This is the story of Antonio Garcia, a 65-year-old resident of Chicago. He was an unconventional resident in that he lived for a decade in an alley in a gentrified area of Chicago. His home was a shelter made of bric-a-brac and an old mattress but he was happy, he had companions and they loved each other: dozens of feral cats which he considered to be his family.
He died of hypothermia in January. It was during a particularly cold spell. Antonio always declined help for better accommodation. For example, Sepulveda Less had befriended him some time ago. He had approached her, offered his hand in a greeting and said “Hi, I’m Antonio”. They shook hands and started a friendship. She had offered him a tent and a sleeping bag but he always declined. In response he would say please just feed the cats.
He would also say that if the bellies of his cats were full so was his heart. In January, four friends of his who had met him over the years and who were sympathetic to his plight and to the plight of his cat family noticed that the alleyway where he slept had become messy and unkempt. They learned that he had died.
This group of women banded together and decided that they would honour Antonio’s memory by looking after his cat family. They organised themselves and made a schedule. One of his former friends would stop by at the alleyway between 8 AM and 6 PM to feed the cats during the week while Ms Less would do it at weekends. Others would help get the food in and offer support in other ways.
They started a fundraising page. Their story was picked up by the Chicago Tribune. They managed to raise US$4000: enough to buy food and shelter materials for many months for this feral cat colony.
Ms Less said:
“He died with the things he loved most, his cats. We should all be so lucky to be around the people and animals we love”.
Antonia’s cats are now all sterilized and designated a feral cat colony by the local authority which protects them. The colony compromises 30 cats and one of the ladies who now looks after them, Miss Doepke, was surprised to learn of the number of cats that had Antonio cared for.
It seems to me that Antonio declined help, perhaps sometimes assistance to rehome himself, because it would separate him from his cats. Or perhaps he felt that if his cats lived difficult lives he had to do so in sympathy. Although it seems extraordinary that he died due to his sparse and frugal living arrangements during a bitter winter spell. Some of the best people are unheralded troopers doing good deeds without reward for years. These are the people I admire the most.
Sources: Independent via Washington Post via Chicago Tribune.