Feral Cats in the Fall

Ever since Dice’s death last week the cats in my yard were not acting the same. Although Bouncy Bear was around constantly hoping for wet food, Dash and Funny Face disappeared for awhile. Funny Face was quite bonded to Dice so I worried about him.


This week the colony cats seem to have regrouped and are again around a lot more. Autumn always makes me a bit sad because it also means the end of the garden, but this year I decided to try to embrace the changing season more. The Feral Flowers are trimmed back, the tomatoes are harvested, and I added pumpkins and gourds for decoration.


I also placed an extra straw bale in the  garden. It has turned out to be a big hit – the cats love to lounge on it. IMG_8605

Bouncy Bear falls asleep on it regularly.


Dash is kind of exploring the whole yard again on his own. IMG_8583 IMG_8594 IMG_8664

Funny Face is definitely more skittish again. I still believe he has a secret life outside of my garden, but I’m glad he comes for dinner.  IMG_8617 IMG_8619 IMG_8624

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RIP Dice

I took Dice, one of the cats in my yard, to the vet today to be euthanized. We are heartbroken.


Dice was the quintessential feral tom cat. He showed up in my yard at the beginning of 2009, and I trapped him easily and quickly that January. Here he is right after his TNR surgery looking a little rough. DSC03552

That rough look never quite left him, and he pretty much left my yard for awhile for a few years. I would see him randomly throughout the neighborhood, on other blocks.


Until the James Gang Colony started, a few years later in 2012, along with Dash, Funny Face, and Bouncy Bear, and slowly formed an alliance in my yard, as the cats learned to come to me daily for their dinner.


Then Dice flourished with the attention and companionship, and became a healthy, fat, tom cat. Just look at those cheeks. DSC07092

He was always a bit solitary.


Dice seemed to appreciate the meals, accommodations, and companionship with the other colony cats. DSC08181 DSC07485 DSC08492

But many times he preferred to be alone. DSC07217 DSC08267

He was especially tight with Funny Face. The two were always together these past few years. DSC08022 IMG_5053

But this year, after the brutal winter, it was clear that Dice wasn’t the same. He had lost weight, and seemed tired. I re-trapped him and took him to a vet for treatment and a full dental in the spring.


He seemed to bounce back and had a good run this past summer, but he continued to lose weight. I prepared the traps to re-trap him again.


This turned out to be unnecessary. I went out of town last Sunday for work, and when I came back into town the following Friday, I found him laying in my garden, meowing, with black mucus all over his face.


For the first time, he allowed me to touch him. When I got him to the vet, they determined that he basically needed round-the-clock hospitalization. Since he was feral, that was not really an obvious, easy solution.


At this point Dice weighed four pounds. The vet administered fluids, vitamins and antibiotics. We waited to see if he would improve crated in my house. He ate a lot, but barely moved, even to go to the bathroom. I tried to make him comfortable and keep him clean, but it was clear that even though I think he knew I was trying to help him, my presence and being in my house was stressing him out.


Rather than putting him through a lengthy hospital stay and a bunch of invasive tests, we decided to euthanize Dice today. He was the quintessential tom cat again today. He hissed, and then relaxed, and showed us his feral nature, even though he was barely able to move. I think Dice appreciated the love, and he showed us true dignity in facing such a death. His rough face softened and was at peace finally. I’m glad he allowed me to get to know him a little bit these last six years, and I hope I was able to make his life a little bit better during this time.

Dawn says:

Im so sorry, thank you for taking care of Dice all these years

Vanessa says:

Thank you for the kind words, Dawn, and for all that you do for the animals.

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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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It’s Still Summer in the Garden

After a week in Mexico I was pleasantly surprised to find summer is still here in Chicago. The leaves are turning colors, but the feral flowers are in full bloom.


