Free Cat Spay/Neuter Surgeries Offered In December

PAWS Chicago is offering free cat spay/neuter surgeries and other discounted services for specific zip codes on Chicago’s south side. Please help spread the word!

I’m teaming up with Chicago TNR again next week in Englewood to help trap some cats and bring them to PAWS’ clinic for their TNR spay/neuter packages.


Here is part of the email I received from PAWS’ Clinic Manager that details this offer:

“During the winter months, our Spay/Neuter Clinic sees a decline in the number of feral cats due to the colder weather and our regular TNR trappers and rescue organizations taking a much needed break. To offset this expected decline, we are going to run a special promotion through 12/31/13. This promotion features a FREE spay or neuter surgery for any domestic cat whose owners reside in these Chicago South and West Side zip codes:

























We actually have some door hangers available if you are willing to spend some time distributing them! Typically, we are only allowed to give free surgery to members of the general public on public assistance residing in these limited zip codes – 60617, 60619, 60620, 60621, 60628, 60629, 60636, and 60639. So this is really a fantastic offer! Plus, in addition to the FREE spay or neuter, our regular priced vaccines, blood tests, and microchips will be reduced from $28 down to $15 each pet that qualifies! This free offer is not applicable directly to rescue groups that bring these animals is –  but feel free to refer the owner to call our clinic to make the appointment, and bring the pet in themselves to receive the free service!

Even better – if you are able to get together 10 or more domestic cats from a single pickup point, we will likely be able to even provide transport for the animals to and from the clinic for their surgeries! If you are still pursuing TNR projects over the winter that include 10 or more feral cats, we may also be able to provide the feral cats transport to and from the clinic from your heated recovery space! Please keep Kinga and I posted on your projects regardless, so we can provide you with some FREE Feral Package vouchers for all cats originating from any of the December promo areas.

Please help me spread the word on this fantastic promotion! I appreciate all the effort that goes into all the hard work you do every day. You are truly an advocate for the animals. Hopefully soon, we can achieve a no-kill Chicago!”

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Helping Community Cats in Englewood

I met George earlier this year in the waiting room of PAWS Chicago’s Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic. We both had cats in traps that we brought in for their Trap-Neuter-Return TNR treatment. We’ve been in touch ever since. I’ve lent her some of my traps all year because George has done a remarkable amount of work for TNR and rescuing cats off the street on the city’s south side.

Yesterday I met up with George and Lily, another volunteer who has been doing TNR on her own for decades, on site in Englewood. PAWS Chicago is covering the medical costs for these cats and also admitting any friendly cats brought in from this area. George and Lily have been working on this project for the past three weeks.

In these three weeks they trapped 64 cats within three city blocks. 15 of these cats are admitted into PAWS adoption program. The rest were spayed/neutered, vaccinated, received other medical treatments as needed, and returned back to their original locations where they are fed and cared for by the residents.

This is one of the cats returned at 11-cat colony in an auto lot. She received additional treatment for her eye injury, which is now healing. Englewood auto lot cat

The feeders at the lot wanted the majority of the cats returned to them because they are emotionally attached to them and the cats help keep the rats away. The cats are also bonded to each other, and some of them are extremely friendly. A few ran right up to Lily when we arrived. Lily and the friendly cats

I loved talking to Lily. She has been doing TNR all over the city for years. Back in the day she used to catch feral cats and put them into carriers to be treated by her vet. Lily is a retired Chicago Police Officer from their Canine Unit. She used to be a social worker for Chicago’s Department of Child Services. She applied to be a police officer after someone pulled a gun on her in an abandoned building in Uptown while she was working on a family case.

The auto lot colony cats are all fully recovered from their surgeries and doing well. George stopped to feed some of them and we continued on looking for other colonies. I hope to join them again in December and help this community help more cats. George feeding the cats



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

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How to Win Friends and Influence People to Help with TNR

A friend told me that she successfully trapped a cat over the weekend, and Tree House’s BVDM Mac Lean Spay/Neuter Clinic informed her the cat was already microchipped and neutered last year. My friend lives a block from The Cell Phones Colony. This cat colony is much harder to TNR because of opposition from the main feeder and is an ongoing project.

