How Does Your Feral Garden Grow?

Funny Face is napping the day away in my yard. A few weeks ago I planted seeds for a butterfly and hummingbird garden on the left, and a wildflower garden on the right. Both are a seed mixture of annual and perennial flowers. The rain brought a carpet of green that will hopefully grow into flowers soon.

I’m glad to see Funny Face relaxing again. He was trapped in my yard by accident the other night, and of course he was pretty upset by the whole experience. I have traps set for Puffy, another feral cat who needs some grooming.

I’m also experimenting with this WordPress app so that I can blog from anywhere, anytime. It seems pretty easy and user friendly so far. 

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Wound Treatment and Recovery for Feral Cats

Maxfield was trapped in Englewood this week and brought into PAWS Chicago’s clinic for their TNR package. They found a horrific wound on his neck.


Georgie from Chicago TNR and Cynthia trapped about a dozen cats in this particular alley so far. Maxfield was one of them, and the clinic discovered his injury while under anesthesia for his TNR surgery.


This was most likely caused by an abscess from a bite wound. Per his paperwork, there was crusted hair over the wound, so they cleaned it up. 12801481_1065470326826091_5926593994543080969_n-1

Then he was given a shot of Convenia antibiotics to offset infection, and they recommended recovery for 7-10 days. PAWS Chicago performed this medical service free of charge. They are the only vet clinic in the Chicago area who offers this to colony cat caregivers and we are all so thankful to have this resource in the city.


I offered to recover Maxfield for George as soon as I saw his injury. Her foster room is currently occupied with a friendly cat from the same alley that she is trying to place into a rescue.


A few years ago my friend, Dave H., gave me a dog crate that attaches to a trap to safely recover feral cats that need to be confined for an extended period of time. Dave invented this set-up and we call it the feral cat recovery lounge. It’s become to be an invaluable resource for several cats I’ve recovered. IMG_5049

Once you attach the trap to the crate, you cover the whole set-up and allow the cat to freely move from one end to another. The food is kept in the trap so that it is easy to get the cat to re-enter the trap for transport later. IMG_5063

Maxfield settled right in. As soon as I attached the trap to the crate, he bolted into the crate. He decided to wedge himself next to the litter box, and hasn’t moved much since. IMG_5057

He hisses, growls, and bolts so far, all signs of feral behavior. He seems a bit congested, so I’ve been adding Lysine to his wet food. His appetite is good – he’s been eating the wet and dry food as soon as I leave. Because the outside temperature is pretty mild, I am keeping him in the garage with plenty of blankets and a heater to keep warm. The crate and trap are elevated off the floor with blocks of wood for circulation and so they are not just sitting on the cold croncrete floor. Nonetheless, we don’t want him too warm because we want him to keep his winter coat.


He’s doing well and I am hoping tonight he will explore the crate more. There is a second level just above his head where there’s a soft bed for him to sleep and recover. IMG_5055

I will keep all of you posted on his road to recovery within the next week. I’d like to thank George and Cynthia for saving his life, for PAWS’ providing his medical care, and for Jim’s help caring for him while I’m out of town for work.

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More TNR and Meeting More Feeders at the Pallet Colony

Melissa and I trapped at night in the alley next to the retirement center because we knew there were cats also coming from the coach house. Despite a lot of human activity in this alley, cars pulling in and out, people coming out to smoke, a security car making the rounds, random rain and wind, we still managed to trap five more cats.


One of the neighbors, Juan, came outside to meet us and was very concerned about the cats. He wanted them around to take care of the rat problem. Juan was polite but kind of upset for a bit. He seemed happier once we explained that most of the cats would be returned to the alley because they are feral and not adoptable.


This is an interesting site to trap at, since there are multiple feeders who feed them sporadically, there are tons of places for the cats to go to – including huge industrial lots for metal recycling and pallet companies, and you don’t really see any cats.


That is, you don’t really see any cats….


until you set a trap.


As soon as Melissa set out the first trap, cats came to check it out. IMG_4536

And we started trapping them one by one.

