The history of Tree House, from 1971 to the present
Tree House was founded in 1971 on the dream of a group of volunteers who wanted better things for Chicago’s homeless animals. They formed an informal coalition, associated at the time with a California-based group called Pet Pride. This was later changed to Tree House Animal Foundation. In 1975, Tree House moved into the house at 1212 West Carmen Avenue, its very first location that featured innovative, cageless sheltering for cats. Seventy cats moved in from area foster homes just before opening its doors to the public.
During the 80s, Tree House expanded its community services to include a Pet Food Pantry and Education Outreach Programs. In 1988, Tree House’s programs began to include housing for FIV+ cats. At the time, it had only recently been identified as a virus by researchers and most cats who were found to have it were euthanized. Tree House served as a safe haven for these animals, placing them into homes, as it does today for FeLV+ cats.
In 1989, Tree House was quickly outgrowing its space and built an east “wing” for administrative offices and exam rooms, plus an expanded basement, and additional cat housing on the second floor. This served well until 1998 when the Munder Family Foundation helped fund Tree House’s new in-house Clinic and Surgery Room in order to perform necessary spay and neuter surgeries for Tree House residents and the public. In 2001, due to the generous help of the public, Tree House was able to expand the attic to create more housing for cats.
In 2005, Tree House formed the “Our Feral Friends Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR)” program, now known as the Community Cats Program. This paved the way for the passing of the Cook County Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance in 2007, which changed the landscape for free-roaming cats in Chicago’s community, making them a more accepted and welcome part of the urban and suburban landscape. This, of course, swelled Tree House’s population of adoptable cats and lead to a second location, known as the Bucktown Branch on Ashland Ave. In 2009, the BDVM Mac Lean Spay/Neuter Clinic opened on the first floor of Bucktown and allowed Tree House to quadruple the number of free and low-cost surgeries available to both cats and dogs.
In 2011, Tree House identified an issue with finding new “territories” for feral cats who could not return to their original environments for a variety of reasons. Tree House created the Cats at Work program, placing these previously unwanted cats into Chicago-area homes and businesses with the intent of environmental rat abatement.
By 2014, it was becoming clear that the 1212 Carmen location had served its purpose, and Tree House began fundraising for a new building. Thanks to the generosity of Cathy Crown and our community of supporters, Tree House was able to build a cutting edge animal shelter with numerous cat colonies that include natural daylight and outdoor catios, a veterinary clinic, a cat café that houses FeLV+ kitties, and lots of environmentally-friendly aspects that make the shelter as green as it is furry. The cats moved in in 2017 and that is where the organization is today at 7225 N. Western Avenue.
Through all of this, Tree House has remained a magical place that inspires awe in cat lovers around the world. It is obvious that Tree House was built with the love, hard work, and dedication of caring people, and is part of what makes Tree House so special. After more than 28,000 cats and almost fifty years, Tree House is ready to take on new challenges and save many, many more lives.
We hope that you will join us in our mission to make sure that every cat thrives.