“He will never be a nameless man who died on our streets,” Chicago resident Cynthia Doepke wrote in honor of her homeless friend, Antonio Garcia. “He will be remembered as a kind neighbor, who adored his cats.”
To those who knew him, 64-year-old Garcia lived a quiet life in a Chicago alley. He was homeless, but he wasn’t abandoned, as neighbors and business owners regularly checked on Garcia and provided him with food, clothing, and furniture for his makeshift shack.
Garcia kept a low profile, was suspicious of any authority or paperwork, and according to the Chicago Tribune, his presence was welcomed by the surrounding business community.
Garcia also maintained a cat colony — his cats kept the rat population under control, which kept everyone happy.
Sadly, after a period of brutally cold weather in January, Garcia was found dead in his makeshift alley shack.
According to the Cook County medical examiner’s office, an ailing heart and liver also contributed to the man’s passing.
Garcia made friends during his 10-year-span of living in the alley, including Leona Sepulveda and her brother Robert Sepulveda.
The siblings have banded together with others who cared about Garcia in a heartwarming effort to continue taking care of Garcia’s cats.
“We’re here to take care of what mattered most to him in life,” Sepulveda explained. “It’s the kitties.”
The cats, fondly dubbed “Antonio’s Friends,” now live in homemade kitty condos provided by the Sepulveda’s.
The majority of the cats are spayed, neutered, and vaccinated thanks to the efforts of Cynthia Doepke, an animal rescue worker who went through great lengths to raise enough money to provide medical care for each cat.
Liz Houtz, an animal welfare worker who helped spay the cats, recalled how Garcia overcame his fear of losing his furry friends and trusted her to take his cats to the vet, with the promise of bringing them back home. He was hesitant, but ultimately put the needs of his cats first.
In the wake of Garcia’s passing, Doepke is again raising money to cover costs of taking care of his cat family.
Meanwhile, “Antonio’s Friends,” run in and out of their homemade shelters, and a posted sign with a phone number lets passersby know that this cat colony under control and maintained.
“My heart is warmed beyond measure because Antonio’s legacy no longer lives through just us anymore,” Dopke wrote in response to the financial generosity shown by many Chicago residents. “His memory now lives with many many people in this great city.”
Leona Sepulveda summed up the kindhearted Garcia with a beautiful sentiment. “People and animals can both be homeless, and still leave a legacy,” she said.
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