The first night we trapped Hemingway, a male orange tabby. He is feral and was TNReturned after his TNR surgery at PAWS’ spay/neuter clinic. IMG_4605

We also set up traps at the retirement home and went back and forth in-between the sites to check on them.


Fulton was trapped there. He is feral and was also TNReturned. IMG_4600

Then we trapped a long-haired orange cat.


Orange Juice is feral and was TNReturned. IMG_4637

When we returned the next night we realized there were two more long-haired orange cats. Melissa and I refused to leave until we trapped both of them. They are also both feral and were TNReturned.


First we trapped Butters. IMG_4606

And then Vella. She’s female! Female orange cats, even tabbies, are pretty rare. She is the THIRD orange female cat we trapped at this site. IMG_4630

When I returned Butters and Vella, I met Ron, the man that lives in the coach house and feeds these cats. Joann met him the week before and told me about him. Ron really cares for these cats, and was totally on board with getting them spayed/neutered and any other vet care they may need. The buildings here are pretty decrepit and it’s hard to figure out what’s going on. It’s really none of my business anyways. Obviously Ron needs some help, and we are trying to be compassionate towards this colony and their feeders, including Ron. He asked me for two bucks, as he asked Joann before as well, and when I handed him a larger bill because that was all I had, he was really happy. He ran into the house to show me the wet cat food he buys for the cats. I don’t care what he does with the money as I can’t really help him for now, I just try to show compassion and understanding. These scenarios are pretty common when you’re doing TNR – it’s not just helping the animals. It’s a community service. It’s why I am so drawn to PAWS’ Comuunity Outreach program in Englewood and volunteer when I can. It encompasses everything I was trying to do in my own neighborhood doing TNR, going door to door, and working with feral cat colony caregivers and feeders.


Joann and I have plans to continue TNR there (in fact Joann was there tonight and already trapped another cat!). We’ll update more about this cat, Jeremy, and other cats soon. 12628617_766059226831794_8042460492869588110_o

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More TNR for the Kitchen Colony: Meet Cranberry and Alfie

We trapped more cats at the Kitchen Colony this week.


The colony is currently a mix of at least six or more ear tipped cats, and we pulled three more for adoption last month. Patrice, the colony caregiver, feeds regularly in a commercial parking lot, and keeps an eye out for non-eartipped cats. However, this is not so easy since this is a public area, and different cats are on different schedules. So far Patrice knew of three more cats to be trapped: a young black cat, a big scruffy cat that she will take to a full service vet first, and a siamese cat that came from the KFC Colony.


We set up traps at their feeding station, and locked them to the fence with bike locks to prevent them from being stolen. Beforehand, Patrice tried to only feed the cats that were already TNR’d so that they would not go in the traps. Patrice has been feeding there for years, but we took every precaution we could. It’s surrounded by bushes and dumpsters and for the most part, it seems like no one knows about it besides the restaurant in front. You can see the garage being built across the alley – that’s where the tabby cats from this colony live.  IMG_4007 It’s a bit spooky at night, but no one seems to bother the cats.


Despite the new construction, we are hoping the cats will then continue to use the feral cat shelters that Patrice set up by the restaurant and in neighbors’ yards. No one bothers these shelters either, they are concealed. The restaurant does not have a problem with it – one of the tarps is covering their motorcycle! This is perfect for a non-secure area. You can hardly see the cats even – can you see Sally hanging out by the shelters in back? IMG_4031

We trapped the young black cat the first night. I took him to PAWS Chicago for his TNR surgery the next day. The process was seamless – I was in and out for drop-off and pick-up within minutes, and there was parking right in front. The TNR package costs only $26 per cat, which includes spay/neuter surgery, ear tipping, parasite treatments for fleas and dewormer, an antibiotic, and wound cleaning if needed. Your donations helps us help them!


Meet Cranberry, who turned out to be a healthy male cat, and acted completely feral the entire time.


Usually there are also other cats that you may never see, and that’s what I was thinking about. Sure enough, the next night we trapped this long-haired brown tabby cat that none of us saw before.


