Feral Felines Thrive On A College Campus
If it’s true that some felines have nine lives, many feral cats at Texas A&M University have been pushing their luck.
Feral cats once numbered in the hundreds in Aggieland, with many of them facing an unhappy ending. But a successful program to control the feral cat population has seen big benefits, says Margaret Slater, a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences who oversees the project.
Campus cat concerns are not limited to Texas A&M, Slater notes. Many college campuses are ground zero for feral cats. Some students abandon a cat after awhile, letting it loose to roam on its own, and in some cases nearby residents bring cats and set them free on campus, hoping someone will care for them.
The Aggie Feral Cat Alliance, or AFCAT, uses veterinary students and volunteers to humanely trap the cats at different locations and have them spayed or neutered. Once recovered, the animals are either returned to the location where they were caught or in some cases, adopted. Volunteers feed and monitor the cats, providing them with a much better quality of life.
About 20 to 30 feral cats undergo the process every year, says Slater, who has run the feral cat program since 1998.
“At one time, it was estimated there were at least 300 feral cats on campus,” she explains.
“We don’t know if that estimate is accurate, but there is no doubt there were many, many feral cats roaming around the buildings here. Our feral cat program has been successful in controlling the feral cat population. We know there are not near as many as there were when we started the program nine years ago.”
A feral cat is one that is too wild to be kept as a pet. Most are born in the wild and prefer to be away from humans, Slater says.
Some, however, can be socialized enough to be adopted and become pets “but it takes months, even years to socialize them, and usually they are friendly only to one or two people,” she notes.
Because of the area’s warm climate, female feral cats can multiply quickly, having two or three litters each year. It doesn’t take long for a few dozen cats to become hundreds.
Feral cats, like owned cats, can carry diseases that can be passed to other animals or humans, Slater adds, and when not cared for, they may have a short lifespan.
The Aggie Feral Cat Alliance program uses painless traps to capture the animal, with no harm coming to the cat, Slater stresses. Every four to five weeks, the group gathers at night to collect the cats.
“One good thing about feral cats is that they help with rodent control,” she notes.
“They do eliminate a lot of the problems with mice. But a feral cat has become one because somewhere down the line, a human let his or her cat out on purpose to let it survive on its own.”