Feral Cats on Campus

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Campus cat behind Gorman. Photo by Emily Ashman

The sighting of an occasional cat on the University of Dallas campus is a common occurrence for even the semi-observant student. Though there are not many cats actually living on campus, their stealthy habits can make them seem ubiquitous.  

Natalie Lambert, ‘21, who took a great interest in the campus colony, described her experience with the cats at UD. She explained that the animals frequented the Art Village, especially during the quieter times of the pandemic. 

These undomesticated cats, more commonly known as feral, are a standard fixture on many college campuses. “Community cats are unowned cats who live outdoors,” explained the Alley Cat Allies organization on their website. “[They] are generally not socialized — or friendly — to people.” 

Generally speaking, feral cats are entirely undomesticated, whereas community cats, who tend to be abandoned or stray,  are more social. The UD cats may be descended from lost or abandoned house pets or may simply be cats that have lived in the wild since their kittenhood. 

The friendliness of such cats varies, with some willing to walk up to and associate with people, while others remain much more wary. When these cats form a group in a specific area, it is referred to as a ‘colony.’

The art students fed and observed the cats, taking great interest in their presence on campus. During her time at UD, Lambert discovered a process called Trap-Neuter-Return, TNR, and was able to trap and bring six cats on campus to a veterinarian for surgery. 

TNR is a procedure for safely capturing, sterilizing and restoring feral cats to their home. It may seem cruel to forcibly prevent local animals from reproducing, but according to the organization Neighborhood Cats, TNR “is the most humane and effective method known for managing feral and stray cats and reducing their numbers.” 

TNR prevents cat colonies from uncontrollably multiplying, while still respecting the safety of the cats themselves. Cats are caught in traps designed for them, professionally neutered, kept until they are healed, oftentimes given a rabies vaccine and brought back to where they were caught. 

Cats are fairly prolific animals, with females maturing enough to carry kittens at around five months, and able to carry two to three litters a year. Thus, if their reproduction is not controlled, populations can explode very quickly. 

Kim Pierce has been a leadership team member for the Feral Cat Group at SMU for over 10 years. She recalled that there were between 80-100 cats on the SMU campus when she began working there. Now, through TNR and the work of their volunteers, there are only 35-40. 

Organizations such as the SMU Feral Cat Group have established procedures and schedules for tracking, feeding, medicating and neutering the on-campus colonies. TNR is always the most ideal method of limiting the population, as relocation and euthanization can be cruel and ineffective. 

Relocation is in most cases illegal. SMU’s Feral Cat Group’s website explained, “When cats are removed from an area, through whatever means, other feral cats simply move in to replace them, known as the ‘vacuum effect.’”

Simply killing off the cats would be unnecessarily cruel. Additionally, as Pierce points out, mass euthanization would probably incite backlash from those in the community who enjoy the cats’ presence.  

Pierce explained that feral and stray cats pose no danger to humans, and do not carry any transmissible diseases. Plus, cats help control the rodent populations and provide enjoyment for the student body. 

Because local animal control will not deal with feral cats, the colonies are dependent on volunteers to instigate TNR. Although Irving Animal Services are not currently offering full TNR services, there are other organizations such as Feral Friends and the Texas Coalition for Animal Protection (TCAP), which will provide references and vouchers to those seeking TNR for local cats. 

There is currently no organization on the UD campus dedicated to initiating TNR, but any students interested are welcome to contact local resources or start a club on campus. 

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