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Feral felines disappear amidst feeding debate

By Cole Leonard
On October 24, 2011

The mysterious vanishing of the campus cat population has prompted some staff and student concerns over their whereabouts and well-being. Over the past few years the feral felines flourished around the university grounds; however, reports show that as little as 4 remain.

"Over 20 cats have disappeared in the past year alone and it is really sad," Sherry T. said, who requested her last name be withheld. Sherry has worked at Texas A&M University- Commerce for several years and has grown affection for the six generations of cat litters she has witnessed.

"This is their home and they don't know any place else," Sherry stated. Her fondness for the cats has been saddened by their dwindling numbers and she is curious to find out what has happened to them.

Barista at the campus coffee shop, Tyler Wishard, felt that neglect for cat welfare on campus caused the death of several cats over the summer.

"On different occasions I showed up to work and found dead kittens in the bushes," Wishard said.

He believes that malnutrition and dehydration caused the cats' demise and mentioned rumors of an email that threatened disciplinary action to employees found feeding the animals. No record of this email could be located and still remains unconfirmed.

A source inside the facilities department stated that "some people are feeding the cats and have to do it after dark or in the morning before the sun comes up." She requested to remain anonymous and withheld the identity of the individuals who are supplying water and food for fear of reprisal from staff management.

Gail Johnston, Associate Director of Libraries, is worried about student health concerns stemming from the feral population. The library has been a central area for many of the cats due to its location to the bistro and the dumpster on the side of the building.

"When these cats are being fed it is also attracting raccoons and skunks," Johnston said.

A file on her computer has a collection of pictures she has taken showing raccoons rummaging in the cat food and the man-hole underneath the library.

"Raccoons are the most prominent carriers of rabies," Johnston said. "They leave feces and are very destructive."

Johnston mentioned an incident when raccoons were found crawling through the walls and ceilings in the library. One day a raccoon fell through a panel in the ceiling and landed in the library causing extensive damage and potential dangers to students.

 "My problem isn't with the cats but where they feed them," Johnston stated. She said the problem is perpetuated due to students and staff continuing to feed them outside of the library building rather than a safer place on the periphery of campus grounds. She is unaware of the mass disappearance of cats and believes that the extreme summer or other wild animals might be to blame.

The city of Commerce Animal Shelter was contacted regarding the over-a-dozen missing cats. They insist that the city has no traps set in place on campus and have not been called to capture the animals. Becky Glass of the Commerce Humane Assocation, a local nonprofit shelter, was unaware of the issue.

"We have not removed any cats from the campus and have nothing to do with it," Glass said.

The Commerce Humane Association has a history of working with the feral cats when they participated in a program on campus developed by Dr. Robin Reid, professor in the department of Literature and Languages. In 2003, Reid constructed a Trap, Neuter, and Release program based on the successful program at Texas A&M University- College Station.

The TNR program at A&M-Commerce collaborated with an organized student group and the Commerce Humane Association. The program was funded by private donations and never received any money from the university.

"This program was shut down when the head of facilities, David McKenna, decided that the feeding stations attracted vermin," Reid said. "The president shut down the program and ordered that no feeding take place."

The cancellation of the program resulted in an increase of the cat population.

"Despite presidential order, there were and are people feeding on campus," Reid stated, "When feeding is done without a TNR program, this results in kittens."

In Fall 2009, Reid proposed a new trial program in collaboration with science faculty that would take a feral cat census and re-establish the cancelled TNR program.

"This program would be more extensive than the earlier one, with the goal of grant-writing to support the program in the future," Reid said.

With support from the University administration, Reid's effort was initiated with collaboration from the science department's Dr. James Cain, professor of Biology and Environmental Sciences. The census took place during the spring and summer of 2010 but the research ended prematurely when Dr. Cain left the University for another Job. Efforts to restart a program have hit a wall.

"The effort fell apart," Reid said. "I did not have the energy to try to pursue the proposal without additional faculty or staff support. Until we have science faculty who are willing to write the grants or to help with the grants, we are sort of in limbo."

In regards to the large amounts of missing cats, Reid said she has "no idea how many have gone missing." She said she was never given the figures from the cat census and believes that she had "heard a variety of rumors about what happened to the animals." Reid has not been able to verify any of the claims.

Some students and staff view the animals as a comforting compliment to the demands of college life and wish the cats to remain in a healthy environment.

"I think it is cruel to see these skinny cats go hungry and that they aren't being fed," history grad student Gina Bennett said. "They add an element of domesticity. We are the Lions, and it is only appropriate to have the felines on campus."

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