Meet Alfie, who also went to PAWS Chicago for his TNR surgery. IMG_4029

He also turned out to be a healthy male cat, with some matting because of his long fur. There is nothing to be done about his matting now since he needs his fur for the cold winter. We can try to trap him in the spring to shave the mats off if still needed. I once had a clinic almost completely shave a cat bald I brought in for surgery in January. Needless to say that cat could not and did not go back outside – he was adopted instead – so it worked out in the long run, but it won’t work if a cat is completely feral. It just adds to their stress. In this case Alfie was pretty terrified, with open-mouthed breathing, so Patrice recovered and returned him a day later once he ate well and went to the bathroom. Confinement can be very stressful for some cats. You just have to keep a close eye on them.


We will continue trapping. We would love to get that siamese cat. There’s a good possibility s/he is friendly, and we may already have a home for her. And we would love to get the scruffy black cat because it appears he may need extra vetting. And of course, we would love to get any new cats we have not seen yet. Five kittens came from this colony within the last few months and we want to stop the breeding cycle here.

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Hyde Park Cats 2016 Calendar Now Available – Cats in My Yard Featured for October

We are included again (!!!) in the Hyde Park Cats calendar for 2016.


This highlighted link includes instructions on how to order this calendar from


Every cat in a trap here has a story that deserves to be shared and celebrated, which is pretty much why I started this blog in the first place. Here are their stories:


From left to right, top to bottom:


FIRST ROW, left to right:

Ferret, from the Jose and the Pussycats Colony, TNR’d in February 2012, and still feral and thriving outdoors. She has a cat bed outdoors with fresh, clean blankets every day. IMG01281-20121020-1306

Frostie MacCreamsicle, also from the Jose and the Pussycats Colony, TNR’d in March 2012. He is friendly so I fostered him and he was adopted by my friends, Eliya and Mary.


Whip, the orange cat, is from the Boonie Colony, TNR’d in March 2015. We have not seen him since he was TNReturned outside, but he comes from a very large colony that is fed daily by a feeder who lets the cats in and out of his basement. IMG_0457

I trapped this tabby cat from the Eleanor Rigby Colony in March 2015. I let him go right away – he was already ear tipped but I don’t know who originally TNR’d him. There are multiple feeders on every block in this area. IMG_0655


SECOND ROW, left to right:


Wally, the black cat, from the V Colony, was TNR’d in May 2014. He was very friendly and very sick – the first vet I took him to advised me to euthanize him. I took him to another vet for a second opinion. He tested positive for FeLV, then reversed the test results, and was adopted by my friends Carlin and Kathy in St. Louis. Now over a year later he is still very much alive and thriving in their home. 12212066_868127303256882_1569841162_n

Garfield, the long-haired orange cat from the Armando Colony, was TNR’d in December 2014. I still see him periodically when I visit. IMG_0372

Mala, the black cat, also from the Armando Colony, was TNR’d in December 2014. She was very feral and also returned to Armando’s house once she recovered from her surgery.


Cosmo Moon Eyes, this black and white cat from the Peacock Colony, was TNR’d in August 2014. He is still around and being fed according to his feeder, Ashley, a young girl in junior high who learned all about TNR from this process. IMG_7741


THIRD ROW, left to right:


Mr. Friendly, the brown tabby and white cat from the Rockstar Colony, definitely lived up to his name. He was TNR’d in February 2012 and his feeders wanted to keep him as an indoor/outdoor cat. He was still thriving later that year and I would see him periodically throughout the neighborhood. Unfortunately the following year he was killed by a car. My rescue neighbor and friend Kim found him and gave him a proper burial as he deserved. RIP Mr. Friendly. IMG01278-20121020-1302

None, the grey cat, was the first to be TNR’d from the Chester Colony in March 2015.  none

Joann tried to foster her indoors for a bit, but None turned out to be feral and was ultimately returned outside. Their feeder Chester feeds daily and they have shelter in this garage. IMG_0972

Popcorn, the brown and white tabby from the front yard of my very own colony, James Gang Colony, was TNR’d in September 2014. I named him Popcorn because he kept trying to pop out of the trap and made a mess inside the entire time. He is feral and still visits my front yard feeding station at night, although I have no idea where he goes otherwise. IMG_7992

Apple, also from the Chester Colony, was about five months old when we trapped her and her sister Ava in March 2015. Joann could not bear to put them back outside without trying to socialize them first. She ended up keeping both of these sisters where they are living their lives indoors with her and her other five pet cats. IMG_1076

We can’t wait to get these calendars to distribute as gifts for the holidays!














