Chris Arsenault has always loved cats, however, in 2006, they became his life. Arsenault tragically lost his son, Eric, in an accident after his motorcycle malfunctioned. While Arsenault was devastated by the loss, he came across a colony of 30 sick cats and kittens who were living outdoors in his neighborhood in Long Island, New York.
Arsenault took the cats home to nurse them back to health. When he did, he realized 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 said. “I bought a piece of property in 2007 and went into it full-time.”
Arsenault is a retired train conductor and had plenty of free time to convert 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.”
During the sanctuary’s first few years, Arsenault cared for nearly 70 cats at a time. 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.
An anonymous patron donated $200,000 to the sanctuary, two years ago, allowing Arsenault to renovate and expand the facility. The sanctuary 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.”
Luckily, with the help of several employees, the cats are as happy as can be. Every day begins around 7 or 8 a.m. when Arsenault arrives to begin cleaning out litter boxes and water dishes from the night before. The cats are then given breakfast and it’s obvious 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.”
Some of the cats have even been brought in after being poisoned or shot at by people.
Many have suffered trauma or have special needs that would make it difficult for them to find the perfect forever home. 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.”
Arsenault 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.”
Arsenault has helped place hundreds of homeless kittens and cats into their forever homes over the years. He has 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.”
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