When Homeless Man Caring For Stray Cats Dies, The Town Does Something

A Man With A Mission

People / Janet O'Brian

Antonio Garcia lived in an alley in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago for a good portion of his life. But he wasn't alone. He kept company with roughly 40 stray cats, who also called the alley their home. Garcia took care of the cat colony and looked upon these cats as his own. But what about the neighborhood? Did they see it as heartwarming or a nuisance?

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Homeless But Happy

People / Jasmine Dulay

Garcia may have been homeless, but he had told neighbors that as long as his cats were fed, he was happy. The cats loved him as well; they were often seen curled up in his lap or bunking down with him in his wood scrap shack. They would lounge in the sun together during the day. But how did the community react to a homeless man living in an alley with so many cats?

Getting By With A Little Help

People / Jasmine Dulay

Walking home from work one day, Cynthia Doepke noticed a few cats around the alley. She tried to befriend them but they were too skittish. For a few weeks, she would bring food and feed the stray cats and kittens. She eventually found out they belonged to Garcia and a new friendship was born. But what about the rest of the community?

Controlling The Population

You Caring / Cynthia Doepke

Doepke knew something needed to be done about the population of cats littering the alleyway. She contacted a local animal rescue and set up a trap, neuter and release program for Garcia's cats. After raising enough money, all but a few of the cats were neutered or spayed, and the population was under control. The lucky cats even got microchipped, vaccinated and injuries or illnesses treated. Unfortunately, no one could have seen what was to come.

Going Without So The Cats Could Live

People / Jasmine Dulay

With the colony of cats mostly spayed or neutered, it was time to figure out how to adequately feed them all. Garcia, not one to see his cats go hungry, would often share his own food so the cats could eat. Doepke reached out again to find some help, but tragedy was just around the corner and lives were about to change forever.

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A Silent Hero Passes Away

People / Jasmine Dulay

In the middle of winter, the alley became unusually quiet. A local business owner was concerned and called the police to do a wellness check on Garcia. The police officers found Garcia had frozen to death in his wood scrap home, surrounded by his many cats. What would become of the feral cat colony he cared for so deeply? The community was about to do the unthinkable.

So Many Cats, No Where To Go

You Caring / Cynthia Doepke

When word spread that Garcia had passed away, Doepke and three other women banded together to honor his memory. They put up a shrine in the alley with flowers and crosses. But they wanted to do more. Garcia gave so much of himself to the cats and they wanted to be sure the care continued. How would they begin to do this?

A Community Gathers Together

You Caring / Cynthia Doepke

The four women who made a pact to take care of Garcia's cats set up a fundraiser for the West Loop feral cat colony. Animal lovers around the nation were touched to hear of one man's compassion for stray cats. So far, the fundraiser has gotten almost $13,000. Upgrades have been made to the alley to make it more comfortable for the cat colony.

One Man's Dying Wish

You Caring / Cynthia Doepke

Among the upgrades for the cats was a privacy fence to keep people out of the alley. Volunteers also put in covered feeding stations to protect the food. They purchased heated water bowls to keep the drinking water from freezing. Volunteers then installed a surveillance camera in the alley to keep an eye on the colony when they aren't there.

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Garcia's Legacy Lives On

You Caring / Cynthia Doepke

Garcia lived a quiet, unassuming life as a homeless man, bunking down in an alley with 40 cats. But his kindness and generosity changed the lives of all who knew him. His legacy will live on in that alley. The cats are now officially registered as a feral cat colony, which gives them certain protections under the law. Garcia may not be around, but his cats will be.

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