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Introducing the Chester Colony

Alderman Joe Moreno’s office referred me to a woman within our 1st Ward in Chicago who said there were cats spraying in her alley. Almost at the same time, another woman found me online and said there were kittens. She happened to live within a block of the first referral.


Joann and I are teaming up on TNR, and she went to the site to investigate several times. Joann talked to neighbors, and saw some cats going in and out of a few garages. Joann has done tons of rescue, but Trap-Neuter-Return is still fairly new to her. She is a natural, though. She took methodical notes, and started cataloguing the cats. She made flyers for us to pass out. She sent me photos like this. DSC04164

One night, she set a trap, and immediately trapped this grey female she called None. It was great timing, because None turned out to be pregnant. Joann gave her extra recovery time in a crate, also hoping to see if perhaps None is friendly. She turned out to be feral and she was returned to the alley. none

After canvassing the neighborhood even more, Joann found Chester, an elderly Polish man who sporadically feeds the cats from his window.


Chester has no idea how many cats he feeds. His story changes, but this makes sense as he had to trust us first. Also, it’s confusing to know how many cats there are. They take shelter in multiple garages. The cats go in and out of Chester’s garage and shed, which as far as I can tell are permanently locked, with stuff piled up to the ceiling. There are multiple holes for the cats to go in and out of. It would be impossible to see what’s going on in here. IMG_0979

We asked Chester not to feed, and started trapping a few days ago. Meanwhile, we talked to several more neighbors. The general reaction was polite indifference, but we were free to use people’s carports, and they told us where we could find the cats.


We had no idea what to expect, but so far we trapped ten cats total. The females were pregnant, there are older semi-feral kittens, and we even trapped someone’s in/out pet cat. Clearly this block, like so many other blocks, has a cat overpopulation problem. The only way to stop the breeding is through TNR, with community support. We cannot do this alone.


The first day of trapping we just trapped in the alley. None came by to check it out, but then was gone for the rest of the time. Smart girl. But she showed us one of the many cat entrances into the garage. IMG_0972

We trapped four cats in an hour. They were all clearly related.


Ash, male cat, was neutered without incident.


As was Aspen, another male cat. IMG_1019

Avery and Applejack are two older female kittens we think are siblings, and they are showing signs of friendliness. Currently they are at Joann’s house crated together, while she sees if she can socialize them for adoption. IMG_0987 IMG_0992

Then we started trapping in Chester’s yard. IMG_1001 IMG_1002

We started getting tabby cats, who looked more rough and feral.


Charlie’s ears are curled, most likely from frostbite. He needs a dental badly. But he is a good weight, and was so clearly feral in the trap. I don’t think he would do well with bringing him in for a dental now. He refused to eat, refused to pose, and refused to look at me the entire time. IMG_1033

Frankie is another male cat that is in a bit better shape. IMG_1031

Billie was pregnant, and weighs only 5.5 pounds. She was so frantic to get out of the trap that she had facial swelling on her nose from rubbing and hitting the bars. You can see how red her nose it. IMG_1060

Joey is a male cat, who looks a lot like he could be Billie’s brother. IMG_1053

And we trapped Keelie. Keelie is a long-haired black male cat that was already neutered. And microchipped. His owner came to the clinic to pick him up, and asked how he could prevent Keelie from getting trapped again.


Of course, if we were to accidentally trap Keelie again during this TNR project, we would let him out.


There’s at least one other pregnant cat that we know about, and most likely even more cats. We will keep trying to TNR there and reach out to the neighbors as best as we can.

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Feral Flowers Delivery for Tonight’s TNR Fundraiser

The blooms for tonight’s Feral Flowers Design Class and TNR Talk are harvested and ready for delivery. I am so excited to meet everyone tonight at this sold out class at Forget Me Knodt, and celebrate National Feral Cat Day.


