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Ilana Wein, Hyde Park Cats cofounder

“One of the kittens was covered in maggots. A volunteer spent all night picking the maggots off.”

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First-person accounts from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford

JASMINE KWONG
  • Jasmine Kwong

"One day I found this ad that said: Looking for someone to feed cats in the alley. It turned out it was someone who was feeding alley cats south of the Midway. She was moving out of Hyde Park, and she was concerned about these cats. So my colleague and I decided that we would take this on, this one alley.

"We went over there and met her cats—there were like 12 of them—and we decided to start getting them fixed. I'm very proud of the fact that there have been no kittens in that alley. Zero.

"It just started to snowball. We got other cats around there fixed. Then people started asking, 'Can I adopt a cat?' A few years later, we've done a couple hundred adoptions. We also send volunteers to the Animal Welfare League to socialize animals there. We brush them and snuggle them. You can see after a little bit that the cat feels calmer, happier. If they're better socialized, they have a better chance of making it out. You try not to think about the fact that they don't all make it.

"Once I got a phone call from someone who'd been at a construction site and heard meows. Lo and behold, there was a mother cat with four kittens. This cat had hidden her babies under a big orange traffic cone. We grab these kittens and put them in a trap, and instead of going into the trap, the mama cat took one kitten and ran off. One of the kittens was covered in maggots. A volunteer spent all night picking the maggots off. After a couple nights, we got the mama cat. The next day, some of the construction guys called us. They'd found the final kitten. All of them got adopted.

"Our adoption process includes two references. My mom checks all the references. We'll ask, 'Have you seen this person interact with animals? Have you seen this person's home?' That kind of thing. We're not checking your tax records. We put a lot of time and effort and money into these cats. Our goal is not to get them adopted ASAP; it's to get them adopted for life. If you don't have the time to go through a few questions and have two friends say you are a good person, probably you shouldn't have an animal.

"Sometimes we get shit from people who say, 'Why don't you do something for people?' Well, it's not just that the cats are hungry and that's sad, but they get in the garbage, they spread diseases, they make noise, they poop. We went to one alley, and in the lot right next to it there was a little boy outside playing. Which is great. Except that just a few feet over, there were dead cats.

"'Cat lady' has a weird connotation. I really don't like that. Don't call me that. We're just normal people who want to work on a problem."

Help Hyde Park's cats at hydeparkcats.blogspot.com.

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