I visited Harmony House on a rainy Friday afternoon and was pleasantly surprised by the space they have created that is welcoming and comforting to cats and humans alike. Harmony House is unique because most of the 80 to 100 cats at the shelter on any given day are kept in rooms where they can roam around, that are clean, filled with toys and structures, and have big windows that provide lots of natural light and a window to the outside world.
Mary Veeneman, a board member of Harmony House, and Jennifer Zameic, the Harmony House Shelter Manager, show me around the shelter. They walk me through the rooms, and introduce me to plenty of cats, who come in all different shapes, sizes, ages, colors, health conditions, and personalities. It seems like what they have in common is a safe space to stay for as long as they need.
Harmony House prides itself on not euthanizing cats for space or money, so cats are allowed the time they need to heal, develop, and come out of their shells. Mary explains that some cats get adopted as soon after being in the shelter for a few weeks, while others take a few years to find their forever home.
Mary and Jennifer introduce the cats to me and introduce me to the cats’ individual stories and personalities. This seems like a concept Harmony House holds dear.
For example, Olympia is 17 and has been with Harmony House since she was six months old. She was completely unable to be handled for several years. But when Harmony House moved to their new location in 2012, Olympia decided that she likes people and now she enjoys being picked up and pet.
Harmony House is a cat shelter that has become a cornerstone of its neighborhood, and it’s easy to see why. It’s welcoming, it’s eco-friendly, it rescues and adopts out cats, and it is part of the wider trend happening in Chicago where people are taking steps to protect stray and vulnerable domestic animals.
Fewer and fewer of the stray and unwanted animals brought to Chicago Animal Care and Control are being euthanized, and more are leaving alive and finding forever homes. Much of this is due to community involvement and the presence of shelters like Harmony House. See the long term statistics published by Chicago Animal Care and Control here.
Mary takes pride in the unique role Harmony House has in the city. “Part of what we do and part of how we see ourselves as being a little bit different from other shelters is that we’re lower volume, so we intentionally take in fewer cats than other shelters,” she says.
Mary explains that by doing this, Harmony House is able to take in cats with special needs, such as cats with behavioral issues, health problems, or cats that just may need more time to find a forever home. These cats may need to spend more time at a shelter before they are ready to be adopted out.
Freddy and Cheez It are a perfect example of cats that needed a little more time at the shelter. Freddy and Cheez It arrived at Harmony House separately but quickly became attached to each other. When Cheez It arrived, he was very shy, hissed, and didn’t like to be handled by people. Freddy was extremely boisterous and needed time to work on his cat manners. Freddy has helped Cheez It come out of his shell and Cheez It has helped Freddy become calmer.
Harmony House focuses on rescuing cats from the Chicago area. “We feel very strongly about taking cats from the area,” Mary says. Harmony House has a stray license from the city of Chicago and usually adopts out between 120 to 140 cats and kittens each year.
As we finish the tour I think of any questions I could have missed about Harmony House. I think about the very important but often hidden role animal shelters play in our community. They constantly process and care for the animals that get overlooked or forgotten about by the rest of us. Getting a glimpse of how they function and the love and care needed to keep them thriving helped me to appreciated even more the role they play in our community.
I asked Mary and Jennifer what they liked most about their job. “The cats” they both answer without hesitation.
CALL TO ACTION
Harmony House is located on 2914 North Elston Avenue. They welcome volunteers, adults and children alike, and have adoption hours four days a week. Harmony House also holds regular fundraisers, including a Kitty Summer Social on June 11th from 1-4pm which features arts, crafts, drinks, and a raffle. Check out their website here. You are welcome to get involved!