A certain wabbit informed me of this lovely man he met in Ottawa a few years ago. After a quick Google search, I realised that others have taken notice of the Cat Man. Have a gander at this article written about him in 2008 in the Ottawa Metro:
It’s a sunny afternoon at the western edge of Parliament Hill and René Chartrand is swinging a curly-haired toddler through the air. The boy and his father came here to look at the dozen cats who live in view of our nation’s capitol buildings.
They’re finding out the so-called Cat Man is possibly more entertaining than his feline charges.
Chartrand, although 86 years old, finds the energy to take a 10-minute bus ride most days to feed the cats, do maintenance on their homes and both chat and play with the hundreds of visitors who stop by every day. He arrives at two in the afternoon and stays until past five.
He rarely misses a day, although snow sometimes keeps him from leaving his downtown apartment, where he has seven cats of his own. “I cannot live without a cat,” he says. “I’ve always loved them.”
The descendants of the cat colony worked inside the Parliament Buildings doing natural pest control until chemicals took over their job in the 1950s. Put outside, they were cared for by various hill staff until, in the 1970s, a local woman named Irene Desormeaux gave them food and some boxes to live in. Chartrand began helping out.
In 1987, Desormeaux died and Chartrand took over. The former lumber mill worker and house painter, who is originally from nearby Hull, took his volunteer duties seriously. He built condos out of wood for the cats, got them vet care and lavished them with attention.
Chartrand set up a donation box, which helps offset — but doesn’t always fully cover —the $6,000 it costs to care for these cats every year. Donated cat food and vet care (they get a check-up and shots every year) help, too.
In recent years, a group of eight local residents has begun helping Chartrand. They come early in the morning with food and when he arrives at two, he feeds them again (if he doesn’t make it, everyone knows they’ve eaten for sure). They help with things like the shoveling.
They’re also consciously letting the cat colony peter out. A few years ago, there were 28 cats, now just a dozen remain. When people drop kittens on the hill or a new stray comes into the group, they bring it to the local Humane Society for adoption (or take it in themselves — everyone involved in this project has a couple felines at home).
None of them sees themselves as Chartrand’s successor in this job: He’s the one who knows both official languages and who effortlessly acts as cat ambassador as well as cat lover. “Taking care of these cats is all I have to do. I’m in love with them.”
Apparently, the Cat Man retired in 2009, but his legacy in the Parliment Cats lives on through a team of devoted volunteers. I can only hope to someday be in a position where I can do exactly what this man has done with his life. Wake up with some cats, go help some cats, come home to some cats. How wonderful...
Sleep tight, kittens,