Meet Willie.

| 5 min read Elderly man sitting outside with his cat on his lap

Every day, 77-year-old Willie Ortiz scours his town for scrap metal, loads up his truck, and sells it — for cat food. For...

Every day, 77-year-old Willie Ortiz scours his town for scrap metal, loads up his truck, and sells it — for cat food.

For the past 24 years, he has been the guardian angel for cats in his town. Every night, Willie spends three hours laying out food, building winter shelters, and shuttling cats to the vet. He has singlehandedly helped thousands of feral cats get fed and fixed—and transformed his community. And all it took was scrap metal, some muscle, and a mission.
A quarter century ago, Willie was at an auto body shop in Hartford, Connecticut. He noticed a cat wandering around, rubbing against the workers’ legs for attention. But rather than respond with affection, they kicked the cat and treated it like a pest. Willie had always been an animal lover, but at that moment, he realized he had to do more.

From that day on, Willie became a guardian angel for feral cats.

He started small—taking cans of food to cat colonies in the darkness of night, when they’re more likely to roam.

But he also realized that without population control, the cats would continue to multiply. So Willie started catching them one by one to get spayed or neutered and vaccinated.

Over time, Willie added more stops to his nightly rounds as he discovered new cat colonies in and around Hartford. And with that came more expenses.

To cover costs, Willie began collecting scrap metal to sell during the day when he wasn’t working as a welder at Hartford Hospital.

Years passed, and Willie continued his nightly rounds—only skipping nights when conditions would endanger the cats. “If it snows more than three inches, I don’t go because I don’t want them getting their bellies wet and cold,” he says. “But I’ll go the next night and feed them double.”

He started making “cubby holes” for the cats to keep them warm in the snowy New England winters. He took pregnant mothers to warm shelters to get them out of the cold and help their kittens get adopted. And when he found friendly cats, he brought them to a friend, who found them forever homes.
Willie quickly became known in his community as the go-to expert for feral cats. If people spotted a new colony near their homes or businesses, they called up Willie. And despite his increasing age and dwindling scrap metal funds, he refused to turn anyone down. He’d make it work, somehow.
Then one day, Willie met Kathleen Schlentz.
Kathleen also worked at Hartford Hospital and had heard about a man who fed the cat colony behind their building. Leaving work one day, she spotted Willie and struck up a conversation. She noticed that he had several cats in the back of his truck to take to the vet, and she made a donation on the spot. From that day on, Willie and Kathleen became close friends.
On several occasions after having dinner at each other’s house with their spouses, Kathleen joined Willie on his feeding runs. By that point, Willie had 16 stops around Hartford that spanned 22 miles and took three hours to complete. Every 10 days, he spent $400 on cat food alone.
Willie wasn’t getting any younger, and collecting scrap wasn’t getting easier. Kathleen realized that he would need help to continue his decades-long mission. So in 2016, she started a GoFundMe for Willie.
Over the past two years, the GoFundMe has raised over $40,000, enough to improve security for Willie’s mission and help him replace his beat-up ’88 truck with a used pickup for making his nightly rounds. Money only goes to the cats, as his and his wife’s personal expenses are covered by his pension—and he pays for associated costs like gas out of his own pocket.
Though he is now 77, Willie continues to collect, strip, and sell scrap metal daily to pay for his cats’ expenses. He is constantly worried about money running out, so he only uses donations to the GoFundMe to supplement his scrap earnings.
Now, Kathleen hopes to surprise Willie with her new fundraising goal, which will secure his mission for years to come and allow him to get more cats spayed, neutered, and vaccinated—all of which costs $40 per cat.
Since starting his mission, Willie says, “I don’t find any more babies freezing in the snow or getting hit by cars. The population is down, but there is still a problem with cats not getting neutered and spayed.”
“I tell God he has to give me not nine but ten lives so that I can keep doing this.”
Though Willie is concerned about running out of money to help his cats, he always has faith. He even scrapped his plans to retire in Florida so that he could continue to provide for his cats. Willie hopes that he will be around for them for a long time, but in the event of his passing, any remaining funds will go to no-kill shelters.
Whatever the future holds, there is no doubt that Willie has made an incredible impact on his community. To date, Willie has helped thousands of cats get fed and fixed. And with donors’ support, he could reach even more.