The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


All Alone in the Moonlight

A member of Southern Methodist University’s feral cat colony makes a rare daytime appearance to soak up some sun.

A member of Southern Methodist University’s feral cat colony makes a rare daytime appearance to soak up some sun.

Most members of the Southern Methodist University community are unaware that there is a roughly 60-member community of the homeless living on campus. These rarely seen indigents are mostly nocturnal and, yes, the university knows they are here. Heck, they even find room in the budget to feed them and provide them with basic healthcare.

For all this, members of the community are thankful, a sentiment most of them express with a simple “purrrrrr.”

The community is a colony of feral cats. The colony has been around for at least 20 years and there have been students, faculty, administrators and neighbors caring for its members ever since.

The SMU Feral Cat Program was officially started seven years ago, when SMU President R. Gerald Turner endorsed it and started funding it, according to retired Associate Director of Financial Aid June Hagler, a long time SMU Feral Cat Program volunteer.

Turner’s decision has won him fans among both quadrupeds and bipeds.

“Well I think it is really cool because President Turner supports us and I think that’s really awesome. It really says a lot about who he is and the kind of person that he is to be so progressive in wanting to support this group and really maintain the population,” said Kelsey Charles, a junior at SMU and a volunteer with the Feral Cat program.

Program volunteers take turns on a rotating basis delivering dry cat food and water to the felines at about 15 discretely located feeding stations across campus each evening. Hagler said the cats consume four to five 18-pound bags of dry cat food per week, with volunteers putting out about nine pounds each evening.

The cats tend to know who the volunteers are and will come up to them, but most of the cats are nocturnal and will avoid those they do not know. Because the volunteers see the cats on a regular basis, they tend to know when they’re sick or in distress.

Don Houston, a 1960 veterinary sciences graduate of Texas A&M University, who practiced in Oak Cliff for 46 years, said he has some concern about stray and feral cats living outdoors. It’s better, he said, for well meaning people not to just feed cats out in their yard, but to bring them in and socialize them, spay and neuter them, give them vaccinations, and test them for communicable diseases.

“They make real good house pets and are healthier and safer,” he said. “In the long run they are better off being brought in and made pets.”

There are so many feral cats on campus that it would be difficult to socialize them and turn them into house pets. Hagler said that those born feral need to be caught as kittens while they are still young enough to be taught to be house cats. Also, many of the cats on campus were dumped here and may have been abused by their previous owners, making them harder to re-home.

“If we identify them that they could be socialized or adopted we adopt the cats out that can be taken to homes,” she said. The program is very careful as to whom they adopt the cats out to, as they do not want them going to irresponsible people.

For the cats that they are unable to catch or those they catch but are unable to socialize – the cats that didn’t ask to be here – “we just try to support them and let them live out their lives best as they can,” Hagler said.

The new cats found dumped on campus are taken to a vet for a check up, basic vaccinations, and, if old enough, blood tests, Hagler said. Then, if the cat or kitten is sociable enough, the program attempts to find a home for it.

When one of the campus cats become sick or injured, the SMU Feral Cat Program gets the feline appropriate medical care. Volunteers foster animals as they recover, and when necessary provide palliative care for the cats. Hagler said that they prefer to provide palliative care when it is needed, except in cases where the cat is in major distress.

In some rare cases the Feral Cat Program rescues cats off campus. Hagler said one of the latest rescues that the program was able to make was of four kittens that were roughly four-weeks old. A SMU rowing coach spotted them in a plastic grocery bag that someone was about to toss in White Rock Lake early one morning. One of the SMU rowing team members was a former student volunteer with the program, so he called them.

“And we came and got the kittens in foster homes until they were old enough to be adopted out,” Hagler said.

The cats that do remain feral on campus help to control the non-squirrel portion of the rodent population. Hagler said that while some worry about the cats having fleas, the squirrels, which greatly outnumber the cats, have way more.

“I think people underestimate the importance of programs like this on our community. It is the things behind the scenes at SMU that really make a difference” Charles said.

Housing on campus is tight for people, let alone cats, so SMU Feral Cat Program officials suggest that those who are no longer able or willing to care for their felines contact a local no-kill animal shelter rather than dumping them on campus.

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