Last year I joined Tree House staff in that alley and we managed to trap some cats because we had the cooperation from the staff of the auto lot next to the colony. But the colony mostly hangs out on the main feeder’s property. He is an elderly man who feeds diligently so we could not get all of the cats because they were not hungry enough to go in the humane Tru-Catch traps. At one point the man became enraged and threw out a trap. He would not listen to us or agree to TNR. His family that also lived there tried to talk to him, but would not go against his wishes.

There was another woman a few doors down who also fed the cats and disagreed with trapping and fixing them because she insisted we were not bringing the cats back. She wanted all of the cats there and for them to keep reproducing and catching the rats.

The project was at a standstill.

I’ve kept my eye on that alley ever since and when I was jogging through a month ago I saw what I thought was a dead kitten on the main feeder’s property.  kitten on deck You can’t tell from the photo, but there’s a wrought iron gate in the way. I threw a few stones to try to get the kitten’s attention, and it became obvious that he was sick. He was lethargic and did not react much to me.  kitten in the sun

The auto lot next door told me there were other sick kittens besides this one, and they agreed again to have traps on their property. I spoke to another relative that lived at the main feeder’s property and it was the same scenario as last year – she agreed the cats needed help, and told me they even found a dead kitten that morning. But it ultimately was up to him.

It was time to resume Trap-Neuter-Return there again regardless.

I brought some traps the next night with two other friends who are experienced trappers and caregivers of TNR’d feral cat colonies. One of them lives a few blocks away. When I picked her up, we drove through her alley and came across some of her colony cats. cats on a dumpster

When we went to The Cell Phones Colony and set up the traps, we were met with opposition from the same woman as last year, along with a few other men who were in a garage hanging out and playing cards.

At first, communication was impossible, as they accused us of being “cat killers.” They did not believe we were going to bring the cats back. When the woman threatened to call the police, I told her she should as their behavior toward us was alarming and I wanted the police there.

That gave her pause.

Free feeding outdoor cats in Chicago is illegal. TNR is not, as there is a Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance that protects these cats and the people who care for them.

In the midst of this, we also trapped a cat with a trap we had already set up. The cat actually already had an ear tip, the universal sign that a cat has been TNR’d. We showed the people the ear tip, explained TNR again, and let the cat back out.

They were starting to “get” it.

We pushed even more and started showing them photos of our colony cats on our phones, and how we care for them. Being called a cat killer really hit a nerve with me and I think the people were starting to understand what we were trying to do.

Nevertheless, we decided to leave because there was so much commotion already. The woman told us she also fed the cats around 5pm daily and we said we would be back later that week at that time.

We went back to my friend’s alley and decided to try to TNR there instead. There are already 10 TNR’d cats there, so we accidentally trapped and released a half dozen, but we also trapped three intact cats.

My friend took all three to PAWS Chicago’s Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic to be TNR’d.

When they were ready to be returned after their surgeries, we took all three cats in the traps back to The Cell Phones Colony alley first to show the people there the cats with their brand new ear tips. We showed them the medical paperwork detailing their surgeries and vaccinations.

Now they were asking if we could come back and trap in their alley.

We returned all three cats back to their original alley. There was a bunch of kids hanging out there so we explained everything we were doing to them. We gave them fliers about TNR to give to their parents. One little girl, no more than four years old, told us about her new kitten that wasn’t eating. We asked her where it was and she took us into her home.

There is never a dull moment with this TNR project. TNR requires community effort and cooperation. If you can get your neighbors on board with TNR, it will be much easier to help the cats.

The little girl actually had two kittens. One had some sort of bulge on its side, so we convinced her mother that it needed medical attention. The other kitten was maybe three weeks old and they did not have anything to feed it. We went to Petco to buy some kitten formula for them.

