When the weather turns bitterly cold, rescues often work on borrowed time trying to save as many stray and neglected animals from the outdoors as possible. During Chicago’s first Polar Vortex, a group of rescuers battled to save a cat from the streets. Thanks to a collaborative effort, Gummi Bear was saved and moved into his forever home during the second Polar Vortex.
The story started before Christmas when CARF: Critical Animal Relief Foundation was working to catch a mother cat and her kittens. The group generally pulls cats from Chicago Animal Care and Control and didn’t have any experience trapping cats. They called on Tree House Humane Society, which works with community caretakers in Chicago through their Community Cats Program.
Through that program, cats are trapped and either spayed or neutered. Friendly strays are put up for adoption through Tree House and other groups and ferals are returned to their colonies (TNR – Trap, Neuter, Return). At this point, CARF wasn’t sure if the cats in question were strays or ferals but they did need help. A co-worker of Alexis Mansfield had spotted the cats and asked her for help.
“Stray or feral mother cats tend to be very savvy and can be hard to catch,” says Mansfield of CARF. “The cats had access to an open garage and kept climbing into the rafters. Tree House came in and through their Community Cats program, helped us set up for traps for the mother and three kittens. The problem was, this orange tabby cat – Gummi Bear – kept getting into the traps.”
Gummi Bear would wander into the trap to eat the food and get caught. Usually, cats will stay away from traps after that, but this particular cat moved in two more times for dinner because he was so hungry. A lot of effort was going into catching the kittens and their mom before it got too cold (and before the kittens became feral and unadoptable). And, at that time, a foster wasn't available for the tabby. Eventually, the mother and kittens were caught and then the Polar Vortex rolled in.
“We were so worried about this cat. It was so cold he couldn’t even sit and we didn’t know if he was a stray or feral,” adds Mansfield. “We posted his photo on Facebook and asked for a foster volunteer. A couple that had been talking to us, but hadn’t fostered before, stepped up. We put the trap down with food and he walked right in and ate on what was at that point the coldest day of the winter.”
They got to Gummi Bear in the nick of time. Frost bite had started to set in and he was getting sick – an upper respiratory infection was suspected. CARF took him to Tree House’s Spay and Neuter Clinic on Ashland and he was cared for by the organization until he recovered about a week later.
“We love collaborating with other groups like this,” says Jenny Schlueter, Development Director and manager of the Community Cats program at Tree House. “CARF gets most of their cats from CACC and trapping was new to them. We were happy to help and when our adoption centers are full it is so fantastic that we can at least help with vetting. Often, groups can promote cats online and get them adopted that way.”
The collaboration didn’t end there. Tree House received a short-term grant through the Humane Society of the United States’ Pets for Life Program that paid for Gummi Bear’s vetting and medication. CARF paid his boarding fees while he waited to get healthy enough to be neutered. Gummi Bear had a difficult life on the streets and had many teeth that were damaged an needed to be pulled.Supporters of CARF donated enough for the dental work. He was also FIV positive.
Gummi Bear's second chance
FIV is similar to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIF) and can only be passed from cat to cat through biting or in-utero. Cats with FIV may live long, healthy lives if kept indoors and provided with proper nutrition and diligent veterinary care. Groups like Tree House and CARF have been working to educate more potential adopters about FIV cats. CARF took Gummi Bear into their program and he moved into foster care.
“Fostering was a nice way to ease back into cat ownership,” says Greg Sorenson. “Our previous cats were littermates and we took them in from my mom and sister 12 years ago. They lived to be 19 and 22. We want to eventually adopt a pair of kittens or mother and kitten, but we weren’t quite ready. It was great to be able to help out a cat that truly needed a temporary place to stay.”
“We didn’t know what to expect because although Gummi Bear seemed friendly, no one was really sure how he’d do around people,” says Kirsti MacPherson, his foster. “He ended up being this big, loud social cat that turned out to be a great house guest for 10 days. It was wonderful to see him interact with his eventual adopter.”
And, temporary it was. On Monday when we were in the grip of Polar Vortex 2, Gummi Bear was officially adopted and moved into his forever home. His adopter had spotted his story on the CARF Facebook page as it was unfolding. She had been talking to the group about possibly adopting a kitten. His adopter met and fell in love over the weekend. He ran up to the door and greeted her with a loud purr when she came to take him home.
Other rescues need homes
The original mother cat and 2 of the 3 kittens are also up for adoption from CARF - one has been adopted. CARF was founded just over a year ago by Dr. Bruce Silverman of Village West Veterinary. In that time, the rescue has adopted out over 200 cats and kittens. While, many have been rescued from CACC, CARF has also taken in kittens from Tree House’s Community Cats programs and other cats in need.
What could have been a tragic story for another Chicago cat during our bitter winter has a great happy ending thanks to a great collaboration. Learn more about CARF here and Tree House here. CARF also needs donations from their wish list to help them with the cats in their care.
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