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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Concord man devotes time, energy to taking care of feral felines

  • Pigeons flock to Randy Cilley as he returns to his car after leaving food  for the feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord; Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Cilley says he has been feeding the cats for at least a dozen years.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Pigeons flock to Randy Cilley as he returns to his car after leaving food for the feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord; Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Cilley says he has been feeding the cats for at least a dozen years.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Randy Cilley watches as a cat peeks out from a Dept. of Transportation warehouse before running away; Monday, February 11, 2013. Cilley feeds and takes care of the dozens of feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord. Cilley says that 26 cats have been adopted this year.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Randy Cilley watches as a cat peeks out from a Dept. of Transportation warehouse before running away; Monday, February 11, 2013. Cilley feeds and takes care of the dozens of feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord. Cilley says that 26 cats have been adopted this year.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Can openers hang inside Randy Cilley's car. Cilley feeds and takes care of the dozens of feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord. Cilley says that 26 cats have been adopted this year.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Can openers hang inside Randy Cilley's car. Cilley feeds and takes care of the dozens of feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord. Cilley says that 26 cats have been adopted this year.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • A cat looks out from a shelter Cilley placed near the railroad tracks between North Main Street and Stickney Avenue; Thursday, Febraury 14, 2013.<br/>Randy Cilley feeds and takes care of the dozens of feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord. Cilley says that 26 cats have been adopted this year.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    A cat looks out from a shelter Cilley placed near the railroad tracks between North Main Street and Stickney Avenue; Thursday, Febraury 14, 2013.
    Randy Cilley feeds and takes care of the dozens of feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord. Cilley says that 26 cats have been adopted this year.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Pigeons flock to Randy Cilley as he returns to his car after leaving food  for the feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord; Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Cilley says he has been feeding the cats for at least a dozen years.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Randy Cilley watches as a cat peeks out from a Dept. of Transportation warehouse before running away; Monday, February 11, 2013. Cilley feeds and takes care of the dozens of feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord. Cilley says that 26 cats have been adopted this year.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Can openers hang inside Randy Cilley's car. Cilley feeds and takes care of the dozens of feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord. Cilley says that 26 cats have been adopted this year.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • A cat looks out from a shelter Cilley placed near the railroad tracks between North Main Street and Stickney Avenue; Thursday, Febraury 14, 2013.<br/>Randy Cilley feeds and takes care of the dozens of feral cats that live between Storrs Street and Stickney Avenue in downtown Concord. Cilley says that 26 cats have been adopted this year.<br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

Meet Catman, the newest superhero who’s trying to make the world a better place.

His real identity is Randy Cilley, a 66-year-old lifelong Concord resident. He provides food and shelter to the hidden world of feral cats and kittens, near the railroad tracks along Storrs Street.

There, down a snowy embankment, past empty vodka and water bottles, down narrow, muddy pathways shoveled by Cilley himself, blocked from the street by thick, dead brush, are his makeshift condo complexes, built for the furry residents who live in the area.

Like the homeless people back there living in tents, the cats have become part of the landscape, part of the city’s life that we never see. Some of the cats are too old to tame, others young enough to be domesticated, still others released for one reason or another by their owners, simple house cats forced to adjust, from warmth to wild.

Cilley has noticed. Sometimes he traps the cats and tries to find them new homes through Animal Allies in

Manchester, an adoption center that tries to keep the stray population under control and provide love and hope where needed.

Cilley responds the way you’d expect when asked why he spends several hours each day caring for these cats.

He laughs and says, “I don’t know. A love for animals, I guess.”

Then he laughs again.

Cilley laughs a lot, even when talking about the harsh conditions the cats face, as though he’s protecting himself from the hurt he feels for them.

He’s a stocky man with smiling eyes and big hands, worn from years owning a local auto body shop, where he often repaired cruisers for state troopers. Now he works for a road-paving company, which gives him time to help cats during the winter.

He says his wife, Mary, isn’t thrilled with the time and money he invests to keep the cats happy. “She doesn’t really like it,” Cilley said.

