20,000 Outdoor Cats TNR’ed in Cook County

Today I went to an open house for animal rescue groups at Chicago Animal Care and Control. It was a chance for all the groups to meet while discussing their plans moving forward to reducing the number of animals killed in shelters in Chicago.

All areas of rescue, from foster organizations to adoptions to shelters to trap-neuter-return to cat colony caretakers, were given credit in helping the overall kill rates to decrease. Rochelle Michalek, PAWS Chicago’s executive director, explained the statistics in how their shelter is helping to get the number of animals saved to increase every year.

One number she cited struck me the most. Twenty thousand.

Twenty thousand stray and feral cats have been TNR’ed since 2008, at the start of the Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance making TNR Cook County’s preferred method of controlling our stray and feral cat overpopulation. 20,000 is the combined number of cats TNR’d as reported by the ordinance’s sponsor organizations: Feral Fixers, PAWS Chicago, Tree House, and Triple R Pets.

How’s that for Cat Math? That number is HUGE. It shows that A LOT of people are out there doing TNR because they know it’s the most humane and effective method of controlling the outdoor cat overpopulation.

Then Dr. Richard Brown, CACC’s new supervising veterinarian, threw out some more numbers. He wants CACC to reduce their kill rate another 10% this year. And then he wants CACC, an intake shelter, to be no-kill by 2015.

I am inspired. I met a lot of great people today who care greatly.

And I won the gift box from the Open House’s raffle! I didn’t even put my name in the hat – Erin from Lulu’s Locker Rescue threw it in there without me knowing about it. It’s filled with dog treats, cat toys and other very important supplies for feral cat colony caretakers such was wine, beer, chocolate, cookies and candy.

I’m sharing the treats with some of my community’s feral cat caretakers. And Mooha.

I want this one!

I want this one!

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Winter Care for Cats in MY Yard

Cats in my yard are well-fed, warm and TNR'ed.

We’ve had a mild winter, but last night the temperatures dropped along with a bit of snow. For the past year there are three cats in my yard that have formed a feral cat colony, which I call the James’ Gang Colony. Feral cats grow winter coats to help them withstand cold temperatures, and then caretakers can help them out more by providing food and shelter. Dice came right out to feed this morning. I TNR’ed Dice three years ago and he looks great. He used to roam alone, but now he’s part of the James’ Gang. Dice is feeding from the heated water bowl I use for their wet food. The low heat will eventually dry out wet food, but the cats usually don’t leave leftovers. Lamb is coming out of the cat hotel we built for them. This outdoor cat shelter is lined with foam insulation board and straw for bedding. The piece of plywood leaning against the house is their feeding station, where I keep bowls of dry food. It offers some protection from wind and snow.

Erica says:

This is excellent caretaking!! Clever!

Vanessa says:

Thanks for the kind words. The feral cats have it pretty good in my yard.

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Saving Sanderson: Community Outreach and TNR

We trapped again at the Pallet Colony this week. As usual with TNR, there were a few surprises. But we think now we have a good relationship to make this an established, well cared for colony.


One of the places that feeds the cats there is an assisted living center. In preparation for trapping, Joann called to let them know to stop feeding.  They told us they brought in a cat from outside and wanted us to take him.


Joann went to collect the cat and had no idea what to expect. It turned out an employee brought this cat from her home in Indiana and had him waiting in her car all day, without a carrier. This employee has two mama cats at home with two litters of kittens, seven weeks old and two weeks old. Sanderson showed up from outside her house and wanted to nurse on one of the mama cats. She didn’t want this cat, so she thought we would take him.


Well, of course we did, because this woman did not have any other plans for this cat otherwise. It was a total coincidence that Joann called even that same day. Thank goodness Sanderson turned out to be a friendly, healthy love bug. Just look at him. IMG_6904

Had he been feral, we would have had nowhere to return him. He is a purring machine that begged for attention. He spent the night here and when PAWS Chicago met him, they agreed to admit him into their adoption program. Thank you, PAWS!


