CHICAGO -- Here in Chicago we hear more about the rat population than street cats, but there's a corner of town where it's the cats that reign.
Over 30 cats have been spotted in a small alley in the West Loop. How they got there and why the neighborhood is fighting to save them is another story.
It's a story that begins with a homeless man by the name of Antonio Garcia. It was almost 10 years ago that Antonio came across a small kitten he named Lorena. Within a few years, Antonio was caring not just for Lorena, but also for dozens of other wild cats that began to call his alley home. Residents came to know Antonio and his brood of cats over the years, which ultimately grew to a colony of over 30 felines.
"Whenever I asked him if he wanted anything - a tent, clothes, anything - he would say, 'no, just food for my cats,'" neighbor Leona Sepulveda remembers.
Living on the street took a toll this January, not only for the hungry feral cats, but for Antonio as well. Late January, Antonio Garcia's frozen body was found in his makeshift tent.
"I cried. It was really hard but then I started thinking, he didn't die alone. He died with his cats and that's where he wanted to be," Sepulveda said.
His death became a rallying call for the neighborhood, who stepped in to care for his colony of cats. Neighbors who called Antonio a friend began feeding and checking in on the cats daily. One by one they were able to get all of them in for vaccinations, health checks and neutering before being returned to the alley they called home. Much of the costs were paid for by donations from neighbors who appreciated not only Antonio, but the rat-free blocks they atrribute to his wild cats.
"The cats do an excellent job of keeping the rats away. In the many, many trips I've had to this location, I've never seen a rat," Liz Houtz said.
Antonio's cats are now legally protected as a feral colony because of his neighbor's care.
"I hope he's smiling down and saying, Thank you. Thank you for taking care of my kittens,'" Sepulveda said.
For more information of the feral cat colony and how you can help, check out the fundraising page for the West Loop Alley Cats.