He’s been caring for cats around the Stickney Avenue garage complex for the past few years. Carla Cochran of Concord has worked with Cilley, transporting cats to Animal Allies and caring for them herself until homes can be found.

She knows the history of this whiskered subculture, tracing it back decades to the days workers at the old Agway building left bags of food out for the cats living below the warehouse.

When Agway closed a few years back to make room for other businesses, the cats’ food supply dried up, and when the building burned down and then got torn down last year, a huge feline exodus occurred in the general area.

Cochran and Cilley had been feeding the cats independently from one another for a while before meeting and joining forces, about a year ago.

“Once you see the suffering, once your eyes are opened to it, these cats are everywhere,” Cochran said. “Until that time, you don’t see them; they’re invisible.”

“He’s just an amazing, caring man,” she continued. “I’ve never run into anyone like him. He’s dedicated to providing for these animals, and I get it, because it’s part of my nature as well.”

The paths shoveled by Cilley, after last weekend’s blizzard, show backbreaking effort. There are different spots where cats live, shelters he’s pieced together from plastic containers and milk crates and tarpaulins and wood panels and hay.

Sometimes Cilley puts hand warmers under the hay. He’s added cat toys, catnip and knotted rope, dangling them with string from branches, the green Holiday Inn sign visible in the background, the sound of moving traffic easily heard.

There are food dishes with dry and wet food, and there’s even some interior decorating around the entrances, like a big fake butterfly and fake roses, wrapped in plastic.

Near the fence, in front of the graffiti-covered Department of Transportation buildings, is a kitten wrapped in a blanket and buried in a Tupperware container. The stone marker is hidden beneath 3 feet of snow.

Cilley seeks comfort from his laugh, his defense mechanism, when asked about the kitten. “She died at birth. A litter of seven kittens. Carla had it at her house and she wanted to know if I’d take it, so I took it here and buried it.”

There are other shelters, and what Cilley calls food stations, behind the Concord Center, where culverts and catch basins are stuffed with hay, and food and water trays sit near their entrances. Long paths have been shoveled by Cilley there, too.

On this day, windy and clear, there are no cats around. But Cilley tells you about Checkers, who’s waiting to be adopted at Animal Allies, where Cilley goes once a week to visit.

And he tells you about No-Tail, the father of Checkers’s kittens, living outside because he was deemed too wild after a check-up at Allies. He also tells you about Shadow and Spirit, who haven’t been seen lately.

“Shadow would rub against me, and I could pat it,” Cilley said.

He’s then asked how long he plans to do this.

The superhero, of course, laughed.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Until I drop dead, or as long as there’s cats around. If the cats disappear, then I might, too.”

(Ray Duckler can be
reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

if anyone is interested in getting involved and helping feral cats you can visit www.alleycat.org for more information.

I think it's wonderful that this kind man devotes his time for these innocent animals. Whether born in the wild or "dumped" by unkind humans, these cats struggle beyond what we can imagine. As I sit in my warm house with my rescued cats on this incredibly cold and windy NH winter night, my heart is heavy thinking about these cats trying to survive under such extreme conditions. I pray for the day that there are no more homeless, unwanted or feral animals. It is up to us to make the change. Thank you Mr. Cilley and all you dedicated volunteers who help these animals.

Great story ! I am hoping that some of the young cats are getting neutered. As the feral cat population decreases the wild bird population will increase. :)

There is a feral progressive issue as well. Perhaps some of the young (and old) progressives should consider getting neutered. As the feral progressive population decreases and the Woodstock throwbacks become a footnote in history, like the wild bird population, freedom will increase :-)

Wow, this brings back memories. When I was a kid on a farm in Belmont people would drop their unwanted cats at out farm and 2 other farms down the road. We fed the cats a cat food mixed with cows milk that we'd get from Worthmore Feeds in Tilton. Our neighbor (one of the farms) worked there at the store and train station where the feed was delivered and the store/ station feed cats there too. Godspeed Mr. Cilley!

Great story! Info on how to support catman's efforts would be appreciated. The Animal Allies's website is not very well developed. Thanks.

Hello....we have set up a fund at Sovereign bank and are accepting food donations. Please email me directly at will42210@hotmail if interested in supporting our efforts. Thank you, Carla

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