From Feral to Sterile: Hyde Park cat lovers trap, neuter, and release

Little Tiger, a kitten from a stray Hyde Park litter; photo courtesy of Hyde Park Cats

Little Tiger, a kitten from a stray Hyde Park litter; photo courtesy of Hyde Park Cats

Terren Ilana Wein’s email signature runs the standard gamut of name, department, telephone number, etc. until it comes to the last line, where an Albert Schweitzer quote reads, “There are two refuges from the miseries of life: music and cats.” While the first part of that signature admits to Wein’s position as Director of Communications at the University of Chicago Divinity School, the quote more subtly references her second job as one of the driving forces behind Hyde Park Cats. A local organization dedicated to the caretaking of feral felines, Hyde Park Cats offers the animals tangible refuge in exchange for the solace and love that they bring to so many pet owners.

Run out of the homes and cars of Wein and fellow cat lovers, what is today known as Hyde Park Cats was two years ago an informal adoption and feeding of a colony of feral cats. Those same cats–distinguished from strays because they have never lived in domestication–are still being cared for by members of Hyde Park Cats. But in addition to the feeding of this group of roaming felines, the organization has now expanded to be more inclusive of the needs of feral cats in the area.

An infrastructure of dedicated members is responsible for making Hyde Park Cats a visible part of the local community. Wein, who takes care of what she calls the “public face” work for the organization, runs a blog giving information about cats that are looking for foster and adoptive homes. “I started the blog as a way to raise awareness–and money–and it’s also proven to be a very useful tool for gathering interested people together,” Wein says. Such people have plenty of other opportunities to get involved in Hyde Park Cats. “My colleague in the Divinity School, Mary Jean Kraybill, takes care of our feral cat colony and hosts our potluck meetings,” says Wein. “Other members do other projects–feeding, putting up posters, even fostering–as time and circumstances allow.”

Hyde Park Cats also actively advocates the trap-neuter-release, or TNR, method of controlling feral cat population growth. Members will trap cats and take them to Pets Are Worth Saving (PAWS) Chicago, where $20 will spay or neuter a feline. The animals are then ready to either be released back into the neighborhood without the ability to produce more strays, or to be put in a loving home. It seems like a lot of effort to keep one cat from reproducing, but Wein cites the work of Kat Hill-Reischl, a UofC graduate student, as an example of its importance. Last fall, Hill-Reischl rescued a mother cat and five kittens from her yard and, according to Wein, “…partially because of help from our network, [she] managed to trap them and now they all have homes! These are six cats who otherwise would have produced a billion more cats and led short, ugly lives on the street.” Stories like Hill-Reischl’s are enough to keep the enthusiasm for the method going. “We’re all hoping to do a lot of TNR this spring,” says Wein.

So are there really enough homeless cats in Hyde Park to merit the existence of such a group? “Obviously, I think the need is huge, or I wouldn’t spend so much time doing this,” Wein says. Hyde Park Cats’ feline friends are not the only beneficiaries of its efforts. Wein believes that, due to the organization, the entire neighborhood is better off. “I think we’re all inspired by, of course, a love of cats, but also by a desire to do something good in our community. Animal welfare is important for the animals, but it’s also an indicator of community health and well-being. We want a healthy community for all of us!”

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