I’m an Army Veteran, a Hippie, a Welder — And I Save Stray Cats


I am a 54-year-old ex-Army hippie welder who, through my rescue Paw Town Cats, has opened his heart and home to all the forgotten cats and kittens.

Growing up in the inner city ghetto, I had no friends, so the stray animals became my friends. They would play with me; I even got into fights to protect them. I started putting out food and water and made a lean-to for them to stay safe, warm, and dry, but I had no idea of how hard life can be and how badly people can treat these forgotten animals until I found Oscar in 2004 — or rather, she found me.

It was a cold, rainy day in Watsonville, CA. I was on my way to the store when I saw a sick little kitten with pus all over her eyes and poop all over her fur. She was meowing and running up to passersby, looking for food or just a little love, and no one would give her the time of day — they would push her away, back into the woods alongside the bike trail. Some even kicked at her.

I already had seven cats and was feeding six strays, so I kept on riding, but I could not get this little kitten out of my mind.

By the time I got out of the store it was raining really hard, so I stopped to see if the kitten was still there. I saw her curled up in a ball on the side of the bike trail. She held up her weak little head and started to meow. I started to pet her, and she began purring and gave me a kitty kiss on my hand. She looked into my eyes, and I saw this little life crying for me to help her.

That was all it took. I made room in my bag and she jumped right in. This little, wet, sick, 8-week-old kitten knew that I would save her and give her a good home. I named her Oscar, and she turned out to be the sweetest cat in the world. She opened my eyes to how loving stray cats and kittens can be.

Oscar inspired me to start Paw Town Cats, a forever home for all strays who find their way to my door. With the help of a no-kill shelter in Santa Cruz and a friend in my composting class, I learned how to be a mama cat, how to bottle-feed newborn kittens and teach them to use the litter box. A sweet orange tabby with a bent tail helped me with the kittens; she was very good with litter box instruction.

Paw Town Cats became a classroom and foster home. A great network of experienced humans helped me with vet care, like treating feline calicivirus and ringworm. I learned a lot about cats and cat care with the support of animal lovers and caring vets.

In 2007, I moved to Imperial County in Southern California and worked as a cleaner and caretaker at a two-story, three-bay steel building. It had been an auto shop and junkyard, but the owner needed someone to live there and keep people from taking the building apart. By the time I got there, all of the wiring all the way down to the breaker box was gone, as was all the plumbing and even the toilet. There were more than 50 junk cars and some old school buses.

I was shocked to learn that more than 20 cats and kittens were also making this junkyard their home. I had arrived with 13 cats — no Paw Town Cat will be left behind — and learned Imperial County has no support like Santa Cruz: There is only a kill shelter, and all cats found without tags or a chip are killed. If you call Animal Control to turn in a stray cat, that cat is killed.

That’s when Paw Town Cats became the last hope for life for the forgotten cats. Where we live the summers are very hot; it can reach 125 degrees in the shade, and there are no trees, just farmland as far as the eye can see.

The closest towns are miles away, so the only way these cats can get out here is when someone dumps them. I never in my life thought I would ever see someone dump a cat or a litter of kittens like they do out here, like trash. But I don’t dare put the word out that I will take in unwanted cats and kittens, for fear that even more people will dump their pets — or that I will become known as the crazy cat man.

Paw Town Cats is now an underground rescue. If a cat finds his way here, he has a forever home. There is only one vet around here who does low-cost spay/neuter, and he has a months-long waiting list. I have had to fall back on my homeopathy training to care for the cats.

I have about 50 cats right now, and all of them are here to stay for the rest of their lives, safe from abuse. Some of them have been fixed, vaccinated, and checked by a vet (when I have the money), but all of them are well-cared for. I keep the females in a former office, away from the males, till I get them spayed. Although some of them are very old, chronically ill, deformed, or just broken, it seems that they all enjoy their life here and show their love all the time.

In spite of the fact that my shelter is small and crowded, I can’t turn my back on a cat or kitten in desperate situation, and they keep arriving. As the number of cats grows, my expenses rise, and it becomes harder to care for all of them, but I do the best I can. The sight of happy kitties playing and running and resting — completely relaxed, probably for the first time in their lives — makes all my efforts worthwhile.

My ambition for Paw Town Cats is huge. I want to take all of the cats out of this hellhole and move back up north, get some land, and build a real furever home. I would love be able to say that if you no longer want or cannot take care of your cats, you can bring them — the young, old, and broken — to Paw Town Cats, where I will care for them and find them forever homes.

For now, though, that is only a dream. It is hard to ask the public for donations or help, but every kind of help is needed, welcome, and greatly appreciated. If you would like to help my work with the Paw Town Cats, you can send your gift via PayPal to pawtowncatsrescue@gmail.com.

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