CHICAGO — More than $12,000 has been raised to support a cat colony in an upscale Chicago neighborhood after the felines’ homeless caretaker froze to death during a stretch of brutal winter cold.
As of Wednesday, 230 people had donated to an online fundraiser to care for Antonio Garcia’s cats, who live in an alley in the West Town area of Chicago.
The Tribune told Garcia’s story recently and it quickly spread to newspapers, TV stations, and websites around the world. Garcia lived in a makeshift shack outside posh condos, where he’d stayed for at least 10 years and formed an unlikely relationship with neighbors, who brought him food, clothes and furniture.
Garcia, 64, died in January, leaving behind about a dozen cats. A group of people who knew Garcia has been caring for his cats since, hanging a sign in the alley declaring the colony is maintained by “Antonio’s Friends.”
Cynthia Doepke, an experienced animal rescue worker, started the fundraiser to help take care of the cats, and it took off. Doepke said the money raised so far should last years and will go toward food, veterinary care when necessary, and other related expenses, like a motion-sensor camera to watch over the animals and protect them from harm.
Doepke called Garcia “a very sweet, generous, selfless person” who put his animals first.
“It goes to show you it doesn’t matter if you live in an apartment or a shack outside; who you are matters, not what you have,” Doepke said.
The posts from contributors to the fundraiser include a number of tributes to Garcia and echo Doepke’s sentiments.
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“Thank you for stepping in for Antonio,” said one $100 donor. “He undoubtedly is resting peacefully knowing his beloved alley cats continue to be cared for.”
Another donor wrote, “The man’s connection to these homeless cats is so admirable. He was literally (giving) these felines the shirt off his back.”
Liz Houtz, a former animal welfare worker who helped spay and neuter Garcia’s cats, said the outpouring of public support is incredible and speaks to the power of animal lovers.
“The animal welfare community in Chicago is amazing,” Houtz said.
Janet O’Brien, who knew Garcia for about a decade, said the donations prove “there are still kind, caring, big hearted people left in the world.”
“So much violence happening every day, (it’s) wonderful to see that good people still exist!” she told the Tribune.
Little is known about Garcia beyond his decade in the alley. Neighbors said he emigrated from Mexico, was friendly, and liked to sing. He was particularly fond of a white and gray spotted cat named Lorena, those who knew him said.
Leona Sepulveda, a former contestant on “The Bachelor” who met and got to know Garcia after walking past the alley he called home, said she’s glad her friend is being remembered.
“To me, the most important part of the story is there was this man who on the outside looked like he had nothing, but he had a lot more than a lot of people do,” Sepulveda said.