Almost a decade ago, a homeless man living in Chicago’s West Loop, Antonio Garcia began a selfless mission that would eventually touch the lives of the entire community. Tucked away in an alley, Antonio created a home for himself using matresses and wood scraps.
During the first months in the location, he came across a small abandoned kitten he named Lorena and brought her into his home. Saving Lorena was just the beginning and within a few years, Antonio opened his refuge to dozens of other feral and abandoned cats. His colony eventually grew to an overwhelming brood of over 30 cats!
Local business owners thought of Garcia as a blessing as his cats kept away any rats that would infiltrate the area. Nearby residents learned of the situation and quickly befriended the gentleman and his feline family. Many would ask Antonio if there was anything he needed and his noble answer would always be “just food for the cats”. Unfortunately the community learned that most of the cats were feral and not spayed or neutered.
Dozens of charitable people stepped up and raised $2000 so that the cats could be humanly captured, spayed/neutered, vaccinated, micro-chipped and given any medical attention needed. They managed to trap the majority of the felines and were able to provide this much needed care to give them the best chance at life. If the cats were friendly enough, they were re-homed and the others were returned back to Antonio in the alley sanctuary.
Stray/Feral cats are a very large problem in Chicago, as with most large cities, with a staggering estimation of hundreds of thousands of them roaming the streets. After the cats were fixed, the volunteers fought to have them designated a “colony,” which legally protected them from being caught by the city and potentially euthanized.
Unfortunately, the story took a heartbreaking turn when in January of 2018, Garcia passed away at the age of 65 from hypothermia after particularly frigid temperatures hit the Chicago-land region. As the neighborhood mourned his passing and rallied to clean up the once loving refuge of this generous man, they realized his cats needed assistance more now than ever. After losing their caregiver, many were becoming scared with the changes occurring in their haven.
A dedicated group of caring women in the area began feeding the cats a couple times a day and built insulated cat condos for them out of yoga mats for shelters. They started a fundraising page to help in purchasing materials for more shelters, a food station and all the food & supplies to keep caring for Antonio’s alley cats. The Chicago Tribune and numerous papers across the country picked up the story and the group was SHOCKED when they raised almost $4,000 to buy the items and food enough to feed the cats for several months.
The fundraising page (https://www.youcaring.com/cynthiadoepke-1094247) is still collecting donations for their relentless efforts to trap the remaining elusive cats so they can also be fixed and the deserving felines can be provided with the food, water and shelter supplies they require to continue to survive. To date they have raised over $9,000, so close to their goal of $10,000. Those of us that participate in feline rescues know that this funding is essential to this type of work and the work is unfortunately never ending.
The fur-family may have lost it’s patriarch, but hopefully he is watching over them knowing that his efforts are being carried out by the humans he won the hearts of during his lifetime of self-sacrifice.