We have trapped 20 cats so far at this colony site. Nine of those cats and kittens were admitted to PAWS. Sanderson is the 10th cat admitted for adoption, although obviously he is not really from this colony.


We know he’ll be adopted in two seconds. We all fell in love with him. This cat was cooped up all day in a car, and was absolutely fine – just wanted us to hold him and not be left alone again. IMG_6909

We are also working with PAWS to help counsel this employee and find help for the rest of the animals in her house. Right now she does not want them spayed and neutered – she believes every animal should have two litters first. This is where community outreach is crucial while you are doing TNR. Obviously people cannot just bring us animals and expect us to take them. We totally lucked out with getting Sanderson admitted.


Joann also called Ron, another feeder on that block, to tell him to stop feeding so that we could trap cats. Ron feeds the cats and they hang out in his yard and the other yards because there are tons of places for them to hide and find shelter. They climb in and around all of those porches. IMG_6933

Ron also has some sort of substance abuse problem. Anyone who does TNR regularly has dealt with stuff like this. I’ve dealt with it before, and in this case, I’m just happy he doesn’t have cats in his house. Those situations turn into hoarder houses a lot of times.


There are usually a lot of cats in low income neighborhoods and lots of people feed them. We do the best to help, but personal safety is paramount. Ron asks for money each time we come, and we’ve complied and given him donations of cat food as well.


He also has a lot of other men show up randomly at his house. Yesterday was no exception.


We set up traps all over the assisted living center, and in Ron’s yard. IMG_6926

Immediately the cats started poking their head out from underneath his porch.


We have TNR’d a lot of the cats there already, but we wanted to see if we can get any more that we may have missed. In the meantime, one of Ron’s visitors had a lot to say about how we were trapping. He wanted us to bring him food and drinks. He had his own plan to get the cats in the traps, but then he disappeared for awhile and did nothing.


It was very obvious the cats were fed. They circled and played all around the traps for a few hours. We caught one ear tipped cat and released her.  Some more people showed up periodically and randomly walked through the yard and in the alley where we were parked. We talked to each of them about what we were doing. I wish I had a high zoom video camera to tape the cats, they were pretty entertaining, but we didn’t get any new cats.


When we started rounding up the traps to go home, three of Ron’s visitors came out. This time I felt nervous because I was alone in the gangway with them. The man who said we were doing it wrong showed me some cat food cans in his pocket, said he was going to get the cats, and asked when we were going to take them. He said he was going to keep them in crates. I had no idea what he was talking about as he was leaving in an entirely opposite direction, but I told him firmly that we were not coming back. I was scared he was going to do something with the cats otherwise, not hurt them on purpose or anything, but I have no intention of working out a plan with him. It was apparent that I had no say in these plans. But really, it’s doubtful he was going to do anything anyways.


Instead, Joann and I are again working more with the assisted living center to set up a permanent feeding station and schedule for the cats in their secure and safe courtyard next door. We already provided them with outdoor cat shelters. Hopefully then these cats, and any new ones, can be cared for there. We want them to call us for help with new cats, or medical needs for existing cats. We are happy to donate cat food as well. The residents and staff there really care for the cats and with a proper plan in place for colony management we are confident this can be accomplished.



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Introducing the Amadeus Colony

Maryann cared for the outdoor cats in her neighborhood for years. She brought in cats that needed help, vetted them, and adopted them out.


She has a photo album of her cat rescues.


She told me stories of the cat that showed up with a wire wrapped tight around his leg. Thankfully, only two toes had to be amputated. Another cat showed up with the muscle and bone exposed on his entire leg and side. She rushed him to the emergency vet, who said he must have been hit by a car. He had to be humanely euthanized.


And as usual, she ended up keeping some of the cats herself. They are gorgeous and healthy.

IMG_0337 IMG_0335

Check out Puppy Cat. He is a ham. IMG_0394

She started TNR about a year ago. Since then she has TNR’d about a half dozen cats. Her yard is a haven with outdoor cat shelters and feeding stations.

