This 65-year-old homeless man has spent the last decade taking care of a massive colony of cats in a Chicago neighborhood.
Antonio Garcia and his thirty feline companions were considered a staple of the Fulton River District. Polite and self-reliant, all of the members of the community adored Garcia and his amiable nature. Plus, his cats kept rats away from the local restaurants.
Despite being homeless, Garcia barely ever accepted handouts from the neighbors. His local friends would offer to bring him a sleeping bag or a tent, and he would always decline. He would, however, always delight in people bringing over cat food and treats for the felines. “If my cats have food, my heart is full,” he would say.
Sadly, Garcia passed away in January, leaving his cats behind to fend for themselves.
“It was devastating for everyone who knew him,” said Cynthia Doepke, a friend of Garcia’s who lives in the district.
Doepke and a few other neighborhood women “tearfully cleaned up his alley” – but they were not about to abandon his beloved strays after he worked so hard to take care of them.
“These cats were his family, they were all he had. He was a very devoted cat owner,” 28-year-old Doepke told The Washington Post. “They meant the world to him. The thought of being separated from them brought him to tears.”
Since Doepke and three other neighborhood women had already worked together to get the cats spayed and neutered in 2016, they made a schedule where each of the women would take turns stopping by the alley to give the cats food and water.
One of the women made a series of cat condos out of yoga mats so the strays would have cozy places to nap at night.
Next, they worked with local rescue organizations to have Garcia’s cats designated as a “colony”, which is a specific group of felines that is protected from animal control workers who may try capture the cats and turn them over to a shelter where they may be euthanized. According to Doepke, a cat colony usually consists of about eight cats – but thirty is a rare occurrence.
Thankfully, since the Chicago ladies started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for they cat colony, the page has raised over $10,000 – and they plan on continuing to feed and care for Garcia’s cats until they are no longer able.
“He died with the things he loved most, his cats,” one of the women, Leona Sepulveda Less, told The Washington Post. “We should all be so lucky to be around the people and animals we love.”
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Reprint (Photo by Leona Sepulveda Less and Cynthia Doepke)