Tree House Humane – FIV, TNR, and TLC

Today, I’m doing a special interview with an organization that is very near to my heart. Without the kind people there, I would never have been placed into foster care with my FODs, nor would my brother, sister, or I have found homes. It is with great pleasure that I welcome Tree House Humane, a no-kill, cage-free cat shelter with two locations, and soon to be a third, in Chicago, IL. Tree House makes it a point to help people learn about and implement TNR programs in their local areas, as well as to educate the public on cats with FIV. Please help me welcome Tree House’s Antonia, an FIV kitty herself, who is here to speak with us today.

Tree House Humane

Tree House Humane Uptown Branch

Welcome, Antonia. Thank you for being with us.

Hello, Crepes. How do you do?

I’m well, thank you. How did you come to live at Tree House?

I had been living outside on the west side of Chicago for some time, when some kind staff members came out and rescued me. They gave some of my feral, meaning not socialized, friends some relief from their endless fighting, mating, and parenting by getting them spayed and neutered, and then returned them outside to be cared for by a nice lady who looked out for us. When Tree House scooped me up, I surprised them by giving birth to my litter of five kittens overnight at Tree House’s clinic! My kittens all found homes, but I’m still waiting. In the meantime, I’m enjoying life here, rolling around in the sunbeams on top of a cat tree, as well as chasing sparkle balls all over.

tree house humane antonia

The Very Eloquent Antonia

I find it hard to resist sparkly balls myself.  Tell me about Tree House’s mission.

I can tell you that I’m grateful to have landed here. After I arrived, I was so happy to learn that Tree House focuses on cats like me – strays who don’t have anywhere to call home. I discovered at Tree House that I have Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV, so I was extra happy to find out that Tree House makes sure to assist cats with special physical needs like mine.  This is a great place that, simply put, specializes in stray cats who have special emotional and/or physical needs.

How many special needs cats does Tree House have at any given time? 

I think I usually have about 240 roommates or so. The extent of the special needs varies greatly, but I’d say about half of us could probably qualify.

You mentioned that you are an FIV cat. FIV, which stands for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, is sort of like kitty AIDS in that it hinders the cat’s ability to protect itself from infections.  Correct?

Correct.

I understand that Tree House is a big proponent of placing cats with FIV into permanent homes. Can you give me an understanding of your message on that topic?

I’m glad you asked this question, because I feel like we FIV cats get a bad rap. First of all, I want to tell you that I am a healthy cat and I don’t take medicine for my FIV. I hope to live to 15 or 20 years, just like any other cat. It’s just that I have to be a little careful, because it’s easier for me to get sick because of this weakened immune system of mine. It’s important for me to get a good diet and regular vet care – but, how’s that different from any other cat? Sometimes cats like me have more dental or upper respiratory problems, but it’s really not a death sentence and can truly be managed well.

How do cats get infected with FIV?

Mostly through deep bite wounds from cat-to-cat, so FIV+ cats can live with cats who don’t have it, as long as they don’t get in those kinds of fights that draw blood.

Tree House humane

Kitties grow on Trees! And apparently in baskets.

I’ve heard tell that Tree House offers an excellent post-adoption program for FIV+ cats. 

That’s true! If I (or any of my FIV+ roommates) get adopted, we get a nice health contract through Tree House. This means one free exam per year, discounted medical care, and a waived adoption fee. What a deal!

That, like free food, is a hard deal to turn down. Speaking of free food, tell me about Tree House’s pet food pantry. How does it work?

I love that we have this program here, because I hear sad stories all the time about people giving up their cats because they can’t pay for the food to feed them. The way I understand it is that people who are receiving public assistance come to Tree House and pick up food every other week for their cats and dogs. Also, people come in and pick up food for outdoor cats. The people who work for me here are always talking about spaying and neutering, too, so I know they make sure the animals they are helping to feed are spayed or neutered. It’s always good to look out the window and see someone coming up the stairs with a big bag of cat food, because I know these donations will go to these cats who need it.

Let’s talk a bit about these outdoor cats, some of which are receiving food from the pet food pantry and are part of a TNR project. Tell me about what Tree House does with the TNR, or Trap Neuter Return, program in Chicago.

Tree House does so much for TNR! They educate, they rent traps to the public, they go into the community and help TNR, they support people who are doing TNR, and they have an amazing low-cost spay/neuter clinic that offers an affordable TNR medical care package for feral cats. I have been personally affected by this. The nice lady who cared for me when I was a stray took care of fifty cats outside. None of them had medical care. Tree House has a great TNR staff and volunteers and they came in and helped get all of these cats get the care they needed. The ones who wanted to be inside with people (like me!), were admitted to Tree House and the feral ones who didn’t want to be touched by any human being got fixed up and returned outside to be cared for. Awesome.