Despite the rain, Bouncy Bear kept coming out to see what was going on and what I was doing. Either that or she was just hungry again. IMG_8433

Mooha was having none of it. IMG_8450

Here’s the garden before I started harvesting the flowers. IMG_8447

Everyone will make bouquets using amaranth, catmint, cosmos, goldenrod, zinnias, and other flowers from Janessa’s flower shop. IMG_8457

I really thought this would be the final flower harvest, but there are still a lot of blooms left. This season is very bittersweet for me – I wish the garden could go on. IMG_8458

The catty wagon is filled with flowers again. Thanks to all of you for your support, tonight should be a lot of fun! IMG_8463

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Trap-Neuter-Return Case Study: 55% Reduction in Outdoor Colony Cats Since 2007

When I first started TNR’ing cats in my yard in 2004 I had no idea how many outdoor cats there were. I did not know what a colony was and I did not even feed cats outside.

In 2007 I registered as a Colony Cat Caregiver in compliance with Cook County’s Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance. I kept track of the number of cats that I trapped and took to low-cost vet clinics to be spayed/neutered, vaccinated, ear tipped and micro-chipped to me for identification.

In 2008 I started reaching out to other feeders and caregivers in my area, and helped TNR their colonies as well. In all, I discovered eighteen other sites where cats were being fed. The cats here crossover into other colonies and feeding stations, but are more or less contained within this one city block because of the busy main streets that border on all sides.

153 cats here were TNR’d during this time. Out of that total, 70 TNR’d cats remain outside in managed colonies where they are provided with food and water, medical care, and shelter. The rest of the cats were either adopted out, admitted into no-kill shelters, died, euthanized because of terminal illness or injury, or disappeared from the area.

TNR works. How many more cats would be outside here if none of them were spayed/neutered?

Feral-Cat-Map-2013-Final Here’s a look at the nineteen colonies up close and when TNR started for each of them. The cats in my yard are called the James’ Gang Colony.

TNR Colony Population
Colony Name TNR Start Date Total Cats Spayed / Neutered Colony Cats 2013
Bonita Colony 3/1/2011 3 0
Eleanor Rigby Colony 12/17/2008 18 3
Frontier Colony 11/22/2009 11 2
Garage Band Colony 10/13/2009 8 6
Ginger Colony 7/15/2013 1 1
James’ Gang Colony 1/29/2007 21 5
Jose and the Pussycats Colony 4/5/2010 11 5
La Vida Lydia Colony 4/10/2012 1 3
Little Sister Colony 11/3/2010 11 8
Major Tomcat Colony 3/1/2012 4 6
Marta Volta Colony 7/1/2010 3 0
Martino Awesome Colony 11/24/2009 7 0
Mother Colony 12/1/2010 7 2
Peacock Colony 2/1/2012 3 0
Ricky Martino Colony 4/16/2010 6 6
Rockstar Colony 2/6/2012 8 3
Stealth Colony 3/26/2013 1 0
Thompson Twins Colony 12/1/2012 4 5
V Colony 10/27/2010 25 15
Totals 153 70

I am also working on TNR in areas that are further from me, which I call Satellite Colonies because they currently have one feeder and area that they stay in.

TNR Satellite Colony Population
Colony Name TNR Start Date Total Cats Spayed / Neutered Colony Cats 2013
Cell Phones Colony 7/1/2012 11 13
Iron Works Colony 10/15/2012 8 6
Joyce Division Colony 11/3/2010 10 5
Totals 29 24

I started this blog almost two years ago to chronicle the lives of these cats and show how TNR is working to reduce their overall population humanely and safely. The colony names are listed on the right and each have their own photos and stories. Almost all of the colony cat populations have been reduced. Colony management is ongoing and crucial to the success of TNR, otherwise the numbers will increase again when new unaltered cats show up to feed and breed.

Thank you all for your continued support! Please let me know if you have any suggestions on how together we can continue helping even more cats this year.