The cats in my yard were regularly fed while we were away, but I think they noticed we were gone. The garden path was littered with feline gifts of rats and a pigeon. Bouncy Bear and Funny Face ran around us in protest when I discovered these gifts, and we disposed of them. The colony cats rarely hunt, so I wondered if these gifts were their way of missing us. Who knows…


But it got me thinking about how the garden is a tiny patch of nature here in a city setting, on a standard Chicago lot.

The zinnias have truly taken over. When you sit in the corner catio, it’s like you’re hiding behind a secret wall of zinnias. IMG_8121

Zillions of zinnias.


They even took over one of the paths.

With the zinnias, came the insects. We have TONS of butterflies. This particular monarch was tagged from Monarch Watch, a group based in Lawrence, Kansas. IMG_8101 The grasshoppers and bees really like the Green Envy zinnias, which were kind of like camouflage for them. My friend across the alley has a bee hive, and the bees were all over the flowers all summer.   IMG_8106

And then of course, there are the cats. Who basically hang out wherever they want.

On the garden path.

IMG_8264 IMG_7819

And the walkway. IMG_7898

In the shade.

And in the sun. IMG_7926 IMG_7924

On the Feral Villa. BouncyBear

And on the fence. IMG_8252

On the deck. IMG_8241

And on the catio.


Except when I’m there. They won’t sit with me. I didn’t even see Jim take these photos. This is my favorite place to blog.

photo 3 photo-8

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Flower Design and TNR Class with Forget Me Knodt

Forget Me Knodt hosts sold out flower design classes all year at her shop. In celebration of National Feral Cat Day and our summer-long Feral Flowers Project, Janessa from Forget Me Knodt will teach a class on how to design with blooms specifically from our garden, including zinnias, cosmos, allium and solidago arranged in mason jars. Each student will learn all about design and go home with their own bouquets.


Afterwards, we’ll talk about TNR: Trap-Neuter-Return, and I’ll answer any questions you may have about cat rescue and caring for a feral cat colony in Chicago.



Forget Me Knodt, 1313 W. Wilson
Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
6:30 pm – 8:00 pm, BYOB Edition

Includes cheeses, meats and artisan breads from Baker & Nosh
$40 per student – limit 20 students

The majority of the proceeds will be used for food, shelter and medical care for managed feral cat colonies.

Call 773-944-1041 to sign up for your spot. $10 deposit required, and seats are first-come, first-served


I’m very excited about this event and I hope you can join us! It’s my way of being able to share the garden with you in person. I believe gardens and cats go hand in hand, and that feral cat colonies can be cared for in a beautiful way in our yards. The Feral Flowers Project would not exist without the help of the cats in my yard, including:


Bouncy Bear



Dice IMG_8026

Funny Face IMG_8087

And of course my very own pet cat Mooha, who was Chief Gardener, as she was chasing the butterflies and bees all summer long to make sure they pollinated every flower. IMG_8037

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Cat Colonies that Cuddle Together

I woke up today and it felt like fall. The animals felt it also.


My senior lady indoor cats Mini and Mooha put aside their lifelong feud of matriarchal jealousy and territorial domination, and snuggled up together on the bed.


Seriously. This is how they snuggle. If they got any closer they’d be hissing and clawing at each other. Here they’re actually warming themselves with the heat of their intense hatred for each other. Mini and Mooha stake out their territories on the bed

The outside animals were a little bit more obvious.


The finches flocked together on the sunflowers. sunflower finches

The James’ Gang Colony cats in my yard were too cute. They snuggled on top of the Feral Villa. Bouncy Bear watched carefully over the boys, Funny Face and Dice, while they napped. Ferals on top of the Feral Villa

Today’s weather was a great reminder that winter is coming, and this is the perfect time of year to start cleaning out the outdoor cat shelters.


Earlier this summer my TNR friends Anna, Ellen and Alex donated a truck-load of straw that’s been in my garage ever since. straw bales Straw is the ultimate insulator to keep colony cats warm during winter. The cats can snuggle together in it. It repels moisture and retains body heat. There’s way more straw than I need, so I asked if anyone wanted some on my Cats In My Yard Facebook page. People have already showed up for it, including my friend and neighbor Annamarie, who is currently fostering Indy, a very sick and friendly cat that was dumped outside on her block. Please visit her gofundme page to learn more how she is helping this local cat. And if you’re in the Chicago area, please let me know if you’d like some straw.