IMG_0331 I met Maryann last December at the clinic and we started talking. All of a sudden she said, “Are you Cats In My Yard?” It was very cool to meet someone like that. She was there with some cats from her yard in traps. A few weeks ago she called me somewhat overwhelmed, saying there were six more cats to be trapped, and she feared one was pregnant. I promised to help her.


We set traps in her yard and the cats were all over them. IMG_0395 IMG_0401 IMG_0570

Hmm, into which trap shall I go? IMG_0582

We tried for a few nights and got two new cats.


Meet Pita and Jeune.

I’m guessing there are other food sources in her neighborhood, but we will keep trying. Maryann said there are at least two more cats that need to be fixed.


Thank you for your compassion and for caring for these cats, Maryann! We will make sure all of these cats are spayed/neutered.

Maryann Collins says:

Thanks so much for the help. All the newly trapped and neutered guys seem to be doing very well. I think everyone is enjoying life without snow. TJ the elusive is back after a week or so of catting around. He is so friendly with me at this point that I think I might be able to just push him into a larger carrier.

Vanessa says:

My pleasure, Maryann! So glad to hear this update!

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Woodrow Whiskers and Berto Were Adopted!

Remember Woodrow Whiskers from the La Vida Lydia Colony? He showed up sick in December. After I fully vetted him he was admitted into Tree House. IMG_0191

He was adopted last week. When I called to tell Lydia, his feeder, the good news, she already knew because she tried to visit him! Right now she is also trying to bring her remaining TNR’d colony cat inside, but he is still not interested. He doesn’t even use the outdoor cat shelters I made for him.


Lydia lives on the opposite end of my block, so between the two of us, we’ve got our eye on every cat that should wander into our alley.


Remember Berto from the Marta Volta Colony? I also found him in December. IMG_9445

He was admitted right away into Tree House’s Petco program. Then he was transferred into their Bucktown shelter. A man from Naperville saw his Petfinder profile, came to meet him, and adopted him on the spot.


Best of luck to Woodrow and Berto in their new homes!


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Feralvilla Paint Job

The Feralvilla is now made out of a new material that they recommend painting.


I always tell everyone about the Feralvilla. We’ve had one in our back yard for years. The cats love it, and for the cost, it is worth every penny because all you have to do is assemble it. Well, and now paint it. The cats love the other outdoor cat shelters Jim made, but the materials he used ended up costing the same as the Feral villa, if not more, plus he had to take a lot of time and tools to make them from scratch.


We just received the new villa for our front yard colony. Jim already painted it! I came home to find the parts drying all around the garage. I can’t wait to assemble it – it’s getting cold outside. IMG_8769




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Stealth Trapping: Setting Out Traps 24/7

I’ve had traps set outside in hidden locations non-stop since Monday night. I call this “stealth trapping.”


This is when you set out traps 24-hours a day and see if you get any “surprises.” My TNR friend Bruno calls this “fishing for cats.”


With stealth trapping you leave the traps unattended, but they are in secure locations, the weather has to be mild, and you check the traps every other hour or so.


In this case I learned that most of the cats here are already TNR’d. TNR works!


I still have the sick cat on my mind, so I put a trap in that yard with the owner’s permission. His yard is completely secured by a fence. IMG_7996

Unfortunately I did not trap the sick cat. No one has seen him since that day.


I also set out a trap by the Eleanor Rigby Colony next to their outdoor cat shelters. This is under their front porch, out of view from the street and completely dry. No “new” cats here either. IMG_7995

I also set up two traps for the Marta Volta Colony. The caregiver no longer feeds because the colony was adopted out, but she said she sees cats from time to time, including an orange one. She is currently out of town and gave me the keys to her gate and said I could set traps anytime. IMG_8002 IMG_7999

I trapped an orange cat around midnight on Tuesday, but he was already ear tipped!


