The Story of Clover: From Outdoor Cat, to Mama Cat, to Colony Cat, to Indoor Cat

Last week brought incredible news: Clover was adopted off the street.


Clover was part of the Eleanor Rigby Colony. I started TNR there in December of 2008 for an overwhelmed, disabled, elderly feeder named Rosemary. This is part of what the colony looked like then. Clover is all the way in the back on the left. Her friend Patches is to the right.


Rosemary let me do whatever I wanted. I set traps all winter and stayed in her house for hours waiting for the cats to go in for TNR. I TNR’d eight cats, but did not get Clover.


I made four outdoor cat shelters and put them under Rosemary’s porch. That following summer, Clover had five kittens in one of the shelters.


They were tiny. The family stayed under the porch. Kittens 6-21-09

And even moved  to another shelter under the porch. DSC04294


At first I wanted to wait until the kittens were weaned before bringing them inside for socialization and adoption. Clover acted feral and I did not want to stress her out. But, one kitten disappeared. And then I found another one dying. I rushed the kitten to the vet but s/he died on the way. I decided to bring the remaining cat family inside. This time, Clover was easy to trap. Clover was always protective of her kittens, and never sought attention from me. DSC04390 The little grey and white kitten in back also died after I brought him inside. The two other kittens in front were sick with URI but pulled through. Once they were weaned, three weeks after being inside with me, I TNR’d Clover and reunited her with her colony at Rosemary’s house. DSC04469

The kittens were eventually admitted into Tree House. Their admission was delayed until they were a bit older, because their neuter surgeries were complicated – one kitten had a heart murmur, and the other kitten has an allergic reaction to the anesthesia. But Charlie Angel and Captain Jack finally made it. Clover was a very healthy cat, but her kitten’s illnesses showed how hard it is for them to survive outside.


Clover stayed outside with her colony for the next few years. Rosemary eventually disappeared in 2010. I never found out what happened to her, but her house is still there. The colony was now fed by another elderly woman named Eleanor. Then Eleanor died in 2012, and another woman named Casey started feeding the cats regularly. At this point, I had spayed/neutered 18 cats from this colony, but this past year there are only three cats left outside. The rest of the cats were adopted, admitted into shelters, or died on the street.


Even though Clover was fed elsewhere, she always liked to hang out under Rosemary’s porch, so I kept the shelters there. Someone put a cat bed under the porch for her.


Last winter Clover and Patches really bonded with Casey, and she started letting them into her home. The funny thing is that these two cats don’t really get along with each other, but they seem to keep finding their new caregivers together. IMG_7863


Last week Casey told me a neighbor named Amanda was trying to adopt Clover into her home. Amanda was able to pick up Clover and take her to the clinic for a check-up, vaccinations, and testing. Clover tested negative and was docile at the clinic. She even let them cut her nails. So far she is slowly acclimating to being indoors, but is acting friendly with Amanda. If it doesn’t work out, Clover still has shelter and food outside waiting for her.


Fingers crossed, though, that she wants to stay inside. The Eleanor Rigby Colony is a perfect example of how TNR works to humanely reduce the outdoor cat population. From eighteen cats spayed/neutered starting in 2008, to an outdoor population now of only two cats. Amanda told me she used to see new cats and kittens outside all of the time. Now she was only seeing Clover, and is happy to try to bring her finally home.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hot Guys With Cats

Just because I’m out of town doesn’t mean I stop thinking about the cats. Jim totally understands this, and accepts it for the most part. At this point he gives me updates without me even asking first. These past few weeks have been full of updates from him:


“The Feral Villa has arrived.” Which means he will assemble it. He even suggested we make a video of that. Stay tuned.

“The outdoor heating pad is here.”


Dice ate dinner.”

“Dice didn’t eat dinner but all of the food is gone.” Dice is clearly sick so Jim knows I’m especially worried about him.


Popcorn was eating the food in front. This time he jumped over the fence when he saw me.” Popcorn got his name because he slammed right into the fence once when he saw us, and then wouldn’t stop trying to escape from the trap when I TNR’d him. Popcorn was not injured in both cases, and it sounds like TNR made him smarter.


It’s nice to have someone hold down the feline fort while I’m gone. He also created this web site for me, and does the heavy lifting projects, like cleaning and organizing the feral cat supplies in our garage, and building outdoor cat houses. There’s nothing hotter than a guy with a soft spot for the animals. Our indoor pet cat, Mooha, has learned how to exploit that soft spot to her fullest advantage.


Here they are bonding over their mutual love of cheese. IMG_4165







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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.







