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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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!
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.