Agreed, or else I’d still be wandering around outside myself and my stump does NOT do well in the snow. According to Tree House’s website, the euthanasia rate in Chicago has decreased by 50% in the last ten years. How large of a part did Tree House play in that result? 

I don’t want to brag too much, but I think Tree House has played a big part in moving us towards a no-kill city. TNR is key in this process. Obviously, if fewer cats are born homeless and more feral cats are cared for outside, there will be fewer being euthanized. Also, education is so important, too! Tree House staff members are committed to educating the public on responsible companion animal care, as well as providing resources, such as behavior counseling and low-cost services, to help these animals stay in their homes.

Tree House Humane

Relaxing in the main room

Tree House is obviously very successful at what it does, with two locations operating currently and a third one under construction. What advice can Tree House offer to other organizations that want to help cats but might be doing so on a smaller scale? Do you have any suggestions that could help them grow? 

Get the word out about yourselves. Go to adoption events, have fundraisers. I hear our Facebook page is very popular! I know it was recently used to help raise money to get one of my roommates the surgery she needed. Everyone loves a good video, too – in fact, I will be featured on Tree House’s website soon, so check me out. The focus should be on helping as many cats as you can with the resources you have. Educating and reaching out to those in your community is a great way to go – that’s what Tree House did to help me get here!

Antonia, it has been an absolute joy talking to you about Tree House. Thank you for your time. It was amazing to get to hear all about this fantastic organization and only a few of its many efforts to help kitties in a humane, no-kill way.

My pleasure, Crepes!

Tree house humane

Antonia and her surprise kittens

***

There it is! My interview with Tree House. No doubt, I could have spoken to them for much longer, so perhaps we’ll have them back in the future to discuss other needs topics with us. Until then, please have a look at their website or follow their blog to utilize them as a great resource for helping yourself and those around you become more educated about many of the topics facing special needs cats today.

Recap of the Chicagoland Pet Expo – My Top 10 And Then Some!

I had a FABULOUS time at the Chicagoland Pet Expo on March 16th! There was so much to do that I had to enlist a few “friends” to help me. I made them myself. See if you can guess which ones are really me, and which ones are my stunt doubles.

My focus was to talk to the people there that are doing good work to help cats, dogs, and other animals via no-kill shelters. They often have higher percentages of special needs animals in their programs, and to me, that’s important. I discovered that there are a lot more all-volunteer run shelters out there than I’d previously realized. Some organizations rescue pets right off the street and some  are recusing them from shelters that are going to euthanize them. A few of them don’t have central locations, but are doing all their work through networks of foster families. Based on my hunting, here’s a short list of the highlights that I discovered. To be listed here in my top ten (with a Big Cats bonus at the end), the organization had to be no-kill and had to provide shelter to animals with special needs.

Me, mom FOD, and Ranier from Cat Guardians

Mom FOD, Rainier Park, and Me

First, I met with Cat Guardians, an all-volunteer shelter in Lombard, IL and the people there were so welcoming! I’ve talked to them before and it was great to meet them in person. I even got to meet Rainier, the current Bachelor of the Week. Cat Guardians are A++ in my book! They even gave me a t-shirt.  Check me out:

Me in my swanky new Cat Guardians T Shirt

Me in my swanky new Cat Guardians T Shirt

saveapet

Look at those photo bombers

I also met with Save A Pet, a no-kill shelter operating in Lake County that has been around for over 40 years! They take care of a lot of FIV kitties and cats with other special needs. Not only do they save animals, they help educate the community about treating animals ethically, and they never turn away any animal, no matter what type, health problem, or age. A great place!

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crepestreehouse

This sweatshirt was a little too big for me. Nuts.

Of course, I made a quick stop at Tree House Humane, the place that fostered me to my FODs and saved the life of my brother, sister, and me! Tree House has two locations, doesn’t euthanize animals, and does great work with the Trap Neuter Release programs in the Chicago area to help control the stray cat populations. They’re also very active in getting people to recognize that cats with FIV can still live happy lives in non-FIV cat households.

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Me, a volunteer, and a pair of pups looking for a home together. I don't know where that bright light came from. Ghosts, maybe?

A volunteer, a pair of pups looking for a home together and me. I’m a bit shiny. I forgot my powder.

Almost Home Foundation is also an all-volunteer based, not-for-profit that rescues strays, abandoned animals, and animals about to be euthanized at high-kill shelters. They work hard to find foster homes for pets until they can place them in permanent homes. It’s like a second chance!

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Me, mom FOD, and Sprout, a senior pup looking for love.

Me, mom FOD, and Sprout, a senior pup that lives at the YAH Sanctuary.

