Nearly 24 years ago, I walked into an old row house in Uptown and fell in love. I’m not just referring to the pair of kittens that I was about to adopt. No. This was my introduction to Tree House Humane Society (known as Tree House Animal Shelter back then), Chicago’s oldest, largest, cageless no-kill cat shelter. As a lifelong cat lover, Tree House was nirvana.
Back in 1991, cageless cat shelters were a bit of an oddity. Even stranger still was the mix of cats that called Tree House Humane Society home. Some were missing a limb or an eye. One was paralyzed and scooted across the floor. There were old cats and young cats and outgoing cats and shy cats. They were roaming free and getting love from potential adopters.
At the top of the stairs in a place called Kittenville, was one of the few rooms lined with cages at the facility. In that kitten room, a shy girl purred herself to sleep in my arms. I left shortly thereafter with Scarlett and her goofy brother Rhett (named Rupee and Franc at the shelter).
What did they all have in common? These cats had been rescued by one of the few groups at the time that took them in even if they were a long shot at getting adopted – the sick, the injured, the old and very young. Tree House was doing more than just taking the cats in by allowing each cat to live at the shelter until they were adopted or passed on to the Rainbow Bridge.
That promise was extended to all cats that came through their door – “Once a Tree House Cat, Always a Tree House Cat.” That meant that if they lost their home, they had a home at Tree House…something few groups considered back in the day.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that first trip to Tree House recently now that the work has begun on the brand spankin’ new Tree House Humane Society shelter. Through the years, Tree House has offered counseling to adopters, a food pantry to keep pets with families, foster care, a low-cost spay/neuter clinic and more.
They have been a driving force behind Chicago’s Community Cats program aimed at setting up colonies for feral cats that have been TNRed (Trap, Neutered, Returned). All of this out of the old row house on Carmen Avenue (a second building on North Ashland joined the family later).
When Rhett died at 15 and we ended up back at Tree House in search of a friend for Scarlett, my husband thought we were in the wrong place. He’d been reading the Tree House updates over the years. He was a bit taken aback that they’d accomplished so much in such a cramped space – a building that had been remodeled and retrofitted a few too many times.
Now the work is underway on the new $7 million shelter and community center. I was all set to attend the ground breaking Tuesday before being pulled into a last minute meeting at the office. It may be for the best because cat ladies like me tend to cry at momentous occasions like this.
So, what will we get for $7 million?
The state-of-the-art shelter will have plenty of adoption rooms so that cats have lots of space and light and won’t be stressed by being overcrowded while waiting for a family. There will also be designated kitty condos for those cats just settling in or those that need their own space. There will be a Cat-Fe – a place for a cup of coffee or tea and snuggle time with adoptable cats.
There will be community space that will be open for educational purposes and adoption events for Tree House partners. The food pantry that helps low income families keep their pets will have a home here too. And, there is the planned low-cost veterinary clinic that will provide vet care for those that have few other options.
When Tree House was founded in 1971, there was no “no kill” movement here in Chicago. They were the first and they tackled the city’s homeless cat population long before anyone had a true grasp on the cat crisis and long before social media networking was around to help. Harmony House for Cats and Felines, Inc. soon joined Tree House in helping with the cat crisis. In the past 24 years since I walked in their door, Tree House has continued to be a leader and partner in Chicago’s cat community.
As some point or another, they’ve partnered with most of the other cat rescue groups. They’ve helped many cat rescues get started. And, they’ve been a voice for feral cats long before it was the popular thing to do. As Tree House moves forward, I can’t help but stop and think what they’ve meant to me and those two precocious kittens?
I was motived to become involved in rescue after Rhett died. When my husband and I started our search for a new cat, I saw first hand the deplorably high number of adult cats abandoned in Lake and Cook Counties. There were days during that search I was moved to tears and depression.
We ended up adopted a pair of young adult cats…and…I found a cause to embrace. I’ve been volunteering with a variety of groups since then and now write this blog. I’ve worked to be a voice for the cats and dogs that don’t have a voice.
My Tree House kitties Rhett and Scarlett were blessed. They came home as kittens and never had to worry about finding another home. Rhett owned us for 15 years before crossing the bridge and Scarlett, my sweet Scarlett was nearing 20 when she died. The furry face that presides over my blog is Scarlett in her favorite spot overseeing the wildlife in our yard. She has my heart and will always be my muse for this blog.
Now the countdown is on until the doors will open on the new shelter. I can’t wait to see what that means for the future of cats and the cat ladies and cat guys in Chicago. Here’s to Tree House – meow!
Tree House has raised over $5 million of the $7 million needed for the new shelter as of the ground breaking. Join me as we work to raise the remaining funds – Every $ Counts. I’ve just donated here in loving memory of Rhett and Scarlett and in honor of all the Tree House kitties to come.
June is Adopt-A-Shelter Cat Month. During the month of June I’ll be writing and focusing on cat adoption and some of the special cat programs available in Chicago. Here are a few of my past favorites –
- Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady
- If you’re patient, the right cat will pick you (Scarlett’s story)
- The Late, Great Rhett the Wonder Cat
- Somethings obviously wrong with that cat (Max’s story)
- From Timid Cat to Queen Bee (Ellie’s story)
- Collaborative effort helps Polar Vortex Kitty
- PURRS from the Heart: The Ripple Effect on Chicago’s rescue community
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