RIP Zombie Cat

Zombie Cat from the V Colony got her name from her feeders because according to them, she was always sick.


She definitely had chronic upper respiratory infections, but two years ago there were also other things wrong with her. She had sores behind her ears, and her fur looked like it was coming out, almost like molting. IMG_2626

It took months, but I was finally able to re-trap her, and ended up trapping a few new cats and another sick cat from this colony at the same time. During this process, Jim came out to help me. My TNR friend, Dave H, also came out to hep me. I tried a drop trap even for the first time. It was indeed quite a process, because the feeders would not stop feeding. But I finally re-trapped her the good old-fashioned way – at 3am with sardines in oil for bait in a Tru-catch trap because she was finally hungry enough to go in.


Zombie got a dental, and was treated for URI with three rounds of antibiotics. She was inside with me receiving multiple medications for almost two months. The entire time she acted feral. I was able to confine her in this ingenious feral cat recovery lounge that Dave made for this purpose. Zombie did well in there. IMG_6190

But I could tell confinement was stressful. She did not look like herself after awhile. I did not want to break her spirit. The vet said he did all he could for her so I let her go even though she was still congested, but still much better. She seemed to thrive outside again, always with the same grumpy look on her face. She was reunited with her friends – this colony is made up of 15 cats currently, all TNR’d and all most likely born in that yard. I was happy to see her grumpy face – it meant she was feral and didn’t want human contact, just maybe some food. IMG_7066

In fact, no matter how sick she was, Zombie loved food. She was always first in line for it, and the other cats complied. She was indeed an alpha female. IMG_5807

At the beginning of February I visited the V Colony with some journalists doing a story on feral cats and TNR. Zombie was sitting on the steps and let me touch her for the first time. I knew then something was very wrong with her then. You can see her in the video. FERAL-CATS-1038x576

That was the last time I saw Zombie. By the time I got back with a carrier to get her to the vet, she was gone. I asked the feeders if they could let me look in their yard and trap. They refused. I did go back several times looking for her, but never saw her again.


Last week the feeder brought Zombie’s body to Tree House to be disposed of properly. They found her in their yard just like I thought they would. Her body was too decomposed to do a necropsy. I only know this because Tree House told me since they were also in contact with the feeder.


Zombie’s life and story taught me a lot. She showed me her resilience and will to survive, and I hope the vet care made her last year a little bit better. I will always think of her when I use the recovery lounge for another feral. I will always think of her when faced with adversity and resistance when trying to help a colony. I will always think of her because I still feel guilty I couldn’t help her ultimately. That I was prevented to help her hurts more, but it’s the reality sometimes of doing TNR. We do the best we can to help these animals. Perhaps Zombie died on her own terms regardless, and that was best for her. Maybe the vet care just prolonged the inevitable. I don’t know.


Rest in peace, Zombie, you no longer have to suffer being sick here anymore.

Kelly Restivo says:

You were the best mom ever :)))) Sad people who were feeding did not want to help more, especially when you were doing the work.
Thank you , xo

Vanessa says:

Thank you for the kind words, Kelly. It means a lot to me.

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The Costs of Cat Colony Caregiving

There is a lot of invested time, effort and money needed to help the feral cat colonies. But I wanted to share the numbers here to show what can be done, that it’s not impossible, and to thank all of you again so much for your support. Also, I know there are people out there who do so much, and I really encourage everyone to broadcast their rescue work. People do amazing things, and their stories can also inspire others to help more animals.


So, here’s a look at 2014, a year in review, if you will:


Colony medical costs were $2,767.37, for seven cats that I found sick outside.


