How Scrap Metal Is Feeding Hartford’s Street Cats

Willie Ortiz is a veteran and a husband of 52 years, those are not the qualities he is famous for in his neighborhood. Ortiz is a champion and saviour for feral cats. For close to 25 years now, Willie Ortiz has been feeding feral and stray cats without missing a single day. How does he do it? Well, Ortiz collects scrap metals in the area and trades them for cash which he, in turn, uses to buy food for the abandoned and feral cats. According to Bored Panda, Ortiz currently feeds 16 cat colonies which amount to a total of 68 feral and stray cats. He has been feeding the cats 365 nights, every year, for almost 25 years and never misses a day.

The Background Of The Initiative

Willie Ortiz, a Puerto Rican native, began the initiative to feed the stray cats back in 1995 after seeing a hungry kitten begging for food. He stated that he saw people pushing it away despite the fact that the kitten needed help. It was then that Ortiz decided to make it his life’s mission to feed and care for cats. One of his friends and his former coworker saw his hard work and donated $40 to Ortiz’s cause. His mission grew as he continued discovering the cats’ hiding places. Soon word of an animal caregiver went round and Ortiz got help from all corners including residents and animal activists who donated to his cause.

However, almost everything has to have its critics. Ortiz whole speaking to the Hartford courant, stated that most people don’t understand why he does what he does. He noted that he gets questioned daily as to why he feeds the cats and even stated that others tell him that he feeds the cats too much. His answer to the numerous questions is quite simple. He states that human beings eat 3 meals a day but the cats only get to eat once every day.

The Routine

Every 7 pm, Ortiz drives his old minivan fully packed with cans of cat food. He arrives at an auto body garage yard which is always quite desolate. He lifts his voice and the cats dart out from the corners where they’d been hiding and move towards Ortiz. His 20+-year-old routine takes him to Upper Albany, through East Hartford, Downtown and Clay Arsenal. The route makes for a total of 14 stops serving close to 70 stray and feral cats according to his estimates. The exercise relies heavily on scrap metal and Ortiz spends most, if not all, his mornings gathering the metals. He does receive help from his friends as well. His friend in Newington who is a contractor provides him with wiring, light fixtures, and other bits.

Some businesses give Ortiz some old appliances. Ortiz notes that silver and aluminum are all good but his most preferable metal is copper. However, he doesn’t choose. He hauls the scrap metals, no matter the size, to a recycling plant such as the City Auto Parts located on Fishfry Street or sometimes the A&B in East Hartford. On a good day, his scrap haul gets him $20, and on an excellent day, the amount sees him getting closer to $60 for the scraps. He spends roughly $200 every 10 days on cans of Friskies Shredded Food. He loves that brand of food or should we say his kittens are the sticklers for that particular brand. Ortiz noted that he had a friend of his order some kitten food at one time, and she ended up bringing some chunky food which didn’t agree with his kittens. He added that most of the cats have little to no teeth and can’t eat chunky food. Since then, he does the ordering himself as he is well versed with what the cats prefer.

Much like his furry friends, Ortiz is quite wary of strangers. He noted that some people like bothering the cats and it can be difficult to sometimes find the cats at night. From his routes, it’s clear that Ortiz cares more about the cats’ safety than that of his own. Most of the stray cats live in not-so-safe neighborhoods but he still goes to them. Ortiz tries to be confident but Dr. William Haines of the Hartford Veterinary Hospital doesn’t share the same confidence. The two have worked together since Ortiz first started his operation. According to Catster, feeding the cats is only but half of Ortiz’s mission. In the period that he has been partaking of the exercise, Ortiz has brought Dr. Haines some ailing cats. Haines noted that the cats all had different needs.

Some of them needed spaying or neutering while some needed a quick booster shot. Haines likened Ortiz to Mother Theresa. He said of him that, just like she tried her best to help people, Ortiz tried as much as he could to help the cats. Over the years, Ortiz has encountered some docile cats which he noted were easier to take to the vet. Others who were more feral required the use of painless wire traps. Dr. Haines noted that Ortiz always released the cats once they’ve undergone treatment. For the friendlier cats, Ortiz assists in finding them a stable home. Haines stated that Ortiz had a sense that helped him know which cats would function best in a family setting and which ones wouldn’t and in most cases, he would be right.

His Partners

Ortiz has had several partners over the years including Dr. Haines. He has also partnered with Freedom Paws Rescue which is located in Vernon. The owner of the organization had nothing but glowing comments regarding Ortiz. She noted that although animals were the organization’s passion, they were Ortiz’s life. Ortiz has collections of cat photos and albums in his house. The photos are souvenirs from the families that adopted his cats. They do serve as a reminder to him that the once hungry cats can now sleep peacefully. I think we can all agree that the world would be a better place with more people like Willie Ortiz.



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