Annamarie Fadorsen says:

Aw, thank you so much for sharing Indy’s story, and of course thank you again for the straw!

Vanessa says:

My pleasure, thanks for helping Indy!

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Growing the First Crop of Feral Flowers

Once the garden started growing, there was no stopping it.


I was very excited. This was my first attempt at being a Flower Farmer and I did not know what to expect. These Feral Flowers were grown specifically to be cut and available for purchase at my friend Janessa’s Forget Me Knodt flower shop. All proceeds are going to the care for colony cats. This project is also a great way to raise awareness of colony cats and Trap-Neuter-Return, TNR, the humane way to control their population.


I also wanted to show that you can have a beautiful yard and garden with cats in it. In fact, I think the cats make it even more beautiful.


First the perennial plants came back with a flourish. It’s as if they were also celebrating the end of winter as much as I was.


The hostas in the front yard were HUGE. Hosta explosion

And there was lots of yellows and purples.

Yellow and purple make green Owl sculpture under deck onions

We planted annual cutting flower seeds for the Feral Flowers project. The first seeds to grow were the sunflowers, especially this lemon yellow variety. Sunflowers - lemon yellow

Not to be outdone, the other flowers started growing.

garden aerial view

And growing. A view from the deck

There was cosmos, forget me nots, larkspur, snapdragons, dill, basil, catmint, magnolias, and zinnias.


Lots and lot of zinnias. IMG_7416

Zillions of zinnias.

This was my favorite view all summer. my favorite view

This was Dash’s favorite view. Garden catio

It was fun to see the cats in my yard enjoying the garden. After all, this is THEIR yard. Bouncy Bear really likes to sit on this round table. Bouncy Bear on her favorite table

Funny Face prefers the shade. Funny Face's favorite spot

Dice likes to hang out on the stepping stones. Dice on the stepping stones And Mooha is chief gardener.


Mooha is my indoor cat, but she comes out with me while I’m in the garden.


She loves chasing bugs, and you can usually find her on the “hunt” right by the catmint. Mooha huntingbugs

Or hanging out on the cat path in-between the flowers.

Mooha on the garden path

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Growing the Feral Flowers Garden

Once I planted the Feral Flowers Garden it was time to hurry up and wait.


The perennial plants around the Feral Villa were already growing strong. Dice and Funny Face on Feral Villa Dice in the perennials

The cutting flowers garden is all organic and planted straight in the ground from seed. All it took was lots of spring rain, careful weeding and transplanting, and time. So much time that I was pretty impatient.


The colony cats were enjoying the new spring weather and the bare garden didn’t seem to faze them at all.  Dice and Funny Face in the catio Dice on the table Funny Face on the Alley Cat Allies house Dice doing yoga And then, finally, you could see little plants.


Bouncy Bear on Feral Villa


Funny Face and Dice under the chair

Sunflowers! Funny Face in crosswalk

And more! IMG_6707

A LOT more.


The Feral Flowers Garden was well on its way to success.

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Feral Cats and Flowers are the Purrfect Match

Blogging in my garden today is pure bliss. I’d like to share the Feral Flowers Project from the beginning.


Summer is my favorite season, especially since we converted the backyard into a full garden. Every year I like to change it up and experiment. You can see the different garden configurations we’ve tried on my Flickr page.


This past winter was brutal. B-R-U-T-A-L. The polar vortex gave me the worst case of seasonal depression. I worried about the outdoor cats all of the time, despite the heating pads we installed in their outdoor shelters.


Spring was also slow to start, and some of the colony cats were showing up sick. The vet bills were racking up.


