Willie's Dedication to Community Cats
by Lee Chambers
Willie Ortiz of East Hartford has been a soldier, a mechanic, a bus driver and a welder. At the age of 75 he faces his most challenging, yet rewarding work yet…saving cats.
Since 1995 Willie has been feeding and caring for stray and feral cats in the greater Hartford area. Each night he sets out from his home around 6:30pm and spends the next three hours visiting a number of spots where the cats live, dispensing canned cat food. Friskies shredded food, specifically because, as he notes, some of the cats don’t have any teeth.
He spends about $200 on cat food every 10 days, and he raises the money by collecting, then selling, scrap metal during the day.
A native of Puerto Rico, Willie has never missed a night, and he works solo. “I go out because they’re hungry,” he says. “They still eat in the rain, the snow, and in all weather.”
Willie has brought strays and ferals to Dakin for spay/neuter surgery on several occasions, and the friendlier patients become adoption floor candidates. “Dakin is always good to me and the cats,” he states. Dakin is New England’s largest spay/neuter provider.
As Willie makes his nightly rounds, he is familiar with most of the faces he encounters. “I feed about 65 cats a night, on average,” he reports. “Many are feral, and sometimes they are there one day, and not the next. Some I’ve been feeding for years. People say that feral cats don’t last beyond five years, but I’ve been feeding some for more than 15 years. I also bring some to my vet if they look sick.”
His passion for helping cats was ignited when he witnessed a cat being kicked and abused. “When I saw that, I said ‘Lord, please, I want to help these animals.’ I started scrapping to get the money and I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years now.”
A friend suggested a GoFundMe campaign, which was set up to help Willie’s efforts. “I felt great,” Willie says of the outpouring of support. “I got funds from India, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Germany and other places far away. Amazing!”
According to Dakin’s Executive Director Carmine DiCenso, “Willie is such a great champion in animal welfare. His passion and determination to help cats in the community is unwavering. Working with Willie reminds us that one person can make a positive change in the lives of people and animals.”
Willie has several photo albums at home filled with pictures of adopted cats, with names and notations written on the back. They are triumphant reminders of many street cats who no longer rely on his kindness because they have found homes.
At an age where most people would be enjoying their leisure years, Willie is busier than ever. "I do this because I love it," he says.
Willie’s GoFundMe campaign: http://bit.ly/2q6Aef2