Later that week we went back to The Cell Phones Colony alley to try to trap again. We saw some cats already TNR’d first. TNR'd cats from The Cell Phones colony cat in tree

Then we saw some of the cats hanging out on the main feeder’s property. Unfortunately we did not see the sick tabby kitten anymore.  The Cell Phones Colony on deck This time the woman helped us! She did not feed the cats that day, and helped us bait the traps with their usual food, along with sardines in oil to try to entice them. What a turnaround!

But because we still do not have the cooperation of the elderly man who is their main feeder, we managed to trap just two intact cats, a male and female pair who were also fixed and vaccinated at PAWS Chicago.

Baby Chocobo

Baby Chocobo


Moon Pope

Moon Pope

The rest of the cats were not hungry enough to go in the traps or leave the property. They just watched us. Cell Phones Colony cats After Baby Chocobo and Moon Pope were recovered from their spay/neuter surgeries, we showed the woman again when we returned them outside to their alley.

This woman and her neighbors are now thanking us and trying to help. Unfortunately the elderly man who is the main feeder still will not listen, but we will keep trying. I’m hoping my friends in that area will also keep trapping.




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Happy National Feral Cat Day! Remembering the First TNR’d Cats In My Yard

Starting in 2004, I learned about TNR from Alley Cat Allies and trapped a few cats. They were mostly mother cats with their kittens, so I brought them inside to be socialized and admitted into shelters.

Then in 2005, as I was trying to trap a very sick cat, I trapped Bobcat instead, and he ended up being the first cat I initially TNR’d, trapped, neutered, and returned outside.

He looked like a Bobcat, down to his stubby tail. bobcat's tail

Along with Bobcat, I also TNR’d a dozen other cats in my yard, including Magic, a grey male, and Princess, a female white/brown tabby.

The three of them bonded, and were my first real colony.  Bobcat, Magic and Princess

I never fed cats in my yard initially. The colonies formed after the cats were TNR’d.

Since they hung out in my yard all the time, of course I now fed them, but we did not have much shelter. I made one Rubbermaid bin shelter, but they would only lay on top of it. Princess and Bobcat on their bin I worried about them that winter. My backyard was only grass at the time and there was no cover for them.

Magic on the owl statue My next door neighbor had an old open garage that had some bedding for them, and she turned on a heat lamp for them at night.

When summer came, I started experimenting with the garden, and the colony continued to spend their days in my yard. Bobcat and Princess in the garden

Bobcat and Magic by the garage When fall came, Magic started coughing. Because they were bonded to me at this point, I was able to get all three of them into separate carriers and take them to the vet.

Magic and Princess tested FIV+/FeLV+. My neighbor, the one who had the heat lamp for them in her garage, adopted them. Princess and Magic indoors

Unfortunately, because Magic was symptomatic, he died six months after being brought inside.

Bobcat tested FIV+, and I fostered him until he was admitted to PAWS Chicago and adopted within a few weeks.

I’ve learned a lot since then and am so grateful that TNR is becoming more popular and known as it the most humane way to control the cat population. It is the only way I could have helped Bobcat, Magic and Princess.


Nancy Blanchard says:

Hi Vanessa,

It’s been awhile since I’ve been on my Facebook account. Your entries here are fantastic! You’re doing an awesome job! The cats on your block are very very fortunate.

Take care and I’ll have to visit the Cats in my Yard paypal site!

Vanessa says:

Thank you for the kind words, Nancy! The cats around here have a lot of caring neighbors that agree TNR is the most effective and humane solution to ultimately reduce the outdoor cat population, and contribute to their colony management.

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The TNR of Puffy the Feral Cat

Remember Puffy McWonder Tail? Well, I trapped him Saturday night, and took him to PAWS Chicago for his TNR Treatment on Sunday.  Puffy McWonder Tail I named him well, because he was pissy, hissy, huffy and puffy the entire time. He would not stop lunging or growling every time he heard me or saw me peek under the cover of his trap. PAWS’ Lurie Spay/Neuter Clinic was filled with rambunctious dogs, and Puffy was not fazed. You could hear him growling the entire time.

