Man Opens His Home To 300 Cats Who Need Him
When his son died in a motorcycle accident, he found some kittens who helped him heal — and changed his life forever.
Chris Arsenault has always loved cats — but in 2006, they became his life.
That year, Arsenault tragically lost his son, Eric, in an accident after his motorcycle malfunctioned. While Arsenault was still devastated from the loss, he stumbled upon a colony of 30 sick cats and kittens who were living outdoors near his neighborhood in Long Island, New York.
He took the cats into his home to nurse them back to health — and found that they gave him some much-needed love and comfort.
“I knew there were many others out there like them who needed help too,” Arsenault told The Dodo. “I bought a piece of property in 2007 and went into it full-time.”
A retired train conductor, Arsenault had plenty of free time to start converting his home into the perfect place to care for injured or sick stray cats. He named it Happy Cat Sanctuary, and began getting calls from concerned locals whenever they spotted a cat in need.
“Most were saved from the streets or brought in from hoarding situations,” Arsenault said. “A very small percentage of our cats are owner surrenders, but it does happen.”
Within the sanctuary’s first few years, Arsenault was caring for nearly 70 cats at a time. While some of the cats could be adopted out, many were semi-feral — meaning that they weren’t exactly “pet material,” but also couldn’t survive on their own since they depended on people for food.
Two years ago, an anonymous patron donated $200,000 to the sanctuary, allowing Arsenault to renovate and expand the facility to allow space for more cats. It now consists of a large main indoor cat house, multiple smaller huts that are heated or air-conditioned, and a large, cat-safe, fenced-in yard outside with various tree structures and hammocks. There are currently around 300 cats living there, who can roam wherever they please when the weather permits.
“It’s so big that even if a cat isn’t that fond of others’ company, he can claim whichever area he likes as his own,” Arsenault said. “The most important thing to me is that they’re comfortable and that everything is kept clean.”
And luckily, with the help of several employees, the cats are as happy as can be. Each day begins around 7 or 8 a.m. Arsenault arrives to begin cleaning out litter boxes and water dishes from the night before. Breakfast follows soon after — and it’s clear the kitty residents are used to their daily routine.
“They get so excited when I come in in the mornings,” Arsenault said. “We have a great system and everybody waits very patiently.”
In addition to the free-roaming space, the sanctuary also has a medical ward to give any sick or injured cats the extra space and attention they need to recover. Over the years, Arsenault has taken in cats with medical issues ranging from feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) to injuries resulting from being hit by cars or used as bait in dogfighting rings.
Some have even been brought in after being poisoned or shot at by people.
While many have suffered trauma or have special needs that would make it difficult for them to find the perfect forever home at a traditional shelter, they will always have a place at the sanctuary.
“When we take a cat in, I know there’s a chance that they may be here for the rest of their days,” Arsenault said. “But that’s OK.”
In addition to the lifesaving care Arsenault arranges for the cats, he also manages a “trap-neuter-return” program which has significantly decreased feral cat populations throughout New York’s Suffolk County.
“When we do get calls about kittens, I take them in until they’re adopted out,” Arsenault said. “We work with All About Cats in Freeport to handle all of our adoptions.”
Over the years, Arsenault has helped place hundreds of homeless kittens and cats into their forever homes — and given a safe haven to thousands of other cats who prefer the free-range sanctuary life.
“When you love animals, it’s so worth it,” Arsenault said. “It’s really rewarding being able to just see the cats happy and healthy climbing around on tree structures or basking in the sun. That’s how nature intended. Giving them a good life and a safe place to live — can’t ask for anything better.”