Poor guy looks like he’s being arrested in this photo. I guess stealth trapping is like a sting operation. Orange cat from Marta Volta Colony

I set a trap in my front yard because I’ve been seeing a new cat coming around this summer. The James’ Gang Colony cats in my backyard don’t let anyone in, but the front yard feeding station is fair game.


I already wrote about how I trapped an ear tipped grey cat.


But I had a feeling there was another one, so I kept trying.


And got this cat in the middle of the night. Popcorn before his TNR

His name is Popcorn because he kept trying to pop out of the trap. He moves fast!


He got his TNR treatment the next day at the clinic, and I released him in the front yard this afternoon. Popcorn is the first cat I ever TNR’d in my front yard! He acted very, very feral, alternating between fierceness and fear. Let’s see if he sticks around. Popcorn with ear tip

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Learn How to Trap-Neuter-Return by Volunteering

You can gain hands-on experience and learn how to TNR by volunteering.

Last spring I volunteered with Tree House Humane Society to help a woman caring for a colony of 29 cats in her yard, called the Luna Colony. She was an overwhelmed feeder who was elderly and living alone and could not TNR by herself. She had cats in and out of her home and the colony was bonded to her. They did not have adequate shelter and were spraying her yard. As a result, some of the cats were sick. She needed help with TNR as well as proper colony maintenance.

The cats were there as soon as we arrived.

Luna Colony We baited and set up Tru-Catch Traps in the alley, and then brought them inside the yard so as not to disturb the cats with too much activity first. Traps in alley We found out a mother cat had just given birth minutes before we arrived. Luckily we trapped her first and put her newborn kitten in the trap with her. Tree House staff drove her straight to their vet clinic.  Mother cat with kitten in trap

The rest of us stayed and continued trapping. This is why it’s great to tag-team on TNR. The mother cat was in crisis but only one person had to leave with her to handle it and we could continue as planned.

All 29 cats were trapped over a period of a few days. Some of the cats needed additional medical treatment and had to be recovered a few extra days. The last were returned to the yard 11 days after the project started.

After I returned these cats, some of the cats came to check me out and show off their new ear tips. They mostly hang out on the feeder’s back porch.

Which way is up?

Which way is up?

Kitty corner.

Kitty corner.

Perched like pigeons.

Perched like pigeons.

In addition to TNR, volunteers added new outdoor cat shelters made out of Rubbermaid bins on and under the porch. Outdoor cat house

Since the porch is covered from rain and snow, they also added shelters made from styrofoam coolers stuffed with straw. The cats love them.

luna colony shelters

The feeder already had some sturdy shelters in the yard so the volunteers utilized those, just making sure they were now full of clean straw. They also cleaned the yard and added fresh mulch on bare patches.
cat shelter in the yard

The feeder gives the cats wet food on the back porch, but also keeps dry food in this covered feeding station so the cats can eat throughout the day. outdoor feeding station

Volunteers also added outdoor litter boxes and even scratching posts made of discarded tree trunks. Every time I volunteer I learn something new – I loved the idea of using these tree trunks!

outdoor cat litter box and scratching post

With the help of volunteers doing TNR, this feline colony’s population is now under control and the cats are cared for. The feeder could not have done all of this without their help.


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Happy TNR Anniversary, Dash!

I found Dash, one of our colony cats, sunning himself in my yard this morning despite the cold. I call this little sitting area the Catio. He definitely has beefed up and grown a winter coat in preparation for the weather.

The catio is still open.

This is the closest Dash has ever allowed me near him. He is tolerant of the rest of our James Gang Colony, but does not hang out with them unless he has to. I just looked up his TNR surgery record from PAWS Chicago and saw that his surgery was done on November 18, 2007, and he’s been coming to our yard somewhat regularly for five years ever since. He was already an adult when I TNR’ed him, so that means he may be a senior cat by now.

Dash is proof that feral cats know how to live outdoors and survive. I do not know where he goes all day, but he feeds in our yard, and I have seen him sporadically throughout the neighborhood. He does not use our outdoor cat shelters – he goes elsewhere. He is pretty solitary as far as I can tell. Sometimes I do not see him for weeks at a time.

