The 1801 Dempster Street storefront where 29 cats are temporarily housed. (Photo by Sam Stroozas)

The Evanston Animal Shelter hopes someone will scoop up Black Walnut, Nutty Coconut and Cotton Candy. And those three “Ice Cream Cats” have plenty of company: Dozens were rescued at the scene of an August house fire.

Volunteer Kristi Bachmann and Feline Director Nancy Maize had to wear hazmat suits, sometimes standing in water up to their ankles, as they took one cat after another from the house over several days, from August 16 to the morning of August 20.

Kristi Bachmann and Nancy Maize rescuing the cats. (Photo provided)

“We were told there were only six cats,” Bachmann said, “but it ended up being over 40.”

Ultimately 42 cats were rescued from the Dewey Avenue house, so many animals that, Bachmann said, had not been named and had never seen daylight – the windows of the house had been covered with cardboard and the belongings of the woman who lived there.

The abundance of unnamed animals became the Baskin-Robbins 31(ish) flavor cats, with a flavor name for each cat, Bachmann explained. Just a few of the Ice Cream Cats have found homes so far.

Currently, 29 cats reside at a rented storefront on Dempster Street where they have been decompressing from the trauma they endured and being prepared to be taken into new, loving homes.

The Ice Cream Cats. (Photo by Sam Stroozas)

“It has done wonders for them to be here together, they have found a lot of solace in each other,” Bachmann said, who along with Maize, takes care of the cats. “They have come a very long way.”

At first the cats were terrified, Bachmann said, because of their past living situation. Police say the house’s former resident, a 73-year-old woman, has been charged with animal endangerment.

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Five cats euthanized without notice to Evanston shelter

In August, when the Evanston Animal Shelter could not accommodate the mass influx of felines, five cats were sent to the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago and two to PAWS Chicago. 

The animals sent to PAWS and the the Anti-Cruelty Society faced starkly different fates.

The two cats sent to PAWS Chicago each had kittens, one of which died during birth. Kimmie, one of the adult cats, has been adopted, while Marlena, the other adult cat, is now available for adoption at PAWS’ Lincoln Park center, ideally into a home with another cat. Two of Marlena’s five kittens have been adopted; the other three are preparing to be moved to adoption facilities soon.

Marlena nursing her five kittens. (Photo provided by PAWS Chicago)

The five cats sent to the Anti-Cruelty Society were euthanized without notice to the Evanston Animal Shelter, Bachmann, Maize or Vicky Pasenko, the shelter’s executive director.

Pasenko said the Anti-Cruelty Society had responded to an August 16 email she sent asking for shelters in the Chicagoland area to take some of the rescued cats; it said it could take five.

These five cats were transferred to the Anti-Cruelty Society on August 18 and they were seen by a veterinarian that afternoon, according to their death records that Pasenko later received. One cat bit a veterinarian, which Bachmann said was common.

Almost two hours after entering the Anti-Cruelty Society, the cats were scheduled for euthanization, and on August 19, all five cats were killed, a little more than 24 hours after they had arrived.

On September 7, Pasenko reached out to the Anti-Cruelty Society for an update because as part of the police investigation of the fire, she had been asked for the medical records of all the cats. She said she received a vague email explaining the cats were difficult to examine, along with five PDFs. Pasenko said she thought the organization was giving the cats time to relax after entering a new environment and she did not look at the attachments right away.

‘I am at a loss for words for what the reason could be’

Pasenko sent a follow-up email later that day saying the Evanston shelter now had space on Dempster Street to take the cats back if they were causing issues. However, she did not receive a response, she said. 

Only that evening, when she opened the PDFs to view the medical records, did Pasenko see the cats had been euthanized.

“I am at a loss for words for what the reason could be that they were euthanized,” Pasenko said. “They were difficult to handle in the beginning because of what they had been through. We also experienced that with the ones we had. I can’t speak for the Anti-Cruelty Society on why they decided to euthanize the cats they received, but I believe they were following their standard protocol.”

Neither Tracy Elliott, the CEO of the Anti-Cruelty Society, nor the organization’s Media and Communications Department responded to requests for an interview with the RoundTable. The group’s website has an FAQ section on euthanasia that reads:

“The Anti-Cruelty Society remains an open-admissions shelter and we accept all animals that we are legally permitted to hold. We are committed to eliminating the euthanasia of pets that are adoptable and we recognize that not all animals are rehabilitative or adoptable due to health status or serious behavior issues. In some cases, euthanasia may be the most humane decision to prevent further animal suffering. The Anti-Cruelty Society strongly supports and only uses the most humane methods of euthanasia available.”

‘We understand the sadness, anger and confusion’

Pasenko said she was never told the reason why the five cats were euthanized. She said she received the same general response that other members of the Evanston Animal Shelter did when they sought explanations.

In a since-deleted Instagram post, Maize shared her frustration and the Anti-Cruelty Society commented:

“We understand the sadness, anger and confusion that this case has caused. We take our commitment to compassionate care very seriously, which is why we have been in communication with the Evanston Animal Shelter team and are conducting an internal review. It is heartbreaking for each and every one of us when a decision like this is made.”

Pasenko said no details of an internal review have been shared with her or her team.

Ice Cream Cats seek home sweet home

Though the Evanston Animal Shelter lacks answers about the five cats that were euthanized, most of the animals saved from the fire are doing well.

Each of the Ice Cream Cats at 1801 Dempster Street is awaiting a future home – they all have their vaccines and have been microchipped. Maize said they will most likely need future dental care and when possible, the shelter would like them to be adopted in pairs because they are bonded. 

“No matter how old these cats are, their lives are just starting,” Bachmann said. “They are truly survivors.”

Sam Stroozas

Sam Stroozas is a reporter and the social media manager at the Evanston RoundTable. She covers small businesses, social justice and human interest stories. Contact her at and...

One reply on “‘Ice Cream Cats’ rescued from house fire await new homes, but 5 euthanized at Chicago shelter”

  1. The Anti-Cruelty is not as its name states. Both their management and volunteer mission has changed over the last 15 years. I day this as a former doner, volunteer and adopter.

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