Young at Heart Pet Rescue brings a tear to my eye because they’re helping the grandmas and grandpas of the pet world. They specialize in rescuing only senior animals and placing them in forever homes to live out their lives happily. 100% of the animals they rescue are from municipal pounds with high-kill rates. If you’re looking for a senior friend to match your lifestyle, Young at Heart is your place.

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Doggie flower arrangements!

Doggie flower arrangements!

Open Doors Animal Rescue was started in 2009 and is primarily foster-based. They just opened a new Petco Adoption Center in West Dundee, IL. Maybe they’re keeping the love of your life until you finally get to meet?

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Me spinning the wheel to win a prize!

Me spinning the wheel to win a prize!

Strays Halfway House is also an all-volunteer organization that rescues animals from animal control facilities and shelters from the suburbs of Chicago. They are also foster-based and do not have a central shelter. If you want to be a foster, give them a call! Maybe you’ll fail, too, and end up with a blogging cat like my FODs did. “Team for life!!!”

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These kittens don't know a celebrity when they see one.

These kittens don’t know a celebrity when they see one.

Precious Pets Almost Home has been around since 2000 and is run completely by volunteers. They don’t have a shelter facility but have pets available at the PetsMart on Elston in Chicago and others available in foster care.

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Ok, this one doesn’t have cats, but Project Rescue Chicago is doing great things rescuing abandoned dogs, including those with special needs. My best friend is a dog, so I couldn’t leave them out.

This one, though, focuses on primarily cats and kittens. Second Chance Pet Adoption rescues kitties and places them in foster homes until they find their perma-palaces. They even cover all fostering costs while the kitty is in your home.

And this one has big cats. REALLY big cats. Valley of the Kings Sanctuary and Retreat is run by a couple who shares their Wisconsin farm with lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, bears, horses, cows, foxes, and other animals that needed rescuing. Some of them, like Charlie, a panther who had his teeth and claws removed to make him “safe” for humans, is living out his life there in their care. They deserve a big shout out!

Aside from meeting some great new people that save lots and lots of lives, I also had a little fun for myself.

crepesdeclaw

Cats enjoy getting manicures. Let’s not take that joy away from them, shall we?

I talked to P.A.D.S. and commiserated with them on why cats should NOT ever have their claws removed. EVER!

I tried on some bandanas from Joan’s Safety Bandanas. She doesn’t have a website, but you can reach her at bandanadogloverAThotmail.com for special orders.

Pirate bandana, to go with my peg leg.

Pirate bandana, to go with my peg leg.

I petted some mini animals at The Mini Zoo Crew. Check out their website! They support adoption and fostering.

Cozy.

Cozy.

Hello....

Hello….

I met with some birds at the Greater Chicago Cage Bird Club, who try to set healthy breeding standards for pet birds.

Bird. What more can I say?

Bird. What more can I say?

I met a snake at the exotic pet show!

Snake!

Snake!

And, I couldn’t go home without souvenirs for my best friend. She got a new bandana and an elk horn to chew on.

Doodle enjoying her elk horn and new, sparkly bandana. In the FODs' bed, of course.

Doodle enjoying her elk horn and new, sparkly bandana. In the FODs’ bed, of course.

There you have it! My first pet expo! It was great fun, and it was so wonderful to see all these amazing people that are out there working for the good of animals. Please take a moment to find out more about them at their websites and about how you can help support their missions. Remember, you don’t have to live near a shelter to utilize its website as a resource for knowledge, or to arrange a visit if you see an animal that steals your heart.

Cat Guardians – An All-Volunteer Cat Shelter

Cat Guardians, Lombard, IL

Welcome, readers, to my second profile featuring an organization that provides shelter to cats, with a large percentage of their residents being special needs. Today, we have with us Garfield, one of the residents of Cat Guardians, a no-kill, cageless shelter in Lombard, IL, a suburb of Chicago, that specializes in street rescues. It has been open since 1988.

Welcome, Garfield!

Thank you for having me.

Tell me how you became affiliated with Cat Guardians.

Well, Crepes, it’s a difficult story to tell, really.

Take your time.

I was left in the Cat Guardians’ parking lot tied to a tree. The person that did that gave me a litter box, but no food or water.

So you had a place to use the bathroom, but nothing, shall we say, to deposit.

That’s correct. A word of advice for humans out there: a cat would much rather have food and water than a litter box.

I concur, Garfield. I know if I need to go, I can go anywhere, but if there’s no food or water, well, I’d be kind of out of luck. Now, tell me, in your own words, what is the mission of Cat Guardians?

Garfield of Cat Guardians

Garfield, One of Cat Guardians’ Fifty Residents

Cat Guardians rescues abandoned and stray street cats. They provide the medical and socializing care that we need and find us forever homes. Since they’re a no-kill shelter, each one of us is guaranteed a permanent place to live until we’re adopted.