Cat food and supplies cost $1,579.69


Thank you again to Barb G., Ben M. and Carolyn T., Carlin R. and Kathy M., Dorota Z., Elisa G., Erica R. and Rob J., Greer G., Heather F., Joyce K., Kristina R. and her mom, Linda R., Liz H., Lora M., Niuris R. and family, Rachel and Nick K., Rhodri K., Rob and Candice C., Zac and Beth N. Your Paypal donations totaled $1398.79


Thanks to Janessa and Forget Me Knodt for teaming up on the Feral Flowers Project and selling the flowers I grew in my garden last summer, and for hosting a Feral Flowers Design and TNR Class. Together we raised $1,181.50, and also raised a lot of awareness for the outdoor cats.


Thanks to my friend and bandmate, Julia B., for hosting a Halloween show of rock music, called Feral Fete,  performed by my amazing, animal-loving friends, and donating all proceeds, $702, to Cats In My Yard.


Without donations and fundraising, this would have been so much harder. In total, as of the end of 2014, 177 cats were TNR’d in 20 locations within one square mile here since 2007. There are now 59 cats remaining outside. The other cats were either adopted out, died, or disappeared.


And sometimes the remaining ones get sick, especially now that the colony cats are aging. I believe all animals’ lives matter, whether they are feral or not, and will try to provide any medical care necessary. I want to thank North Center Animal Hospital, Roscoe Village Animal Hospital, and Village West Veterinary for their help, care and compassion in treating cats in traps.


Here’s another look at the cats that your donations and support helped with last year. Please note that some of these images may be distressing to look at.



Munkimo from the Mother Colony showed up at his feeder’s house in obvious distress during a winter storm last February. He was cold, wet, shivering, and there was blood on his back. I easily placed him in a trap and took him for multiple vet visits. His bills totaled $309.55 Munkimo tested FIV+, but he was sick because of an infected bite wound and upper respiratory infection, URI. The skin just peeled off of his back. He had a fever, and his paw pads were black with frostbite. After being crated in my house and treated with antibiotics, he bounced back within a few weeks. But I had to keep him inside crated for almost two months because this was during the Polar Vortex and he still needed the hair on his back to grow. He has been doing fine ever since I returned him.

Zombie Cat

Zombie Cat from the V Colony had sores behind her ears, disheveled fur, labored breathing, and a chronic URI. I trapped her and brought her in for multiple vet visits. She had several rounds of antibiotics and a dental. Her medical bills totaled $518.22 She stayed with me for two months in Feral Cat Recovery Lounge donated to me by Dave H. During this same time it got stressful because I was also treating another feral cat for URI (Sneezy), and then another cat (Wally) came in sick that I ended up treating and fostering because he was also friendly. And I had a planned vacation during this. But it worked out, and even though Zombie Cat still gets sick with URI, she is much better. And definitely doing better outside.


Sneezy from the V Colony was just with me for a week in a recovery Tru-catch trap. He was treated with antibiotics that just cost $10 for his chronic URI. Sneezy was absolutely terrified the entire time, so confinement is extra stressful for him. I had to weigh the stress of that against his overall well-being. He still gets a bit sick outside, and sleeps a lot, but is doing better.


Wally also showed up sick in the V Colony a few weeks after his TNR. He turned out to be incredibly friendly, so I ended up fostering him for two months while he was being treated for haemobartonella and taking him to the vet. His medical bills totaled $326.42 He made a full recovery and was adopted by my good friends Carlin and Kathy in St Louis.

Billy Idol

Billy Idol from the V Colony showed up sick while I was fostering Wally. His head was tilted to the side, he meowed nonstop, his eyes were red and had discharge, and he walked in circles. The vet determined that he was suffering possibly from toxoplasmosis and a URI. His medical bills totaled $257.05 Thankfully his feeders were able to treat Billy in a recovery trap for a week with antibiotics and medication. Billy seemed to get better and they let him back out into the colony because he was stressed from the confinement. So far ever since he seems to be doing well.


