It’s a safe bet that Chris Arsenault loves cats a little more than the average person. He has turned his home into a sanctuary for roughly 300 cats that would otherwise have no place to go.
Arsenault maintains an 8-by-12-foot room where he sleeps and eats in his Medford, New York home. The rest of his house, garden, and backyard are all for his cats. As they run around, Arsenault cleans litter trays and makes sure his cats have enough food and water.
He founded the Happy Cat sanctuary in 2006 after the sudden death of his 24-year old son, Eric, in a motorcycle accident. Soon after his son’s death, Arsenault found a group of 30 sick kittens while working as a train conductor. He decided to take the cats home with him. Since then, he’s continued to take in cats from shelters and charities.
“I am a real animal lover. When I was a kid, I had rabbits and gerbils and dogs, you name it. Animals have always been my passion,” explains Arsenault. “After my son died, those cats gave me something to do.”
Over the years, Arsenault has added heated perches and several hammocks to his home to help keep the cats comfortable. He did the designs himself and also makes sure that everything is cleaned regularly.
“For me, safety and hygiene have been a priority. I have to be able to clean everything, wash everything down,” says Arsenault. “The floors are vinyl and the walls are covered in plastic sheeting. Outside, it’s all concrete so it is easy to hose it down.”
Arsenault makes sure every cat in his home gets spayed or neutered. He also provides medication for cats who need some and will take sick cats to the vet if necessary.
It costs Arsenault roughly $100,000 per year to run the cat sanctuary. He takes donations and pays the rest out of his own pocket. But he says caring for over 300 cats isn’t overwhelming, nor is it a burden; it’s a labor of love.
“Most of these cats were abused or abandoned when they came to the sanctuary,” says Arsenault. “It’s been really a really rewarding thing to be able to give them a home and a place they feel safe.”