut0-body shop. “People were pushing it away, and I could see it needed help. So I said to the Lord, ‘I know these cats can’t understand my accent, but I need to do something,” Willie told the Hartford Courant.
Starting then, Willie began to feed the stray cat, as well as the other cats he saw behind Hartford Hospital. When a former co-worker noticed what Willie was doing, the co-worker donated $40 to help Willie’s cause. Over the years, people began to call on Willie with animal concerns.
Not only does Willie feed the cats, he also traps the cats so that they can be spayed and neutered, in a practice called trap, neuter and return (TNR). This practice helps reduce and stabilize populations of feral cats, according to Alley Cat Allies.
Dr. William Haines, a veterinarian at Hartford Veterinary Hospital, has helped Willie with spaying or neutering, vaccines and booster shots, and other basic care. Dr. Haines compared Willie to Mother Theresa to the Hartford Courant, “She couldn’t do everything, but she could do something.”
Most of the cats are released after their vet visits, but Willie likes to find homes for the friendlier cats who would do well in a home environment. Sweetly, Willie has photo albums of the adopted cats with their new names and addresses, reminding him of what he has accomplished.
On average, Willie spends $33 a day to feed the cats, the additional money raised will help pay for food, surgeries, medication, as well as medical care. He might also use some of the money to buy a more reliable truck. For 12 years, Willie has never taken a day off. When the Hartford Courant asked Willie how long he planned to continue caring for the cats, he said “I’ll do it as long as I can.” What a heart of gold! The cats of Connecticut are lucky to have such a dedicated and compassionate man looking after them.
If you would like to help Willie’s mission to help stray and feral cats, you can donate to the GoFundMe page here. Willie says he is thankful and considers no amount too small.
If you know of a feral cat colony that could benefit from a TNR program – or if you’d like to volunteer to help feral cats – you can track down a TNR program by contacting your local animal shelter. If your shelter doesn’t offer a TNR program, they should be able to direct you to other municipalities or private rescues that have TNR arrangements available.
If you’re particularly passionate about feral cat issues, you should consider establishing a TNR program in your area. It’s an extremely worthwhile cause and one that is greatly needed! Alley Cat Allies was one of the first organizations to promote the TNR concept in the U.S. and it has a ton of great resources for how to successfully implement a TNR program.
Please share this uplifting story with everyone you know!
Image source: Kathleen Schlentz/GoFundMe