PILSEN — When Valerie Shouldis moved to Pilsen a year ago, she noticed a large number of stay cats roaming the streets around 21st and Ashland. And not long after her move, Shouldis began to make friends with the feral cats — snapping photos and posting them on her Instagram account dedicated to the cats of Pilsen.
Now, Shouldis has segued her Instagram account into a calendar called Cats of Pilsen to raise awareness and money for the work done by Chicago Animal Advocates, Castle Black Paw and La Grange-based CatNap from the Heart to help cats in need. The money raised is going toward the organizations trap-neuter-return programs and rescue efforts, she said.
After only a week-and-a-half, Shouldis sold out of her first batch of 100 calendars and has raised nearly $1,000 to be split between the three organizations to help cover medical costs that come from rescuing stray cats on the South Side.
“I figured [the calendars] would be a good way to pay back my two friends who have helped me with some of these cats,” Shouldis said.
Shouldis received help from her husband, Bill, who created the layout, logo, and get the calendars printed. She looks to print another batch of 50 to 100 calendars and sell them for $18 a piece to raise additional funds for the organizations.
After finding a kitten rolling around in the snow in the neighborhood in February, Shouldis connected with Chicago Animal Advocates to help get the kitten adopted.
Since then, Shouldis, who works full-time as an inventory analyst for Ulta Beauty, has dedicated some of her free time working alongside animal rescue advocates like Chicago Animal Advocates founder Angelica Staniszewska and Autumn Ganza to raise awareness about community cats and adoption programs.
The Pilsen resident said Staniszewska and Ganza have helped her learn about programs like trap-neuter-return, which rescues feral cats by trapping, vaccinating, spay or neutering them, ear-tipping — to notify animal control that the feline has been vetted— and returning them to their colony.
Ganza, who has been doing this on a volunteer basis for five years, said while they do a fair amount of work in Bridgeport and Pilsen, but are primarily focused their efforts on South Side in neighborhoods like Kenwood, Greater Grand Crossing and South Shore.
This year alone, Ganza and Staniszweska have helped capture about 130 cats in South Shore in an effort to keep cats healthy and “stabilize the cat population” and prevent feline deaths from distemper in the neighborhood.
Ganza said the money raised from the calendars will be set aside to help with the trap-neuter-return activities and other cat rescue efforts.
Shouldis lauded Staniszewska and Ganza for the work they do across the South Side, and for also helping Shouldis capture at least 10 cats off the streets in a few block radius around her home.
“This is a small project for me because I have a full-time, nine to five job, so I rely heavily on my two friends from Chicago Animal Advocates who help with a lot of the resources,” Shouldis said.
“They get the traps, set everything up,” Shouldis emphasized. “They do a lot of the transport and take the cats to PAWS, and get the cats vetted and released,” she added.
“They are a huge part of everything,” Shouldis said. “I’m just someone with a camera who made a calendar to raise money.”
People interested in a calendar can place a pre-order here.
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.