One night in New York City, Paul Santell was returning home from the subway when he noticed a stray cat resting on the pavement. He fed the cat from a can of cat food that he just so happened to have on him, and the following night when he came across the same cat, he repeated the action. Santell fed the additional cats that had emerged as well, not realizing at the time how drastically this small act would alter his life.
Santell has always had a soft spot for cats, and after he started feeding a few of them on the streets, he started trying to think of other ways he could help them, too. He heard about trap-neuter-return programs (TNR), which helps control feral cat populations, and decided it might be worth looking into.
“I took a free class at the ASPCA’s offices in Manhattan, and then got some traps and started fixing these guys, and things just took off from there,” Santell told The Dodo.
Now, Paul spends 30 hours a week feeding, trapping and rescuing feral and stray cats around the city, on top of working full-time at his regular job. He’s been at it for three years now, and has helped somewhere around 1,100 cats so far, and has no plans to stop any time soon.
Santell said, “I capture any newbies to my colonies during these late hours. My nightly feeding rounds are often after midnight.” “On the weekends, I attempt to visit new colonies at the request of others in the neighborhood to see if I can be of assistance. I try to rescue kittens as frequently as I can so that they can be taken off the streets and placed in loving homes. I basically rescue full-time in addition to working full-time.
Not only does Santell help feed and trap feral cats, but he also keeps a lookout for stray cats who aren’t feral, and who need help finding their way back into a forever home.
“Probably my favorite part is when I rescue an out-of-place, dirty, starving-looking, obvious former house cat,” Santell said. “The idea that they were neglected and abandoned, possibly thrown out of their home physically and locked out for good just hurts me to the core. So when I save these guys it is the greatest feeling in the world.”
After some time, Santell earned the moniker “Paul the Cat Guy” and created Facebook and Instagram accounts so that people could get in touch with him anytime they came across a cat in need.
Santell’s steadfast refusal to quit up is among his most impressive qualities as a rescuer. He tries to help a cat even though it runs away from him till he is successful. He won’t allow any of them to fall between the cracks.
Santell once met a cat in his driveway, later named Pauly, who was incredibly skittish, and he immediately assumed he was feral. After a month or so he trapped Pauly and had him fixed and vaccinated, and planned to release him back around his driveway.
But while Pauly was recovering, he got loose in the warehouse Santell was using for TNR. Santell set traps in the ceiling for weeks, constantly refilling them with fresh food, but he was somehow unable to find Pauly. Eventually, he decided to look behind the warehouse, just in case — and among a group of cats, he found Pauly, who had somehow managed to get out of the warehouse all on his own.