From 1978-1982, my young son and I rented a house from John Layman at 706 West Sixth Street. I had a few cats and my friend Marla moved to Canada and left her cat, Dumpling, with us. Our neighbor Terry Morgan had a cat named Mama Baloney.
Several years after I remarried we began looking for a house in this neighborhood and we were able to buy a house back in the Near West Side in 1992. I got to know lots of neighborhood cats. There was Weird Al who lived with Linda and Mike, but who decided to move in to our house. He lived with us for a few years until my son’s big black Lab came to stay with us and Al decided to move back in with Linda and Mike.
Judy at the corner of Eighth Street and Fairview had 3 cats, a lovely long haired Persian and two short haired black cat brothers. One of the brothers had a neurological problem and he walked sort of sideways. But he seemed pretty happy.
Miss Margaret, who lives a block north, has always had free ranging, glorious, long haired cats. Her cats are 15 years old now.
There was a heart breakingly frightened long haired black cat who would not let us come near him, but he visited our back yard. We had to put food for him at the very back edge of our yard so he could eat and not be afraid. We fed him for a few years before he left and we never saw him again.
Our cat Pearl, who was a very sweet, but not a very smart cat, learned to climb and jump up on the roof of our back deck. She would walk up and over the house roof to the front porch roof. Then she would sort of forget how to get back for a while. Many times neighbors knocked on our door to tell us Pearl was trapped on the porch roof and was meowing piteously. We would thank them and tell them it was OK. In a while, Pearl would remember how she got there and retrace her steps to the back deck porch and climb down.
Fluffy Harman was one of my favorite neighborhood cats. She was mauled to death by the drug dealer’s pit bull when he got loose. That whole horrid situation was finally resolved by neighbors working with the City, and the drug dealer and his dog went away and that old Victorian house was renovated.
Marti, who lives a block north and a couple of blocks west, has had several cats that I’ve known over the years. Great cats. Katua, Percy, Frankie and Mr. Gatto, who recently died.
Dave and BJ, across the alley, had Kit Kat who had a few serious arguments and scuffles with some of my cats over the years.
Thumbs is a sweet, champagne colored cat who lives a couple of doors east of my house and sometimes comes by to ask for bite of cat food. I bring a snack to the front porch for him. My old cat Pumpkin sometimes goes to parties at Thumbs’s house and my neighbor Zack sends me pictures of Pumpkin mingling with the guests at the party.
The point is that neighbors in the Near West Side have always had indoor/outdoor cats. And the neighbors have always known and enjoyed each other’s cats.
Some people who have recently moved into our neighborhood are seriously disrupting the long time NWS cat culture. They have cats that they keep confined in their house. They are trying to make us all confine our cats because that’s what they believe is best. It is cruel to confine a cat who knows and loves the outside world. Cats are only partially domesticated animals and most of us love that about them. Our indoor/outdoor cats will not trade all their wildness for cat food.
The gentrification of our old Near West Side neighborhood has caused physical and cultural dislocation for both people and their cats. We are trying to work out livable solutions for both species.
Veda Stanfield for The Poplar Grove Muse