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How to Make 100 Outdoor Cat Shelters in One Weekend

If you Google “outdoor cat shelter” you get 1.3 million results, with lots of ideas and instructions on how to make one cat shelter at a time. There are tons of great resources out there on how to custom-build outdoor cat houses using scrap materials to save money and I encourage everyone to make their own.

This is instructions on how you can mass produce a whole bunch of feral cat houses with minimal time or waste. You can also use these instructions just to make a few outdoor cat shelters at a time. We did this at PAWS Chicago a few years back. Someone donated around 100 new Storage Totes bins, all the same size. It made sense to buy new insulation materials then and make the interiors all the same, like an assembly line. Otherwise we were going to spend a lot of time measuring scrap materials and making each house individually.

First step: Recruit some help. I had a partner in crime to divide and conquer. Jim did the measuring and cutting. I did the assembling and taping.

If you’ve got cats lying around, make them work! We put a kitten in charge of inspection and quality control.

And don’t forget to have some fun.

Now you’re ready. Here’s what we used:

Storage Totes bins, 23.5″x 17.5″ x 15.5″
Half-inch Foamular insulating boards. Each board insulates four bins.
– A Sharpie, measuring tape, and a dry wall square or some sort of straight edge to make your measurements on the insulation boards.
Duct tape.
– A cutting tool, like a box cutter, to cut the insulation board. You can also use it to cut the entrance hole of the bin, but as you can see from the video above, an oscillating saw is easier and gets great results.
Straw for insulation, warmth, comfort and to repel moisture.

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Update on Hoarder Home

The hoarder home owners of the Stealers Wheel Colony have become unpredictable and the indoor TNR part of this project will have to wait until after the holidays. This project is much more than I can handle on my own.

They are not just hoarders. There are many, many other problems in this house. The landlord lives in the building and walked away when I asked her if she wanted to help. None of the doors have locks on them. Different people come and go without introduction while we are there. I have my suspicions on the causes of these problems, but all I can do is try to help the animals.

My animal rescue neighbor who originally found this house took four of the cats to be TNR’ed. When she brought them back, the hoarder owners refused to take back one of the cats, and made her take another one that they randomly chose. These two cats are now in her spare room and need placement in a shelter or foster home as she is fostering other animals and did not expect this.

They are both male tabby cats, fully vetted, tested negative for FIV-/FeLV-, litter-trained, and dog-friendly.

This is Gigio.

Gigio poses with a tail curl.

This is Marble.

Marble relaxes and shows off his marble tabby stripes.

Marble and Gigio are friends.

These two are checking out their new cat toys.

In fact, these two are friends with everyone.

Sugar the Shih Tzu loves the tabbies, and the tabbies love him right back.

Gigio and Marble come from chaos so nothing seems to faze them – they are having a great time in their foster home and want to meet and play with every human and furry friend that visits them. If you know of anyone who is looking to adopt or foster any of the cats or know of any other ways to help, please let me know.

The West Bucktown Hood Assoc. just posted a little story about this awful situation. I’m just wondering why ACS is getting involved? I’m going to guess that someone has complained or reported the situation, but if the cats are all healthy, would ACS really put them down? Hell, contact PAWS. The other day, I saw on the news that some old man left behind $1.3 million to PAWS and 3 other area no-kill shelters. PAWS was the only shelter in Chicago proper. I posted a plea to my friends on FB, in an attempt to help you…but most ppl I know will likely turn a blind eye. Best of luck, you are doing a good thing.

Vanessa says:

Hi Pam, thanks for the kind words! My original plan was to trap-neuter-return all of the cats back into the house and we have done 9 so far, 2 of which are being fostered by another neighbor. I have contacted PAWS and every other foster organization and no-kill shelter that I know about to foster and/or admit these cats into their program as the owners do not want the cats and this is too many cats for me to handle on my own. The owners have also become unpredictable so I am not currently able to continue this indoor TNR project as planned. Anti-Cruelty Society’s humane investigators and Animal Care and Control Officers have been inside this home and they also agree that the cats appear to be healthy and adoptable, so I’m hoping that will happen with their help. If you know of any organizations that can help foster or admit these cats, please feel free to contact them and I can forward you the information about this house.

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