It’s no secret that people who are homeless don’t have too much, but today we’re going to talk about a man who cared for 20 stray cats up until the moment he died. That part of the story is absolutely incredible, but what the community did to help out the orphaned cats after he passed away is something you would never expect to see happen.
For a good portion of his life, Antonio Garcia lived in an alley in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago. But he didn’t live alone. Antonio had the pleasure of living with approximately 40 stray cats. They all called the alley their home, and Garcia spent many years taking care of this colony of cats. He even looked at them as his own. But what did the neighbors think? Was it a nuisance to them?
Garcia may not have had a home to live in, but he frequently told neighbors that as long as his cats had food, he was happy. The cats loved him right back, too. They often spent time curled up in his lap, or hanging out in his shack made of wood scraps. During the day, they would all soak up the sun together. But what did the community think of this man and his 40 cats?
While Cynthia Doepke was walking home from work one day, she noticed a couple of stray cats in the alley. She attempted to get close to them, but they were too skittish. For the next few weeks, Cynthia brought the stray cats food to eat. Soon enough, she realized the cats belonged to Garcia, and a friendship began to blossom. But what did the community think about it?
Doepke knew she needed to do something about the number of cats in the alleyway. She got in contact with a local animal rescue and set up a trap, neuter, and release program for the cats. They raised enough money to neuter or spay all but a few of the cats, and eventually, the population was controlled. The cats were even able to get microchipped, treated for injuries or illnesses, and vaccinated. Sadly, things changed drastically for the cats.
Now that the most of the cats were spayed or neutered, it was time to figure out how to make sure all of the cats had food. Garcia didn’t like to see any of his cats go hungry, so he would end up sharing his own food so that the cats. Doepke reached out to find some help again, but tragedy was about to strike and change lives forever.
It was the middle of winter and the alley had become extremely quiet. A business owner in the area became concerned and asked the police to do a wellness check on Garcia. The police soon found out that Garcia had frozen to death in his wooden shack, surrounded by his beloved cats. “The news was devastating — the thought of him freezing just tore me up,” Leona Sepulveda-Less, a neighbor who often visited Antonio, told PEOPLE. “Even in the brutal cold, Antonio chose to stay outside. He would never leave his cats. He left this world surrounded by the friends he loved.” What was going to happen to the cat colony now that their caretaker had passed away? The community would soon do something extremely surprising.
As soon as Doepke had heard the news of Garcia’s passing she banded together with three other women to honor his memory. They went to his alley and create a shrine of flowers and crosses, but they wanted to something more. Garcia gave his all to those cats and they wanted to make sure that the care continued on. But how were they going to do this?
The four women took things into their own hands and started a fundraiser for the West Loop Feral Cat Colony. Animal lovers from all over the country couldn’t believe the compassion that Garcia had for those cats. As of now, the fundraiser has received almost $13,000 in donations. The cats even got some nice upgrades in their alley.
One of the best upgrades was the privacy fence that was installed to keep people out of the alley. A covered feeding station was also put in to keep the food safe. Volunteers purchased heated water bowls to stop the water from freezing. They also installed a surveillance camera in the alley so they could keep an eye on all of the cats when they couldn’t be there.
Garcia was a homeless man who enjoyed his quiet life in the alley with the company of 40 cats. Everyone who ever encountered him was changed forever by his generosity and kindness. The cats have been officially registered as a feral cat colony, which provides them with certain protections under the law. Even though Garcia isn’t around, his cats will be taken care of.