Andrea (Andi) Kammerman’s license plate says it all: LUV CATS. Andi has been a dedicated Tree House foster volunteer and feral cat colony caretaker for years. She has helped many people trap, neuter, and return (TNR) cats to their colonies and has nursed countless kittens back to health, on their way to finding their forever homes through Tree House’s Foster to Floor program. On May 19th, while feeding her feral colony, a gas leak ignited blowing up a building right next to her. This is her story.
I had parked my car across from an apartment building in the complex where I have my feral colony. As soon as I got out of the car one of my ferals came up to me. When I bent down to pet him there was a loud booming sound behind me and glass was flying over my head as I noticed the windows of my car were breaking.
I turned around and when the dust cloud cleared I saw that the back wall of the apartment building was gone. I could see into the apartments. There were people trying to figure out how to get out because the staircase was gone. I ran to the front of the building where I know an older man lives with two cats that I had helped him adopt. I was yelling for him when the police came and started breaking down the doors of the apartment building to get people out since there was a strong smell of natural gas and they were worried there would be another explosion. A young woman came out holding onto a cat. She was crying because her two other cats were still inside, but the police wouldn’t let her get them. I ran to my car and got a carrier for her to put her cat in and tried to reassure her that her cats would be ok and she could get them later. The man I was concerned about came out, and he too was upset because the police pulled him out of his apartment so he couldn’t get his cats.
One of the fire officials told us that the buildings were unsafe but, as soon as it was possible, he would go in the apartments and look for the cats. We waited hours while the firefighters built wooden structures to put up against the sides of the buildings to give enough support so that the firefighters could go inside and check for victims and look for the cats. One of the fire chiefs came out with a big cat but it didn’t belong to any of the people who were missing their cats. He asked me to take the cat so he could go back and look for the others. I told a police officer that I had extras carriers in my car (I had planned to bring them to Tree House for their rummage sale later that day). I was escorted to my car and we carefully got the carriers (covered in glass) out. By the time we cleaned them, the chief had found the man’s two cats. I took the cats to a shaded area and got the food truck (provided to feed the 1st responders that had come from 22 surrounding suburbs) to give me water, and I had some food from my car. I was able to open each carrier and talk calmly to each cat while I petted them.
The man was able to take his two cats but I still didn’t know what to do about the third one. I had been there over 7 hours because there was no way to get out of that part of the complex because fire trucks were blocking all the roads. I walked over to where the Red Cross was trying to find an emergency shelter for all the people who could not go back into the three apartment buildings (they were found to be too dangerous and boarded up. The families lost everything). The family that lived in the apartment that exploded was there. Their young daughter was crying and everyone was trying their best to comfort her. I overheard her father say she was crying because she wanted her cat. I asked what the cat looked like and it matched the cat I had. I went back and got the cat for her. When the little girl saw her cat everyone, including the police and fire personnel were either crying or trying to hide their tears. I was also able to give the family the extra food and bowls I carry for the ferals so that was one less thing they had to think about.
My ferals have been forever changed after this. For five years they have been getting midnight snacks from one of the people who lived there. He fed them under one of his cars that he never moved. On rainy/snowy days I would also feed them there. The car was moved away from that area along with all the others cars. It took two weeks before the cats would come out of the wooded area that surrounds the complex to their new feeding station. I know they miss their midnight feeder, who some of the cats allowed him to brush them. I have spoken to this man, and he is very depressed about not seeing his cat friends every night. He is hoping to get another apartment in the complex so he can be with them again.
We are so glad that Andi was not injured in the explosion, nor was anyone else, and also that she was there to assist with making sure the cats were safe. Andi is back feeding her colony and trying to help the folks who live there as best she can.
If you would like to support this feral cat colony as well as other low-income caretakers in need, please consider making a cat food donation to Tree House’s pet food pantry: Tree House Humane Society, 1212 W. Carmen Ave., Chicago, IL 60640. If you would like to become a foster volunteer, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about how you can help feral cats through Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), please contact email@example.com and take the “Helping Community Cats” workshop.
Posted by Liz H.