Meet the residential population you have probably never heard of -feral cats.
“They understand English and Spanish. They are bilingual. They are Miami cats.” said Gisela Hernandez, the circulation supervisor for the Weeks Music Library.
Feral cats are defined as domestic cats that have returned to their wild roots and can include strays that have bred in the wild.
“They are not totally feral. They let you pet them,” Hernandez said. “They are almost like the cats you have in your backyard at home.”
Often seen around Stanford and Hecht Residential Colleges, the School of Architecture and Business, Allen Hall and the registrar’s office, among other places, no one really knows how they arrived on campus.
But South Florida has long suffered from a feral cat population. Some were intentionally released to trim the flourishing mouse population but ended up creating an epidemic of their own. Others felines were abandoned as a result of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Andrew.
“The problem started with Andrew,” said Pat Lindley, a former School of Business employee who worked with feral cats before and during her 24 years at UM. “People’s homes were destroyed and their pets got out. That’s we have this terrible problem.”
However, she feels that the population on campus started out as strays, cats that have been abandoned.
“I don’t think they just arrived,” Lindley said. “UM is such a beautiful campus that people drop theirs cats off. I have picked some that were crying and put them in a carrier. They were not used to being outside.”
The population on campus is cared for by some University employees.
“We are trying to make them feel healthy and give them love” Hernandez said.
Most employees use their personal income to purchase the necessary supplies.
“We were not funded by anything. It all comes out of our pockets,” Lindley said.
A major problem facing the caretakers is an acute need to spay and neuter the cats, which, according to Lindley, stops “the kittens and the fighting.”
“In three months, you can have another [litter],” Hernandez said. “We don’t want them to continue growing without control.”
The employees having been working with The Cat Network, a local not-for-profit grass-roots organization that works to have cats cheaply spayed and neutered and to educate the public about stray and feral cats. The Network has provided the employees with coupons the greatly reduce the cost of spaying and neutering.
“Clip the ear tips,” Lindley said.“That’s the international symbol for a spayed cat.”
Another option is adoption.
“People think that because they’re feral they can’t be tamed. But they can. All of mine are!” said Susan Thomas-Hall, an employee in the registrar’s office who owns several cats she adopted from campus.
Lindley also adopted some of the cats she cared for.
“When it became too much for me to feed, I asked my husband, who was a real angel, if I could bring them in and we did,” said Lindley, who also found homes for some the kittens she found on campus.
Some, however, disagree with the employees’ efforts to care for the cats.
“It’s creating a mess. There needs to be a message that they need to stop feeding them. It’s a huge problem,” said Kelly Kavanaugh, a senior and the president of the Pre-Veterinarian Society at UM.
She explains that the cats pose a health problem.
“They can get diseases that can spread to pets and can spread to humans,” she said.
Last year, Pre-Veterinarian Society member Alyssa Comrow went out at night to trap cats in order to have them spayed and neutered. The Society has since abandoned the project.
“She graduated,” Kavanaugh said. “We don’t have any traps and we don’t have anyone with experience with feral cats.”
The caretakers are strongly opposed to removing the cats.
“I don’t want them to trap and euthanize them,” Thomas-Hall said.
Hernandez feels that any removal effort will be pointless.
“Others will come later on,” she said. “The students feel happy when we are taking care of them.”
For now, University employees are working to spay and neuter all the cats on campus and to ensure that the cats are taken care of, especially after a kitten died of mange earlier this month.
“We love them!” Hernandez said.
Alysha Khan may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.