When I TNR’ed Dash in 2007 I did not know to get him microchipped because the 2007 Cook County Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance [07-O-72] had just passed and microchipping feral cats was still a new practice here in Chicago. I tried to re-trap him without success throughout the years until this past spring, for some reason, he went into one of my traps. I took him to Tree House’s clinic for their Feral Cat Maintenance Package, where he was updated on his vaccinations for distemper and rabies. Out of curiosity, I tested him for FeLV/FIV and he was negative, and he finally got his microchip. Having the microchip means he will always be traced back to me as his caretaker. I hope that will continue for many more years to come.

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TNR Team Effort in Trapping a Colony

Twelve cats and kittens were trapped at the Catalonia Colony in one alley so far.


Oleksandra and Kim volunteered to help a TNR request from PAWS Chicago for this colony cared for by Bonnie, a feeder in Hermosa. There are A LOT of cats in Hermosa – it kind of reminds me of how my neighborhood used to be a decade ago. Joann and I also then joined efforts in trapping, transporting, recovering and returning the cats. Jenny N., the clinic director of PAWS, also continued to help us with transporting the cats back and forth from the clinic. We are very grateful for all of her help this year! The entire colony that Bonnie knows about are now all spayed/neutered, but we know there are more cats out there and will continue trapping.


The three kittens were immediately admitted to PAWS Chicago. img_9029

They were trapped first, along with some adult cats, almost all of them feral.


This photo shows Kim’s recovery room. Catalonia is in one of these traps, and we named this colony in honor of him because of all of the hilarity – ahem, I mean worry – that he put her through. Catalonia managed to get out of his trap, and spent a few good days loose in the room. He was absolutely fine, but it took some time to get him hungry enough to go back in the trap on his own. One of his favorite spots during those few days was hanging out in the window. catalonia

Once he was trapped again, he was TNReturned and very happy to be back with his siblings and bonded friends in the colony outside.


Bonnie thinks Barcelona was the mama cat of the kittens. It makes sense, as she was so frantic to get out of the trap, that she rubbed her nose raw against it. Barcelona also has an issue with her right eye. PAWS kept her for observation for a few days in a dog crate, and then decided she was healthy enough to be returned outside. Per the head vet at PAWS, she is already losing that eye, and the lid is slowly closing over it. It is not causing her any pain. Should she show signs of any infection or anything else in the future, Bonnie will call us and we will re-trap Barcelona for further treatment.  img_8993

Madrid was a pregnant female, TNReturned.


Seville is just one of three male cats from here, now TNReturned. img_9006

Along with Bilbao. He was seen further down the block from Bonnie. img_9055

And was trapped easily. img_9021 Valencia is a tortie, so obviously she is female, now TNReturned.


Lugo is another female cat trapped a few days later. img_9149

Along with Toledo. img_9152

Bonnie is so grateful to have all of the cats back. They live in her beautiful, clean yard where she feeds daily and has shelter for them under her front porch. Kim also purchased additional Rubbermaid bin shelters for her. I returned the cats back to Bonnie’s car port, where the cats shot out of her traps straight into her yard. img_9043

We were told that there are four more kittens further down the same block. Just a few days ago Oleksandra trapped this calico while looking for the kittens. The calico is obviously friendly so Oleksandra put her in her bathroom before taking her to PAWS. 20161023_180805-2

At PAWS they found out she was already spayed. They gave her a microchip, updated her vaccinations, and tested for FIV/FeLV in case she would be admitted for admission. She tested negative. Oleksandra went door to door on that block and found her owner! The owner said her name is Marigold and she has two other spayed/neutered pet cats. They are all now reunited.


This project is ongoing and I am confident it will be done soon! If you live in or near Hermosa in Chicago and would like to help, or have any more information about outdoor cats there, please call us at 773-609-CATS (2287) or email at [email protected]



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