Dice is from my colony, the James’ Gang Colony, and he got really sick last year. In the spring I trapped and took him to the vet where he was treated for URI, stomatitis, and had 10 teeth pulled with his dental. This seemed to buy him some time, but he was sick again in the fall. He showed up one day and just laid in my yard. He was down to four pounds and the vet thought perhaps he was going into kidney failure. His medical bills totaled $860.03 Also, confinement was incredibly stressful for Dice. He would only eat, and could barely move. Ultimately, after a few days, he was humanely euthanized at the vet’s office. RIP, Dice. My heart still breaks when I think of him. The last photo is from back when he was a healthy, TNR’d colony cat.

Woodrow Whiskers

Woodrow Whiskers from the La Vida Lydia Colony disappeared and then showed up sick at his feeder’s house. She took him in, and he was docile and clearly in distress. He would urinate sporadically. I took him for multiple vet visits where they treated his bladder, did blood tests, and determined he most likely has cystitis. His medical bills totaled $486 He made a full recovery with the antibiotics and medications. He showed his friendly side once he was indoors, so was admitted to a no-kill shelter for adoption.

I’ve got my eye on a few cats I’m concerned about out there, and am busy with the colony cats that decided to show their friendly side. And I have plans to help TNR colonies for other feeders. Onward to 2015!

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Feral Cat Recovery Crate

When feral cats get sick for extended periods of time you need to provide extra space for them to recover safely and humanely. I’ve run into that situation a few times this past year, and the Feral Cat Recovery Cage has been a lifesaver, literally, for the cats. My TNR friend, Dave H, invented this set-up, and actually ended up donating it to me. I am indebted to Dave’s ingenuity and generosity. The cats are lucky to have him working so hard for them, and I really don’t know how to thank him enough.


This set-up is so swank that I actually call it the Feral Cat Recovery Lounge. It’s a two-doored dog crate with a Tru-Catch trap attached to another opening cut out on the side. You can attach a standard-sized Light Duty Animal Trap or Fat Cat Animal Trap. This is what the lounge looks like covered, but you can see the door of the trap is lined up to the cut opening to the crate. The door is kept open with a secured stick. IMG_6198

The trap is attached securely to the crate with these removable springs on both sides. IMG_6421

The cat can go freely from the trap to the crate, and vice versa. You always place food and water at the end of the trap for the cat. That was s/he is acclimated to going into it, which makes it easy for when you’re ready to transport the cat to the vet, back outside, etc.


Zombie Cat was in the lounge first earlier this year. She was very sick with an aggressive URI and lived in the lounge for about six weeks, receiving three rounds of antibiotics, and visiting the vet several times. Here she is in the trap, ready to walk into the lounge area. IMG_6374

Once I opened the trap door, she walked right into the recovery crate, which has a litter box, cat bed, and room to stretch. Here she is on the cat bed looking from the trap end. IMG_6193

And here she is in the cat bed looking from the crate end.  IMG_6190

She also had a choice of a cat bed on an elevated platform in the crate. IMG_6467 The platform frees up even more room to stretch out in.


The lounge is once again occupied, this time by Dice, one of the cats in my yard from the James Gang Colony. Dice had a dental earlier this year, before I had this set-up, and frankly recovery was very stressful for him. We kept him in a crate, but had to prod him back into a trap when we needed to. This eliminates the need for such interaction.


Frankly Dice is so sick right now that he is allowing human handling, but the recovery lounge is a great place to keep him contained safely, and is easy to open up if I want to pet him, administer medicine, or pick him up. He has been sleeping non-stop – I doubt he could jump up on the second floor of the lounge because he is so weak. IMG_8408

I am so happy to have this recovery lounge at my disposal because Dice got sick very fast. I wanted to re-trap him earlier and take him to the vet, but he was still being evasive. When I came home last Friday from being out of town all week, I found him in the garden with black mucus all over his face, and meowing at me. I placed him easily into a trap and took him to the vet. He is not doing well – he is severely dehydrated, underweight at four pounds, his face is bleeding from the mucus, and he seems to be defecating and urinating uncontrollably. At the same time, he is seeking out food and seems to appreciate the care given to him, so this is not easy to figure out what to do. He received fluids and is on antibiotics for now. Please keep your fingers crossed him. At the very least, he is comfortable right now because of this lounge, and there is no stress involved in moving him.


