Feeding local birds is a common pastime for senior citizens. But 76-year-old Willie Ortiz of Hartford, Connecticut is breaking away from tradition by feeding stray cats. Sixty-eight of them, to be exact.
More than 20 years ago, Oritz spotted a feral cat begging for food. Recognizing a cry for help, he made it his life mission to feed these innocent creatures every single day. Despite discouragement from others, Oritz says he will continue to feed them for as long as possible.
Oritz provides food to 16 feral cat “colonies” – clusters of ferals that share a common location and food source. He buys them food with money from his own pocket, collecting scrap metal and cleaning local yards to raise funds. Oritz also has a GoFundMe page where people can donate to his cause.
In over two decades, Oritz hasn’t missed a single day of feeding. Weekends, holidays, rain or shine, he makes sure the cats are fed. And his kindness doesn’t end there. Besides being their primary source of food, Oritz also takes the cats to be spayed and neutered, rehomes as many as possible, and nurses the cats back to health when they get sick. His reasoning? Oritz believes these cats are entitled to at least one meal a day. To him, providing care is simply the right thing to do.
The Feral Problem
Overpopulation of feral and stray cats is a problem in many communities. During the spring, otherwise known as “kitten season”, unwanted litters of kittens are being dumped in the streets, or delivered to rescues and shelters across the nation. This influx of kittens becomes an overwhelming burden for organizations that, unfortunately, results in thousands of homeless cats – many of which are euthanized due to lack of space and resources.
As “cute” as they may be, stray cats bring harm to communities by killing wildlife and spreading infections and diseases to household pets. Pets may also become stressed when ferals enter their territory, which can lead to harmful behaviors including decreased appetite and over-grooming. And other animals aren’t the only ones at risk. Cats can transmit several diseases to humans – such as rabies – presenting a major danger to children, seniors, and immunocompromised citizens.
How can you help?
Unfortunately, not every community has their own Willie Ortiz. This kitten season, there will be millions of unfed stray felines across North America. So how can you help?
First and foremost, spay and neuter your cat. While it might not seem important in the grand scheme of things, one unneutered cat can make a big difference. Ferals can sneak into yards and mate with household cats, creating more unwanted litters and, ultimately, more opportunity for further breeding. This domino effect is the root cause of the feral cat problem and, until something changes, the problem will continue. In fact, one female cat and her offspring can produce more than 420,000 kittens over a seven year span!
Education is the second most important method of prevention. Non-profit animal welfare organizations such as Alley Cat Allies offer informational resources and materials to teach citizens how they can help. Do some research of your own on proper management of feral colonies, and spread the word via your own social media platforms.