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Convincing Your Neighbors to Put Cat Houses in their Yards

A rescue friend who does TNR in the north suburbs is having problems convincing a a neighbor who feeds cats to put an outdoor cat house in her yard for the winter.


The feeder fed a cat family all summer, and my TNR friend did the TNR for them, and even adopted out the kittens herself.


Then my friend sent me this email, “I got the momma cat Saturday night and she was spayed Sunday. The woman that feeds her doesn’t want a dog house in her yard. Any other suggestions?”


Obviously I think the cats and their cat houses and the fact that they hang out in my yard all of the time makes my garden even more beautiful, but I understand that not everyone feels like this because they are unaware of the possibilities. A big purpose of this blog is to not only show how TNR works, but to also show how you can peacefully and beautifully live with the TNR’d cat colonies in your yard, and the relationships people have with the feral cat colonies that they feed and care for.


My first suggestion is to ask if this woman would be open to having another type of shelter in her yard. There are all kinds of outdoor cat shelters in my area to help keep the feral cat colonies warm in the winter.


The Rubbermaid bin shelter is the easiest to make, and it’s easiest to move around in a yard until you find a spot where the cats will use it. It should be placed in an area sheltered from the wind and elements, such as under your front steps.  IMG_7956

Also, if someone objects to having it or the aesthetics of what it looks like, it will be hidden from human view. Then, in the spring, it’s easy to remove.


Otherwise, sturdier cat shelters can also be put in places not really accessible to humans, such as under a deck, or a tree, or in a gangway. The Jim Villa cat condo and Alley Cat Allies cat house are not only under our deck because it’s sheltered, but humans have to stoop to get under it. Otherwise this space would not be used for anything at all. IMG_8178

And when you’re in the actual garden, it’s camouflaged. Actually, if you were to paint it different colors you would hardly see it. You can get creative with it. IMG_8026

Really creative. In fact, you can paint a shelter any way you’d like, the cats won’t care. This shelter at another colony is one of favorites because the family who made it had their children design the outside. I call it the Kitty Graffiti House. Graffiti Kitty house is elevated off the cold ground to keep it warmer inside.

Shelters can also be a design element in a yard, and be completely hidden from view with plants. You can hardly see the Feral Villa in my summer garden.


Well, you can see the Feral Villa from the deck above, but it’s part of the overall design, and it’s my favorite part of the garden. IMG_8276  But it’s really not that noticeable, even when the garden is bare. The colors blend in. Occupy Feral Villa

You can also make a cat house out of something that was originally designed for your garden for another purpose. A few years ago we bought a chiminea and ended up using it only once because the cats decided to claim it for themselves. chiminea

If all else fails, you can go around the block and talk to your other neighbors to see if they will be open to placing a shelter in their yard. I’ve already had good luck on find people by knocking on their doors and talking to them face to face, and I’ve blogged about other people’s success stories as well. The cats will find any shelter you put out for them, especially if that neighbor can feed, and if you make the shelter more enticing for them. This can be done by sprinkling cat nip around the cat house, or placing it in areas where cats will seek refuge from the weather.


Do you have any other suggestions or stories about convincing your neighbors to allow cats to seek shelter and refuge on their property?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Trap-Neuter-Return, TNR, for Outdoor Cats in Englewood

I met up with Chicago TNR again over the winter to help with trap-neuter-return, TNR, for outdoor cats in Englewood, a neighborhood in Chicago’s south side. My friend George started Chicago TNR by herself last year and has been humanely trapping colony cats all over the south side. She started trapping the Englewood cats last November in partnership with PAWS Chicago’s low-cost spay/neuter clinic.

By mid-December, in just six weeks, Chicago TNR Trapped-Neutered-Returned 93 cats in Englewood. 32 additional cats were Trapped-Neutered-Relocated to farms and warehouses that contacted PAWS Chicago looking to help pull cats off the streets and also for rodent control.

I joined George again one day in December in Englewood, where we trapped eight of those cats in less than two hours, just by driving around. George typically drives the PAWS’ van loaded with Tru-Catch traps, pet carriers, cat food for donations and bait, and other items needed for TNR projects, including newspapers, paper plates, and sheets to cover the traps. PAWS van The cats are everywhere outside there, and we decided just to go to places where we knew there were community cats.

I met up with George at this TNR’d feral cat colony.

Englewood Colony

These cats are well fed and have shelter under the front porch. Englewood porch colony We moved on to an alley right around the corner where we saw a few cats, including this orange and white cat with a flea collar. We asked around but no one claimed him as theirs, so we decided to try to trap and take him to the clinic.

orange and white Englewood cat

He was suspicious but clearly hungry. So we set up a trap.