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Recommending a Full Service Cat Sitter: Mama Bear Pet Care

Going out of town when you have multiple cats can be stressful. Not only are there pet cats to care for, sometimes with medical needs, but there can also be foster cats, sick feral cats resting in recovery lounge crates, and outdoor cat colonies.


Greer from Mama Bear Pet Care handles all of the above scenarios and then some. She cat sat for me a few times this year now. She has been a cat sitter for 20+ years, worked as a vet tech, and volunteers as a wildlife rehabilitator for Flint Creek Wildlife Center. She doesn’t just cat sit – she also cares for dogs and other pets.


In fact, she is currently pet sitting for a woman fostering a dog and her seven puppies for PAWS Chicago. Here’s Georgia and her one week old puppies. 10580719_507026606100650_7876362716078040356_o

Greer and I met last year when she adopted two former feral colony cats from me. Both of these cats ended up separately in animal control facilities. Their microchips were traced to me and saved their lives.


Louie is now the poster cat for her business. Louie is FIV+. So is his sister here that Greer adopted from Lulu’s Locker Rescue. 1890457_399810490155596_2111904987_o


Emrys is a bit more shy, but he is now also a total house cat. Emrys does not have FIV, and he mingles freely and safely with his cat friends. More and more progressive shelters are adopting this approach. 10365777_10152675473734610_1227857297545773598_n

See? Here they are together. They came from two different colonies with two different feeders a few blocks apart. I like to think they knew each other on the street and are reunited in Greer’s home. IMG_8319

When we were out of town last May I had Zombie Cat isolated and recovering in a feral cat recovery lounge. Here’s what the lounge looks like from the outside. It’s a crate with a Tru-Catch trap attached to it.


You could not touch her, but Zombie Cat was safely inside here and resting with a bed, litter box, food and water.


Zombie Cat is fully feral, and at the time, was in my house very sick with a URI, recovering from dental surgery, and required daily antibiotics. Greer took care of her and offered holistic suggestions from her own experience.


The cats in my yard also got her full attention. Greer kept their feeding stations clean and full of fresh food. While we were gone she gave me updates on their eating habits and who showed up for dinner.


She sent me photos. In fact, all of the photos in this post are taken by her.


Her photos made me smile because it obviously looked like business as usual and the cats barely noticed we were gone.


Bouncy Bear and Dice were still dining together. IMG_8335

Dash checked her out from the Jim Villa. IMG_8336 And Funny Face stayed back on the Feral Villa IMG_8333

Of course Greer didn’t forget my pet cats, Mooha and Mini. Mini is semi-feral and mostly bonded to me, but Mooha loved Greer.


I can’t say enough about Mama Bear Pet Care. Greer cares deeply about animals, and has devoted her life to caring for them in her home, in her work, and as a volunteer.







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Thank You, Carlin and Kathy, for Your Generous Donation, and Helping Me Give Wally a Second Chance!

This week Carlin and Kathy started an automatic monthly payment through Paypal to help the Cats In My Yard. This compassionate couple are great friends of mine, and I can’t thank them enough. You guys rock in so many ways!


I can’t mention Carlin and Kathy without telling the story of Wally, a cat from the V Colony that they adopted from me last summer. I trapped him last May when I was trying to re-trap Zombie Cat, a TNR’d colony cat who was really sick.


Wally looked great.  IMG_5964

I took him to the clinic for his TNR spa treatment, neutering and vaccinating, and recovered him for one night in my garage, during which he ate like crazy and did not respond to me at all. He just sat there politely. IMG_6082

I returned him without incident. It was classic TNR, or so I thought.


