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Julie Adams, co-founder of Chicago Cat Rescue, shows off her temporary cheek tattoo at the 2013 Cat Vid Fest.


Furry fun with heart: Chicago’s ‘Cat Vid Fest’ helps pets in need

by Caroline Thompson
Oct 22, 2013


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Caroline Thompson/MEDILL

Jenny Schlueter of Tree House Humane Society finds great fulfillment in her organization's mission to help sick and injured kitties find homes.

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Caroline Thompson/MEDILL

Cat posters adorn the walls as festival goers explore Chicago's first-ever Cat Vid Fest. 

Julie Adams sometimes finds it hard to answer the tough questions.

“I like to tell people I have eight cats,” said the bubbly blonde co-founder of Chicago Cat Rescue, a non-profit dedicated to helping homeless city cats find loving families, “but I might have a few more.”

Adams, whose left cheek proudly displayed a temporary tattoo reading “I (heart) cats,” was one of the primary organizers of the Internet Cat Video Festival at the Irish American Heritage Center in Albany Park.

The festival’s main event was a 75-minute compilation of the Internet’s most highly lauded cat videos, a film created last year by artist and Minneapolis Walker Art Center curator Scott Stulen.

Stulen wasn’t expecting much of a turnout when he conceived of the idea.

“It was a surprise,” said Stulen, recalling the speed at which news of the 2012 Cat Vid Fest went viral. “To be completely honest, this was supposed to be a one-off thing. We thought we would maybe have a dozen people, a case of beer and a laptop and that’d be that. When 10,000 people actually came to the event, the story changed.”

And it’s a story that continues to evolve.

In addition to providing a theater stuffed full of cat lovers with over an hour of hilarious and adorable video to squeal about, 30 percent of the proceeds from this year’s Chicago event went to support Chicago Cat Rescue and Tree House Humane Society, a cage-less, no-kill humane organization specializing in the rescue of sick and injured stray cats.

“We are the largest no-kill cat shelter regionally, and possibly even in the world,” said Jenny Schlueter, the development director for Tree House. Standing in front of a practically Godzilla-sized cardboard cutout of a gray tabby, the petite cat enthusiast explained how Tree House differs from other cat shelters.

“A lot of people find it funny that our cats aren’t in cages; they live in rooms that we call colony rooms. We’ve really been able to lead a movement in cat sheltering: making them more comfortable and therefore getting them adopted more quickly.”

And both Tree House and Chicago Cat Rescue are especially focused on finding families for cats with special needs, an issue that hits home—literally—for people like Adams who care for cats many would deem “unadoptable.”

“Probably a third of my cats were not adopted because they have special needs, so they just ended up staying with me.”

Other champions of this cause include Chicago-based filmmaker Alana Grelyak and her special needs cats Crepes and Rocky. Grelyak is the writer and star of the short film “Catalogue,” which, in addition to being Runner-Up in the 2013 Catdance video festival, was also featured in the Cat Vid Fest film.

Along with her husband, “Catalogue” director Michael Gabriele, Grelyak runs a blog, called catinthefridge.com, promoting the adoption of pets who require a bit of extra care.

The blog is “written” by Crepes, adopted from Tree House. Crepes is considered special needs due to a missing a foot and feline herpes, but this doesn’t stop the crafty creature from writing everything from haiku about seasonal holidays to “bachelor/bachelorette of the week” posts, which highlight other partially debilitated cats looking for happy homes.

And with winter fast approaching, the plight of sick and injured stray cats in need of shelter deepens.

“As we move into winter, there are going to be a lot of animals on the street,” said Adams, explaining how the money raised during the festival will to be used by Chicago Cat Rescue to help stray cats. “Most of our costs are for food and vet bills, so having the funds from this benefit empowers us to continue our work … and rescue cats from the cold.”

As for how the money will help Tree House, Schlueter divulged the organization’s plans for a new cat sanctuary, which will be located in Rogers Park. Due partly to Tree House’s efforts, Schlueter said the euthanasia rates for cats have been cut in half in the last decade, and the new building will help them continue to fight to provide good lives for cats in Chicago.

“We want to spread the word to people that we’re really serious about addressing the stray cat population problem. This new building will allow us to do even better.”

The Cat Vid Fest heads to Brooklyn on Friday, where Stulen will continue to raise awareness and money for cat-related causes, this time joined by some of the famous felines featured in his film.