Coalition member, faculty and staff encourage campus to responsibly care for feral felines and consider ‘adopting’ a colony.
By E. David Guel
Observant students may come across trays and piles of cat food and dishes of water tucked away like Easter eggs in the nooks and crannies of this college.
The scattered feline aid stations are evidence of a caring campus, as faculty and staff set out food and water for colonies of feral cats that call this college home.
The colonies represent a citywide effort to control and tend the growing feral population by trapping, neutering, vaccinating and returning them to their digs, where volunteers look after the tabbies, tortoiseshells and other cats.
Vernell Walker, dean of professional and technical education, started feeding the cats about a year ago and sets out dry cat food every day.
“It just looked like they were starving; they looked so thin and they’d be following folks,” Walker said. “It looked like they were begging for food.”
Feeding areas sit nestled under bushes between Fletcher Administration Center and Moody Learning Center and east of Chance Academic Center.
According to the San Antonio Humane Society, feral cats are different from strays in that “simply crossing within 20 feet of the cat will cause them to run away and seek shelter behind a structure, under a house, or up a tree/fence.”
This college’s cats usually roam in the mornings and evenings when the hustle and bustle of the campus has dissipated.
Of about 10 cats Walker has seen regularly, she recalls two “beautiful” but skittish Siamese cats living near Chance.
“They’re absolutely gorgeous, but you can’t even get close to them,” said Walker, who has five cats at home.
Walker has noticed an increase of cats roaming the campus since she began feeding them.
“I hadn’t done it before and it seemed like there weren’t as many of them, but here lately it seems like we just are overrun with them,” Walker said.
“It just seems like more cats have been drifting into the area. They’re not fixed, they have kittens and the population keeps growing from there.”
Monica Caballero, legal advocate for the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition, stressed the importance of controlling the city’s rising cat population in a responsible manner.
Caballero says the coalition’s mission is to bring awareness to the excess of feral cats and have them trapped, neutered, vaccinated and returned to their colonies to manage the population. Cats that have been altered by spay and neuter programs have their left ears clipped one-fourth of an inch.
The coalition, which began in 2004, estimates there are about 250,000 free-roaming cats in San Antonio.
As a feral population grows, the cats are more prone to spreading diseases.
“If they have an illness and they mate with another animal, they could infect that animal and spread feline leukemia, feline AIDS,” Caballero said.
“When they’re in this managed colony, they’re getting fed, they’re being looked after and they’re getting fixed so the colony doesn’t get any larger,” she said.
Michele Tippit, client support specialist for the Student Mega Lab, said she wants to make sure she and other faculty and staff consult with campus administration to establish an official feral colony here.
“We’re trying to kind of mobilize to be able to talk to the administration,” said Tippit, who feeds, traps and has cats fixed and vaccinated. “We’re trying to just line up everything so we can go talk to them and do it the right way. … That’s our next step.”
Tippit plans to speak to David Mrizek, vice president of college services, who she said was “a really big backer of this a few years ago.”
In spring 2011, a group of faculty and staff members first participated in a Trap, Neuter and Release program aimed at keeping the college colony in check. The following year, they set out to capture new feral cats for neutering and to provide training for volunteers.
Not all of the cats here are as wary as others, Walker said of an orange-and-white tabby named “Garfield” who roams frequently and is friendlier toward passers-by.
Walker says Paul Sanchez, administrative services specialist for the English department, gave Garfield his name and feeds him regularly.
She said Garfield became more noticeable as more people started feeding and petting him.
The friendly tabby with a clipped left ear has his rabies shots and is neutered, said financial aid specialist Maria da Silva. She feeds the cats every day and spends about $10 to $14 a week on dry food.
Da Silva named a pair of blue-eyed Siamese siblings “Creampuff” and “Creamsicle.”
Tippit said she hopes to find homes for cats that can be adopted and fix and feed the ones who remain on campus.
“I think if we get the word out, maybe more will know that (some) are adoptable,” Tippit said.
“I think some are going to be wild. You’re not going to break that — it’s just in them,” Tippit said. “So those (cats) … they have a home here. Those that are real friendly and could be adopted and people want to give them a home — that would be great.”
At one local university, a volunteer group has officially adopted its colony of ferals. Caballero referred to the Cat Alliance at Trinity University, hoping students, faculty and staff at this college can also become more active in caring for the cats.
In a Jan. 1 video interview on The Roar — a digital news production blog for Trinity University — Mindy Morales, alliance president and computer aided drafting technician at Trinity, said the alliance began in the early 2000s for campus volunteers to take care of the cats.
According to the alliance page on Trinity’s website, volunteers feed the cats daily at designated stations, check them for illness and injuries, trap and transport them to get fixed or get medical attention and medicate them when a vet prescribes daily treatment.
As of August, more than 20 cats called Trinity home.
The alliance operates independently from the college and uses donations for the cost of surgeries, vaccinations and food.
Volunteers at Trinity sell a Fiesta medal pin to raise money for cat food and spay or neuter surgery.
Caballero said college campuses are well suited for cat colonies because students are open-minded to the concept of cats living freely on campus, and there are many potential volunteers.
“You’ve got built-in manpower right there. (If) somebody wants to help feed a colony, they can pick a day and take turns.”
Caballero recommends prospective volunteers enroll in the coalition’s free trap-neuter-return class.
The classes teach volunteers to safely and humanely manage and reduce the feral cat population, inform of inexpensive spay/neuter options and offer free trapping resources.
The coalition hosts four classes a month through December 2015.
The coalition is supported by SpaySA, San Antonio Humane Society, San Antonio Pets Alive!, Animal Defense League of Texas, Animal Care Services and two national organizations: Alley Cat Allies and Best Friends Animal Society.
To report a cat issue, call the coalition’s helpline at 210-877-9067. For more information, visit www.sanantonioferalcats.org.