He showed up in the colony one month later sick and refusing to leave the yard. He was very skinny now, but he was still eating like crazy. The feeders easily handled him into a trap for me. He was missing large patches of fur from his back and neck.


He also ate like crazy in the trap, and this time he was purring and rubbing all over me. I took him to a full service vet, who literally took one look at him and said he should be euthanized. She said he was jaundiced and severely dehydrated, indicating liver disease, and that he was dying.


I found that diagnosis shocking because of the way he was acting. During this vet visit he was all over us, begging for attention.


I said I needed to think about this some more. I was charged $51.84 for this visit.


I left and started calling around. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I needed to talk to someone else. My TNR friend Erica R. recommended Dr. Silverman with Village West Veterinary.


I called and because of the situation, they told me to come right away.


Dr. Silverman agreed he was jaundiced, and with the missing patches of fur, it indicated haemobartonellosis, a blood disease transmitted by fleas and ticks. This is serious, but Dr. Silverman said that because he was still eating, it was in the early stages and could be treated. I asked to have him tested for FIV and FeLV first.


Wally tested FIV-, but, quoting Dr. S., “very, very faintly, like barely FeLV+.” I said, “Um, isn’t that like saying you’re a little bit pregnant?”


FeLV, feline leukemia, is fatal once a cat is symptomatic, and there’s still a lot of misunderstanding surrounding it. My first colony was a mixture of FIV+ and FeLV+ cats, so I believe it’s not as contagious as they say it is, but I don’t go around testing that theory on purpose. Also, I figured Wally was symptomatic and was indeed dying.


And I had never heard that FeLV can be reversed in grown cats. I had heard that it could happen with tiny kittens, but Wally was estimated to be almost a year old. And again, this was a “faint” positive.


I was a basket case during this visit. I figured I’d indeed end up euthanizing him. Dr. S lobbied hard for him, and said the haemobartonellosis was not a symptom of being FeLV+. He said he would look for a foster if Wally stayed FeLV+. FeLV+ cats are difficult to adopt out, and there are no local no-kill shelters who will admit them.


So, we decided to treat Wally. Mostly because during this visit, he again was all over us purring and rubbing, and did not want to leave my lap.


The vet did a CBC, complete blood count, and obviously his numbers were way off. We were sent home with prednisolone and zeniquen. And I started fostering Wally.


The first week was hard because I still had Zombie Cat in my foster space, who is completely feral, in a crate recovering and getting medications for a chronic Upper Respiratory Infection, URI, and dental (I had her for about six weeks). So I put Wally in another crate at the separate end, and kept things very clean and sterile to avoid transmission of anything between the two of them. After that week, I returned Zombie Cat back to her colony, and let Wally have free reign in the room.


He loved it. IMG_6863

Really loved it. He did not want me to leave him alone in the foster room. I started using the laptop in his room to keep him company. IMG_6893

Two weeks later I brought him back to the vet.


We re-tested him and he was FeLV-.


I could not believe it. Dr. S was right and I saw before my own eyes that this disease could be reversed – we caught him just in time.


His CBC this time was also a lot better, and we were sent home with more prednisolone and zeniquen.


Because he was negative, I started bringing him upstairs in my house, still separate from my pet cats. He loved that also, especially the couch.


Whenever I left his side he would follow me around the house, always at my feet. IMG_7330

During this time Carlin and Kathy decided they wanted to adopt him. They live in St Louis. In mid-August my boyfriend Jim drove Wally to Champaign to meet them half-way. Once Wally was settled in their car, he immediately climbed on Kathy’s lap.


He’s settled in ever since with them and their other pet cat. Whenever I see Carlin he just says that Wally is the best. Saving Wally’s life took about two months of care and fostering, administering medications, a day of driving, and two vet visits that cost $326.42  He deserves it because every life matters. Your donations help support cats like Wally.







Maryann Collins says:

Thanks so much for this, Vanessa. I did not know this was at all possible.

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