There are often milestones in our lives that reshape the path we are supposed to become. Such was the case of Paul Santell, a union worker who moved to Queens, New York in 2011 and knew nothing about animal rescue or stray and feral cats roaming outdoor communities across the country. That changed over the years when, on his way home from work at night, he noticed cats that lived outside in poor conditions.
In 2014, he fed one who turned two, then three, and before he knew it, he was feeding an entire colony. Several colonies and six years later, Paul saved and improved the lives of more than 3,000 feral, pregnant, and stray cats in New York City boroughs, earning him the nickname “Paul the Cat Guy” with no sign of stopping.
Step in to save lives
He didn’t plan on becoming the cat person, but after feeding her for about two months he knew he wanted to do more. In the United States, an estimated 30 to 40 million stray or feral cats are out and about, with tens of thousands living in New York City, according to the NYC Feral Cat Initiative. Less than 2% have been repaired and a female cat can have an average of 180 kittens in her lifetime.
Paul decided he needed to take a course from ASPCA to learn more about TNR (Trap-Neuter-Return) – a humane and effective way of managing cats in the community. The cats are captured, taken to a veterinarian for neutering / neutering, vaccination and earclips for identification. After recovery, they will be released back to where they were found or, if friendly, adopted.
Paul had no idea how exhausting it would be. He takes care of the cats almost 40 hours a week. “Rescue never sleeps,” he says. “It can be 24/7/365 with no breaks in between.”
In the morning he takes care of the wild cats in the traps – gives them fresh food and water or transports them to various veterinarians to repair them. Any cat in need of major medical care will be taken to the American Veterinary Group or Animal Medical Center as an emergency drop-off. Colony feeding takes place at night.
He also spends countless hours sharing his charitable work with his 100,000+ combined followers on Instagram and Facebook and promoting his adoptable cats. He also helps locals who turn to him for help with stray cats in the neighborhood.
Then there are kittens who need socialization or the friendly strays. Paul has a strict protocol: kittens don’t go outside, nor cats that are genuinely friendly. It can be a gray area, but when a cat is showing itself well, it has no doubts. The cat will be repaired, tested, vaccinated and available for adoption.
Paul is especially special on his rescues when it comes to finding “just the right, solid, forever” home. He provides pictures and a description of the cat’s personality, age, and medical history as best he can, along with the type of home that the cat would be best suited for on his social sites (@paulthecatguy). For example, the sweet but shy gummy bear, a young cat that Paul had saved, needed a home without children, dogs or large open spaces.
Currently, Paul is primarily a one-man operation. He has a handful of volunteers who help with the care and transportation of cats. His goal is to stay on the streets to keep helping the cats and inspiring others, and to provide them with an environment where TNR and rescue for all become a reality.
He also aims to buy a building in the city to teach practical rescue tactics and hopes to encourage people to at least manage their own area of the community.
He says, “Imagine if 1,000 people helped, up from two dozen in a neighborhood – the population was under control, which is really the ultimate goal of all rescuers.”
By then, he will manage his first colonies from 2014 – all under control due to the success of his TNR efforts. He’s also looking forward to the future and sees firsthand the power his social media reach has had on his younger followers. One girl stands out – a 14-year-old who contacted him on Facebook about a cat named Monkey who had lived outside for seven years and was cared for by a neighbor. The cat was coughing and sneezing so the girl asked Paul for help and asked how she could get TNR certified to help other cats.
Paul took Monkey to the vet for medical treatment and was told he had bone fragments in his stomach, a severe URI, high kidney values (with an enlarged kidney), and positive for FIV.
Even so, Monkey was friendly, making cookies, and rolling around to get attention. Paul says the worst is behind him and he will do whatever it takes to make it better and then be promoted to adoption. And that’s really all Paul wants, because for him the greatest feeling in the world is to save lives because all cats deserve better.
Featured photo: Paul Santell | Getty Images
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