Vickroy: Mount Greenwood ‘Catman’ a lifesaver
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy December 16, 2013 10:46PM
Updated: January 18, 2014 6:29AM
Dan Chaplick is in mourning. Purple bunting hangs from the porch of Feline Manor, the name he has given the house in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community that has been a foster home to unwanted, abused and neglected cats for the past 35 years.
“I just lost my favorite cat,” Chaplick said, fighting back tears. “She was only 11 months old.”
Manda suffered from genetic issues, fell ill and couldn’t recover, he said. Despite three days in intensive care, her lungs kept filling with fluid. Antibiotics had no effect.
“We had to put her down the day after Thanksgiving,” he said. “I miss her, my Manda.”
Even with about 29 other cats, including Manda’s mother, roaming his house, the void left by Manda’s departure is enormous and indicative of the size of Chaplick’s heart.
“Dan cares about all living creatures but especially cats,” said Linda Estrada, president and executive director of the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge, where Chaplick is a longtime volunteer. “He has adopted and fostered the cats that no one else wants. It’s wonderful.”
Many who foster animals are eased into the work. They find a lost kitten or an injured dog steals their heart, and before they know it they are on speed dial with local animal shelters who need to place animals in temporary homes until they’re ready to be adopted.
But 35 years ago, Chaplick made a conscious choice to save cats, particularly those that had been beaten or tossed aside by humans.
“I knew when I signed on for this that there would be no vacations, no fancy cars in my future,” he said. “This is my life. I’ve dedicated my life to the animals.”
Chaplick, 67, who owns 17 cats and has about a dozen foster felines, said there’s no limit on the number of cats a person can have in Chicago as long as they are up to date with shots, not a nuisance and kept in a clean environment.
“I have eight litter boxes. Each gets scooped at least three times a day,” he said. “And three times a day, I vacuum. People always ask why you can’t smell a cat in here.”
His state-licensed foster home reflects not only the feline kingdom but the range of man’s ability to inflict cruelty.
There’s Lulu, who was beaten with a bat so severely she could barely turn her head when “The Catman” took her in. He provides bone manipulation therapy.
There’s Winky, who was found missing an eye. As for Gracie, well, her front right leg was twisted by a human and her back leg shredded by a dog, Chaplick said.
“I think somebody held her over a vicious dog and let it attack her,” he said.
He tries to compensate by providing a loving home, replete with cat beds and toys and trees in front of every window, some of which overlook the many birdhouses he has situated across his corner lot.
The story’s the same upstairs, where he sleeps diagonally so a couple of the cats can access a set of steps up to a loft area at the foot of his bed.
“One time when I was watching TV in the kitchen ,a good movie came on and I decided to watch it on the big TV in the living room,” he said. “But when I came into the living room, every seat was taken. So I went back in the kitchen.”
Chaplick first worked as a furniture restorer, then a garbage collector. He retired 11 years ago from Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation.
“I’m on a fixed income,” he said. “I keep refinancing my house to pay for this. It’s rough, but I am honored to do it.”
He’s also made preparations for when he’s gone. He owns five plots in Mount Greenwood Cemetery. Two monuments — a stone cross and a bench — sit atop the gravesite. The back of the cross bears the names of the cats that have preceded him in death, as well that of his first pet, a dog named Lady. Chaplick will be buried there.
He credits his mother for instilling his love for animals.
“She raised six kids on her own,” he said. “No welfare, no help. She worked in an office.”
His mom died of cancer at 50, when Chaplick was just 19. Never married, Chaplick said he has no children, no aunts or uncles.
“Cats are my family,” he said.
He found his first cat, Tom Tom, while he was finishing his route one day. The tiny kitten was laying in the bottom of a garbage can. Chaplick plucked him out and stopped on his way home to pick up food, litter and other supplies.
After that, well, he was hooked. And the cats seemed to know it.
“Tom Tom grew to be so tall he could touch my shoulders when standing on his hind legs,” he said.
Chaplick can relay something about every cat he’s cared for. Martin was found with his head stuck in a chain-link fence near Estrada’s house. She called Chaplick. Frank, whose throat was slashed from ear to ear, is featured on the Animal Welfare League’s 2014 calendar.
But there was something really special about Manda, whose likeness is tattooed on the back of his neck.
“She was the smartest cat ever,” he said. “She taught herself how to fetch. I threw that ball 100 times, and she kept bringing it back. Nobody can replace her.”
Estrada said Chaplick promotes the truth about cats, that they are loving and have distinct personalities, just like dogs.
“People can be so cruel to cats,” she said. “They dump them on the street, in the forest preserves. They think they can take care of themselves, but they can’t.”
Once an animal has lived in a home, it’s difficult for it to muster the skills necessary to survive in the wild, Estrada said.
“It’s sad how people can abuse animals,” Chaplick said. “And it’s cat owners who give cats a bad name. They don’t get them fixed, and they don’t take care of the litter box. They dump them when they get tired of them.”
So he does his part to strike a balance.
“This is my calling. I love them,” he said. “I just hope I am doing some good.”