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Video: Behind The Stray Cat Colony That Keeps Bridgeport's Rat Problem In Check

By aaroncynic in News on Dec 13, 2016 5:39PM

With winter finally arriving and temperatures beginning to plummet to sub zero levels, the survival rate for stray animals in Chicago drops significantly. One woman in Bridgeport, however, is trying to make life a little easier for a colony of feral cats.

“There’s at least two girls in the neighborhood that call me the cat witch,” says Autumn Ganza (full disclosure—Autumn is a friend of the writer), who found the colony of strays in a mostly abandoned building slated for demolition near an apartment where she used to live in the South Side neighborhood in 2012. “I look ridiculous. I’m heavily tattooed, I’m always wearing black and I’m walking down the alley yelling ‘kitty kitty.’”

Ganza began taking care of the colony, which by her estimate has nearly two-dozen cats at any time, when she started seeing several skulking around the alley about four years ago. While some are feral, others appear to have been abandoned by their owners.

“I think because we lived by the river people dump them there. A lot of them seem like they used to be house pets. They’re mostly friendly but still wary, you can sneak pets in on them and some you can even pick up.”

In addition to feeding them and making small shelters out of tote bins and straw, she also helps to trap and release them along with finding some of them permanent homes. While filming, a friend and Bridgeport resident stopped by to pick up a cat Ganza said had been a member of the colony for more than three years.

“I’ve known that cat for about 3.5 years—when I started feeding him he was completely feral. He didn’t make any noise, was really cautious, but a lot of patience and hanging out in the alley with treats and wet food got him to the point where he could be eventually adopted.”

Chicago has several programs such as the Tree House Humane Society, which Ganza has worked with, to trap and maintain small colonies of feral cats which help deal with the city’s massive rat problem. A small group of three cats is taken from the city's Animal Car & Control unit (many of which would have been euthanized otherwise) and placed into an area with a burgeoning rat population.

“It’s pretty great to have community cats,” says Ganza. “Just not this many. Imagine walking down the alley and seeing 15 cats staring at you. Obviously there’s so many resources. If there wasn’t any human intervention—I think a third of them would’ve died.” Ganza estimates she’s managed to find homes for at least 13 of the cats.

“If you didn’t have the cats then you would definitely have rats...they’re beneficial. They’re working cats,” says Ganza.

People interested in helping Ganza care for the cats can donate to an Amazon wishlist, which helps her keep them fed and warm. You can also follow their adventures on Instagram at @Castleblackpaw.