While most people in his neighborhood are in bed asleep, Glen Venezio is just getting to work. Known as the “Catman” of Puerto Rico, he’s been feeding approximately 250 stray cats in and around his neighborhood since he moved to the island from New Jersey in 2006 — and he hasn’t missed a single night, even when he’s sick or the weather is bad.
“It is about being present for these animals that are so hated here by most people, going out every night religiously, in pouring rain, in storm conditions, on burning humid hot nights, when I am ill,” Glen said. “I have not missed a night in over 10 years.”
Hearing Glen describe his feeding routine, his dedication becomes even more admirable. His night starts around 11 p.m., when he fills about 90 2-liter bottles with water from the tap. He then hauls the water, six 16-pound bags of dry food and 40 13-ounce cans of wet food down the stairs from his second-story apartment and loads it into a large shopping cart. By 1 a.m., he’s ready to get started on his route. He feeds stray cats on street corners, in empty lots and behind abandoned buildings, and he won’t be home again until the sun comes up. Without Venezio, many of these kitties would be in even rougher shape than they are.
“It’s so hard to explain the larger picture here because there are so many misconceptions from people in the States,” he says. “People write to me and say, ‘Don’t you have the ASPCA there?’ No, we don’t. One woman said, ‘You need to sign up for the TNR program in your municipality, and they will spay and neuter all of those cats for free.’ And I told her no such thing exists here. There are hundreds of thousands of animals, and Puerto Rico is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.”
The scope of the problem can be overwhelming for Glen. In most Puerto Rican neighborhoods — with the possible exception of gated communities — he says the streets and beaches are inundated with stray cats and dogs. A lot of people on the island have feeding routes, but most of them focus on dogs. Glen is one of the few who specializes in caring for the kitties, largely because of the negative perception many people on the island have toward cats.
“People don’t understand that the cats come from this area — people have either thrown them here before I moved here, or they throw them here now because they know I’m here and I’ll feed them,” Glen says. “They have old-fashioned misconceptions: They say cats are traitors, because you’ll pet a cat and it will claw your eyes out a second later. Or cats will steal the baby’s breath out of its mouth — stuff like that.”
People’s harmful ideas about cats often bleed over onto Glen, who has gotten into many altercations with his neighbors, initially prompting him to switch from feeding during the day to at night. He’s struggled with people destroying his feeding stations or even poisoning the cats’ food. Glen says that most of the “dangerous” people on the street at night leave him alone, but that is often not the case with residents, who feel the cats make their neighborhood look “trashy.”
“I have many conflicts with people in my area,” he says. “I’ve been threatened; I’ve been hurt; I’ve been assaulted. Even though this is a good area, it’s still a city — there are drug addicts and criminals walking around in the night. Usually they’re not interested in me because they see me pushing a shopping cart, so in their mind I’m a street person like them. It’s usually the residents that live here that are the problem.”
While many people who focus on feeding dogs also work to get the animals adopted, Glen doesn’t go that route. It’s hard to find reliable homes for cats in Puerto Rico, he says, and animal shelters in the United States are already overwhelmed. Instead, he prefers to keep the cats on his route, where at least he knows they’re getting spayed or neutered and being fed every day. Despite the challenges Glen faces, knowing the cats are loved and cared for keeps him going.
“I’m happy to know that these cats have me; their lives are not perfect but they have some quality of life,” he says. “They have water, they have food, and they have care. That’s the joy I get out of it. That’s the only thing that keeps me going.”
Thumbnail: Photography by Caramaria/Thinkstock.
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Angela Lutz is a freelance writer who loves yoga, fancy coffee and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her three cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey, Phoenix and Salvador.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Catster magazine delivered straight to you!