Here he is after being recovered from his neuter surgery, and he clearly wants out. Puffy after being TNR'd

He even managed to get an extra lunge at me when I released him back into my yard.

I love it when the cats act like that because there’s no question to return them back outside. That being said, I have seen aggressive male cats turn into lap cats once the testosterone has completely left their body after the surgery. But in the meantime, Puffy clearly wants to be left alone outside.

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TNR Is Proven to Work in Cook County

Many pro-TNR advocates came to today’s hearing at the Commissioner’s  office. The numbers in this article speak for themselves: TNR works. There are less free-roaming cats outside ever since the Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance was passed in 2007.

I’m obsessed with the Cat Math of TNR. I want to highlight and quote here the most important point of this article, which is the TNR numbers:

“Rochelle Michalek, executive director of PAWS Chicago, another leading colony sponsor, said that since 2008,

17,500 stray cats had been sterilized and vaccinated in Cook County,

at a cost of $1.5 million — all of it privately funded, without any government contributions.

She added that colonies reduced an average of 41 percent over three years

and estimated there are currently 7,000 cats

at the county’s 1,000 approved colonies.”

I’m happy to have added to those numbers, and I know it’s working because more and more people are helping the community cats with TNR. Just last week I saw a “new” black cat up the street from me. Only he was not “new”, because he was already ear tipped by someone else! I’ll have to figure out what’s going on over here later. IMG_0274 But we still have a lot of work to do. Let’s get trapping!

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Trap Neuter Recover Return

Last week I was talking to one of my favorite feral cat bloggers, Chicago Feral Cat Files, about feral cats who need extra recovery time after their TNR surgeries because they have other medical issues going on. Normally male feral cats can be returned outside after their surgery within 24 hours, and female cats can be returned after 48 hours. If a cat is recovering from a wound or a URI, however, and require antibiotics, their recovery time is obviously longer. In these cases we were brainstorming on how to keep the cats more comfortable.

Ideally cats that require more recovery time should be transferred into a larger cage so that they have room to stretch, eat, sleep and use a litterbox comfortably. I need to do some more research on these cages, but there are good options out there. One thing that I try to do for these cats is to line the trap with a puppy pad. The pads are more absorbent and comfortable for the cats to sit on rather than just newspaper, but they should only be used for cats that remain calm. Some cats like to shred and chew on everything in the trap, in which case the puppy pad is not a good idea.

But in the case of Boo, one of the cats I trapped in my yard, the puppy pad was perfect. She seemed to like how soft it was and only used a corner when she went to the bathroom on it.

PamPurrs Puppy Pads

PamPurrs Puppy Pads

Boo was TNR’d at PAWS Chicago in 2009. Her photo is also featured on PAWS Chicago’s Trap Neuter Return site. Boo turned out to be a pregnant female, which was so surprising to me as I rarely trap females from my yard, and she was so tiny. I named her Boo after seeing her for the first time the previous week looking out at me from inside my open basement door. I was outside gardening with the door open for hours. At some point she came into my house without me seeing her. When I did see her in the doorway, she bolted, and I did not see her again until I trapped her a week later late at night.

I recovered Boo in the trap for a few extra days with the puppy pads and she was good to go. Because she was so tiny, the trap did not seem that small for her. How do you keep the feral cats from your colony comfortable during their recovery time after TNR?


I was just informed by Google that this page on your website actually had a broken link to our website, Tru Catch Traps. I noticed the link “but there are good options out there” is incorrect.

If you want to change the link, the new correct link would be:

Or you can just drop the “.html” from the end of the current link.

Thank you very much!!!

Vanessa says:

Thank you so much, Ryan and Tru Catch Traps! I fixed the link. I’m a big fan of your products. Vanessa

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How to Make 100 Outdoor Cat Shelters in One Weekend

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

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

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

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

And don’t forget to have some fun.

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

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

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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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