I’ll bet that was a load off your chest when you found that out.

You have no idea.

What is the Cat Guardians facility like?

Charming, really. It’s a small, white house in Lombard, IL. The “basement” is the main shelter area. There are quiet rooms for kitties that need a calmer atmosphere and a special room for the FIV kitties.

FIV meaning Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, like a kitty having AIDS. And how many cats can the facility keep at once?

They’re allowed to keep 50, which is the maximum allowed by Lombard law.

And what percentage of the kitties there have special needs?

Well, because Cat Guardians only does street rescues, the percentage of special needs cats is constantly changing. On average, approximately 25% of us cats and kittens are special needs.

That’s a rather large percentage. Does the staff care for you well?

Actually, we don’t have staff. We are run completely by dedicated volunteers.

No staff! That’s truly amazing. I can only imagine that your volunteers really are extremely dedicated. It takes amazing organization and leadership in order to be able to run such a place entirely by volunteers. So how is Cat Guardians funded?

Completely through donations of our supporters.

Which, as I see it, means that since it’s run entirely by volunteers, all donations go directly to running the shelter. That’s really fantastic. Now, if some kind-hearted reader wanted to help the Cat Guardians but was unable to adopt, what could they do to help you out the most, even if they don’t live in Illinois?

Such an individual could make a donation via our website, or even sponsor a cat! They can also “Shop to Help.” We have partnerships with various vendors that allow a percentage of the profits to directly benefit Cat Guardians.

Half Face and Sidekick, Residents at Cat Guardians

Half Face and Sidekick, Residents at Cat Guardians

I saw some cozy little “Kitty Clams” on there that I’ve got my eye on. Tell me a bit about your sponsorship program.

The sponsorship program benefits the cats that are unlikely to be adopted due to their age or because of medical or behavioral difficulties. Cat Guardians needs funding to provide for these kitties, and you can help by sponsoring any one of them.

Is there a minimum amount necessary to sponsor a cat?

A $20 sponsorship will give you a biography and picture of the cat, a certificate of sponsorship, and a little gift of appreciation.

Twenty dollars? That’s less than one dinner out these days and will support a kitty for a whole month. I’m sure there are some fabulous people out there that can make that happen.

I’d also like to mention there’s no obligation to continue, so you can sponsor for one month, or more. You can even come to the shelter and visit your “sponsoree.”

So it’s like having a cat without the risk to your leather couches. What a great idea.  Garfield, is there anything else you’d like to share with us about Cat Guardians?

Actually. I have a little statement here that Cat Guardians gave me that I’d like to read.

You can read?!

Of course, can’t you?

Well, yes, I suppose I can. It’s just surprising but nice to see so many literate kitties out there these days. Please continue.

:: eh hem::: Cat Guardians says: We are the advocates for the cats and kittens in our care. We are their voice and their protection, and they are our family. We strongly believe in spaying/neutering and support TNR efforts in our area. Our volunteers come to us to help the cats, often finding that the cats help them, either by helping cope with a loss, by providing a sense of accomplishment, or by providing a way to make a difference. Perhaps, most of all, the cats and kittens we rescue remind us of how lucky we are not to have suffered as they have. We have a sense of awe at what these cats and kittens have overcome just to survive.

That’s really touching, so very true. Garfield, are you currently looking for your forever home?

I am, yes. Initially, after my rescue, I didn’t trust people very much. However, after knowing the volunteers at Cat Guardians for a few months, I learned to be affectionate, but I still get a little nervous if there’s too much going on. I don’t get on too well with small children, either. I much prefer adult conversation.

Well, Garfield. You have been a tremendous help. Thank you so much for being here and for sharing your knowledge of Cat Guardians with us.

My pleasure.

***

Garfield

Garfield Looking Cool

There it is! My profile of Cat Guardians. We’ve learned that they are doing some amazing things, particularly since they are run entirely through the kindness of volunteers, something you don’t see terribly often. Since they’re only allowed to have 50 cats at a time, the more kitties that get adopted from them, the more they can find room to help others. So, if you’re considering a kitty and you live in the Chicago suburbs, don’t forget to visit Cat Guardians!

In case you would like to consider volunteering for Cat Guardians, here is a wonderful reference that was sent to me by one of the volunteers: “Cat Guardians is my saving grace.  I came across CG in 2011 after losing my two kitties to lymphoma.  Never in a million years did I think I would own another cat, but I decided to take care of five and ended up adopting two.  I think about all the CG cats as being a part of my family, but really I’m a part of theirs…and am happy to be.”

A special thank you to Amita and Dawn for helping me get together with Garfield.

If you’re interested in learning more about other shelters, see last week’s interview that I did with Tabby’s Place.