Englewood orange cat with trap

And got him a few minutes later.  orange cat in trap

We quickly moved on to another block where George knew of a colony and visited the feeder’s house. A well-endowed male cat was hanging out on her front steps. pet cat in Englewood

After a quick consultation with the feeder, who claimed him as one of her indoor/outdoor pet cats,  we got him into a carrier to be neutered as well.  orange Englewood pet cat in carrier

Around the corner from there we placed a Rubbermaid bin cat house for shelter. Rubbermaid bin cat house

It is well concealed from the street and you would hardly notice it, but hopefully it will help keep a few cats warm in the winter. cat house on porch

From there we moved even more quickly. The feeder told us about a few cats down the street, and we saw them right away. We placed two traps baited with tuna near another feeder’s front steps, and two cats obliged by going in them immediately. These cats were hungry. two traps near front steps in Englewood

The woman that was feeding them was moving out of the neighborhood that day and was very grateful for our help. She told us that there were other feeders on that block so these cats are cared for.

George and I decided to split up at that point and she drove to another spot while I continued TNR on this block.

A few doors down this long-haired beauty came running down the steps and out of the gate to greet me on the sidewalk.

Englewood gate

I talked to her feeder as well, who said she was friendly, but they could not let her permanently into their home.  She followed me down the block once she smelled the food.

Englewood sidewalk cat
She was easy to gently push into a trap. long-haired Englewood cat in trap
George came back at this point fairly quickly with two more cats in traps, and another pet cat in a carrier. So now we had eight cats. It was freezing outside and we decided to wrap it up.

She wanted to show me Sabrina’s Colony. This is a colony of over a dozen cats. Sabrina feeds diligently, and rescues friendly cats and kittens all the time on her own.

The cats are gorgeous and well fed. They all came running when they saw us. Sabrina's colony

This tabby cat appeared to be the ringleader.
tabby from Sabrina's colony

We were out of paper plates, but we fed them anyways on the ground.

These cats have ample shelters on her front porch.

Sabrina's cat shelters

From there we took all of the cats to PAWS Chicago’s low cost spay/neuter clinic. We met up with a few other feral cat trappers who were also dropping off their cats. We made sure each cat in a trap was fed.  Every trap was lined with clean newspaper for the cats to sit on, and each trap was covered with a sheet so that the feral cats would be calmed in the traps. Here they are ready for their spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations, parasite treatments, and ear tipping. PAWS clinic

Once the cats are fully recovered from their surgeries, usually within 24 to 48 hours, George then returns the cats to where they were trapped. In this case, the pet cats were returned to their owners, and three of the cats in traps, including the long-haired beauty that ran to greet me, were relocated into companies requesting cats for rodent control in their warehouses, while also feeding and caring for them and providing shelter.

I look forward to helping George in this neighborhood again. There are too many intact cats running outside here and the residents welcome any help they can get.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shoveling for the Colony Cats

We got a foot of snow dumped on us this week. We shoveled out the cat paths so they have easier access to their shelters and food bowls. Here’s Dash acting coy and enjoying the easy route. Dashing through the snow Temperatures have also dropped dramatically and the outdoor cats are not eating as much wet food. They don’t show up on schedule anymore for meals. Dash even seems to prefer dry food only for now, so I just keep the outdoor dry food bowls stocked. Hopefully they’re hunkered down in their heated cat houses and don’t want to venture out unless they absolutely have to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Cat House Factory

My garage is currently a factory for making new outdoor cat shelters and cleaning out the old ones. Because of TNR, the population of outdoor cats in my colonies is decreasing, and I am able to consolidate some of their former shelters and move them into different areas.  Cat house factory

I donated some of the shelters to the Cell Phones Colony, because they didn’t have any to begin with. They are now keeping the cats warm in the auto lot. I’ll have to update more on that soon – there are now 11 TNR’d cats there!

Today I’m excited to go and help trap cats for a targeted TNR project with Chicago TNR on the southside. Any cats we trap will be taken to PAWS Chicago’s low-cost vet clinic. I’m donating Rubbermaid bin feeding stations and hopefully I can feed some ear tipped and TNR’d cats while I’m there.

These feeding stations are easy to make. I used bins that were missing the tops and couldn’t be used to make a cat shelter. Instead of throwing them out, you just turn them upside down and cut a hole large enough for a cat to feed in there. It protects the food and cats from the rain and snow. easy feeding station

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *