Community Cats Book

Chapter 1

How It All Began

It all started when a rat ran over my husband’s foot. The city of Chicago had just fixed our sidewalk, and we surmised that the construction had disturbed the rats’ homes and that they were trying to relocate. We saw rats at all times of the day and night. The rat on my husband’s foot (right in front of our home) was the last straw. We mentioned the incident to a neighbor, Tim Cole, who told us about a program called Cats at Work where you could get feral cats who would take care of the rat problem.

We had experienced rat problems for a long time. We live off an alley behind several restaurants, so it’s a natural place for rats to live. Rats are part of urban life. And all city dwellers get used to seeing them every so often. However, we became concerned because they were around our home and under our garage. And they seemed to be proliferating. A neighbor told us that if rats build enough tunnels under a structure, it can collapse. So we tried a variety of methods to get rid of them. Nothing really worked. So there I was, looking up this program on the Internet, wondering if a feral cat colony would work for us.

Tree House

We learned that Tree House had a Cats at Work program, and we applied to become one of the program’s managed colony caretakers. We were accepted after showing that we could make a commitment to the cats, and we were soon in touch with Liz Houtz, the Community Cats program manager at Tree House. We applied to have a colony of three cats. Liz told us that we needed to feed them twice a day and provide them with a litter box and that Tree House would supply us with outdoor shelters, an outdoor cat box, and a heated water/feeding bowl for our cold Chicago winters.

Our cats were scheduled to arrive on a Sunday. Liz arrived with the makings for a large cage (about eight by four feet), two outdoor shelters, a litter box, and another box that could be used for feeding. And Liz’s colleague arrived with three tabby cats in three small cages. She put them on the steps, and immediately one of the cages started rocking. That cat wanted to get out!

My husband, Liz, and I set up the large cage and put the shelters into the cage along with the cat box. We live in a hundred-year-old building, and we put the cage underneath our front stairs and porch. It’s actually a large enclosure that is outside of the rain and cold, and Liz felt it would be a great place for the cats to acclimate. She explained that they needed to be in the cage for the first three weeks while they got used to the environment and the sounds around them. They also needed to get used to a new feeding schedule and new caretakers.

After we set up the large cage for them, we opened up the little cat cages, and they ran quickly into the large cage and right into their shelters. We barely saw them. We closed the cage and let them get used to their new surroundings.

Our cat colony arrived in early November before it got really cold in Chicago. We were one of the last people to get a cat colony for that year, so we felt lucky. And so it began.