During this dark time, I started planning my garden to cheer myself up. And decided to focus on flowers this year. My friend Janessa owns her own flower shop in Uptown called Forget Me Knodt, and we talked about cutting flower gardens. Somewhere in that conversation, we agreed to plant a garden here, and sell the flowers at her shop to help raise money and awareness for the colony cats.


The Feral Flowers Project was born. And has been growing ever since.


We had to wait until almost June, but as soon as we could, we bought cutting flower seeds.


It was clear from the very beginning that my cat Mooha was in charge. Which makes sense. She was born in my co-worker’s flower pot in 1999, and has been with me ever since. Mooha and the seed packets

Time to start planting! Mooha and the seed packets

So we did.


This is what the garden looked like when I prepped it in June.




No wonder I was depressed. bare garden

Anyways, Janessa started digging. Janessa digging

And dug some more. Janessa digging some more

I helped.

Vanessa digging

And Mooha helped. IMG_5850

What’s with all of the sticks?
Mooha and the sticks

To start plotting out the garden of course.


This is what it looked like on paper. Mooha and the garden plan

Ok, so Mooha doesn’t want you to see it. Let’s take a closer look. Mooha and the garden plan a little bit closer Ok, forget it.


Anyways, put down the sticks. Mooha helping put down the sticks

And some more. Mooha and sticks

Mooha inspects the whole thing.

Mooha inspection

And here’s what it looked from my deck like all planned out.

Feral Flowers garden mapped out

We planted all of the seeds, including these awesome Chinese Forget Me Not seeds.


I have no idea what makes them “Chinese.”
Forget Me Not seeds

Mooha didn’t help us plant seeds at all. She found the tiny bit of catmint growing out of the ground, and decided she was in love with the garden hose. Mooha and the garden hose Like, REALLY in love.
Mooha and the anemones

After we finished messing with their yard, the colony cats came to take a look.


Dash was first.

Dice and the feral garden Bouncy Bear followed.
IMG_5889 Funny Face and Dice checked it out next.
Funny Face and Dice in the spring garden

Janessa and I celebrated with cocktails, and have been watching the garden grow all summer. cocktails in the garden

To be continued…

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Trapping Cats Without a Regular Feeding Schedule

Ever since the cat owners of the hoarder/drug house moved out at the end of June and dumped a bunch of cats outside I’ve been seeing the cats around the neighborhood. But it’s hard to keep track – some stayed near that house, and others roamed to find other feeders in our neighborhood.


I’m hoping some of those cats will find the cat cafe I’ve had set up in my front yard since last fall. Funny Face is absolutely obsessed with it.


Last week I started putting the food in a Tru-Catch trap zip-tied open to acclimate the cats to the trap. When I came home from my trip to Amsterdam last night, I decided to give it a shot. I took off the zip-ties and put the trap in the same position using the same dry food as I normally do to feed the cats, nothing different or fancy to avoid making them suspicious.


Funny Face came out again and again to look at it, as if he was warning the other cats to stay away. Either that, or he just really wanted the food, but knew better than to go in the trap again. And then it rained really hard for awhile. I was thinking my plan wouldn’t work at all.


I set my alarm and checked the trap throughout the night anyways.


At 7am there was finally a cat in a trap. He acted like a typical feral cat: growling and refusing to look at me. I took a few photos of him and started getting ready to take him to the clinic for his TNR treatment, until I looked a little more closely at the photos. And then I went out to look at him more closely again. And again. I was so jet lagged I did not see the ear tip, and then when I did, I was still confused. But at least I figured it out before I did anything else.


And also, I had to give myself a pat on the back if I’m re-trapping cats here that are already TNR’d. TNR works!


Here he is, very clearly ear tipped. Yup, pretty obvious, right? Being jet lagged is worse than being drunk sometimes. Tell-tale sign of a feral cat: they avoid eye contact.


I let him out and then put the trap in the back yard.


Funny Face came immediately to check it out.

Funny Face checks out the trap

He did a complete inspection. Maybe now he’ll leave the front yard alone.

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