Rescue is never easy work, yet some continue to do it under extremely difficult circumstances. Such is the case with Paw Town Cats, a one-person rescue effort located near the Southern California town of Niland. Quinton Smith, a self-described Army veteran, hippie, and welder, wrote a column for Catster in 2013 describing his rescue efforts. Now he and his cat sanctuary are homeless and looking for help.
Smith, the person who started Paw Town Cats, grew up in harsh conditions and saw many cats suffer on the streets. A kitten he rescued (a female named Oscar) inspired him to start Paw Town Cats, which he ran for some time out of a building where he was caretaker.
But when the building was sold, Smith had to find a new location for the sanctuary. The sanctuary has been located for the past five years in Slab City, eight miles from Niland and 40 miles north of the U.S./Mexico border. Quinton and the cats now live under a big tree.
“Living out here is like living in a Third World country,” he says, “and even harder for the cats.”
There are no services including grid electricity, sewer, and water. Quinton stores 450 gallons of water, which is trucked in. His power is solar.
This is Paw Town Cats headquarters.
Out of necessity, Quinton plays many roles including repairman, security guard — “serenity guard” — vet tech, and lab tech. He has no human help onsite. A veterinarian in San Diego sends him needles to give the cats shots and to draw blood if needed. A person in Pennsylvania sends Quinton medical books on cats as well as a microscope and some lab gear. Another friend and veterinarian from the U.K. communicates with and advises Quinton via ham radio.
“I do all of the blood work, give shots, draw blood for testing, put in IVs, and care for newborn motherless or abandoned kittens,” he says.
He particularly loves being a “father Mum” and seeing the kittens’ eyes open, watching them take their first steps, teaching them to eat wet and dry food, and showing them how to use a litter box. He works hard to gain these cats’ trust, whether he has trapped them or whether they’ve been dumped at Slab City.
Quinton also cares for “special needs Moggies” such as Ms. Molly, who has cerebellar hypoplasia, a brain disorder that make her walk in a wobbly way and tilt her head when she looks at you. He does TNR and in the past five years has spayed and neutered some 40 cats and kittens with the help of a visiting vet. Currently, 6o cats and kittens make Paw Town Cats their home. Twelve of these cats are special-needs kitties.
Most cats dumped or trapped at Slab City are in rough shape. Some are close to death, can’t stand, or are badly emaciated. Slab City is apparently a popular place for dumping animals, and conditions are harsh with heat that exceeds 100 degrees during the day and has little shade. Dumped dogs can get wild and prey on suffering cats.
Quinton describes a transient population of younger people who he says want to play with the hippie lifestyle and attempt to re-live Woodstock. Some who come to Slab City find stray cats or kittens and make friends, but when they leave, they also leave the cats. Others who can’t afford vet care give their cats to Quinton, knowing that the cats will get care.
“I have had some people who really love their cats but could not take good care of them when they got sick — the cost for vet care is so high,” he says.
Quinton says it’s sad to “look into their faces when they say goodbye to their fur friend. I give them our email address and take theirs so they can see how their kitty is doing, but I only had one guy come back (after a year) and get his kitty.”
Why does Quinton do it? He knows “I am the last kind face, warm lap, and rubbing hand a cat or kitten feels and sees when Mother Nature calls them home.”
Quinton admits that the undertaker duties are sad, but “if you would take an X-ray of my heart, you would see it in a the shape of a big cat’s paw. That’s how many paw prints are on my heart, and I love them all.”
Watching a life blossom, or a little life get the chance to grow up, is what Quinton calls “priceless.”
Quinton is raising funds to pay for the spay and neuter of 25 of the Paw Town Cats. He needs to raise $500 ($20 per cat) by April 28. He added that this will potentially be the last spay/neuter event he is able to coordinate, as the person doing the transporting is moving away, and Quinton does not have a car.
All photos courtesy of Quinton Smith.