West Side Story: Helping a Woman and her Cats in Chicago
The HSUS’s Pets for Life program reaches out to help people and pets in under-served communities in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. In Chicago, we focus our efforts on North Lawndale on the southwest side of the city. In addition to lacking many basic services for people, North Lawndale has very limited animal welfare services.
Just as many communities have "food deserts" and lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables, they also have animal care deserts. The HSUS works to fill that gap and provide basic services to pet owners who don't have regular access to veterinarians, groomers, or pet supplies. Recently, our PFL Chicago team met a woman named Leola and her cats, including a 10-year-old orange-and-white tabby named West Side, who had been an indoor/outdoor cat for his entire life.
Leola with her cat West Side, among many pets
and families helped by our Pets for Life program.
Leola heard about our PFL program and called for help. West Side and Leola’s 9-year-old female cat, Carmen, recently had a litter of kittens—one of many litters they’ve had over the years. Leola reported that all but one kitten had died and that she was worried about the surviving kitten, Ginger.
When we arrived at Leola’s house, it was clear that the cats all had upper respiratory infections and Ginger was seriously underweight. West Side and Carmen had scars from being allowed to roam outdoors.
Leola has also been struggling because she is unable to work due to an injury, so she relies on Social Security disability insurance—but the insurance is irregular and she can’t always afford a phone or transportation to address problems. To further complicate her situation, her building is in foreclosure and she had only a few weeks to find another place to live.
Leola eagerly accepted The HSUS’s offer to spay, neuter, and vaccinate her cats for free, including transportation assistance. Leola says her cats are the dearest things in the world to her. We found out that she had always wanted to keep the cats indoors, especially West Side, but could not because he sprayed constantly and fought to get outside. Leola was so excited to hear that neutering him would help curb this behavior so she could keep him safely indoors.
After initial treatment for their infections, we scheduled spay/neuter appointments for the cats. West Side’s wellness exam showed he had a heart murmur, causing a slightly higher risk for surgery. Leola had the option to cancel the surgery, but after a lot of thought, she chose to do it for West Side’s quality of life. She was afraid that as he got older he would be less likely to survive his rough outdoor life.
One of our great veterinarian partners in Chicago, Heal Veterinary Clinic, performed the surgery. After West Side arrived at the clinic for surgery, Leola called HSUS staff and asked them to put the phone up to the cat’s ear so she could tell him she loved him.
West Side came through the surgery just fine and is back at home. The two female cats were spayed, and all three were micro-chipped and vaccinated. Our PFL team continues to check in on the family, working with Leola to help condition West Side to stay inside and providing her with cat care information. Leola is thrilled and the cats are thriving. With all the obstacles Leola has to overcome, there are no easy answers, but now she can rest a little easier knowing her beloved cats are healthier and safer.
Leona’s love for her cats is something HSUS sees frequently. Most of our clients have a great desire to provide the best care for their pets, but there are practical barriers in place that diminish the quality of life for so many animals. Our PFL program removes these barriers, while saving lives and building humane communities.