As a Texas Tech alumna and direct observer of two Texas Tech feral cat colonies I monitored from 1980-1995 near Gordon/Bledsoe/Sneed Residence Complex, and 2003-2006 near the Carpenter/Wells Residence Complex, I can state emphatically that the opinion expressed by Jon McRoberts in the Aug. 28 edition of The Daily Toreador is not supported by documented evidence specific to feral cat populations in general, nor the current feral cat population on the Tech campus in particular.

Using the populations cited above as case studies, an analysis of evidence derived from direct observations made during informal “field work” conducted among them, yields the conclusion and common sense solution that maintaining a trap/neuter/release and feeding program for feral cats is the only sensible way to keep the Tech campus free of fertile cats reproducing out of control and free of disease.

Because it is surrounded by residential neighborhoods that give rise to strays, Tech always will be at risk for an incoming influx of new feral cats.  

What prevents invaders from moving in is having a stable, intact, spayed/neutered, regularly fed and thus healthy colony on site that can continue to assert dominance over the Tech campus as its territory to keep fertile interlopers out.

For those who claim there is no evidence to prove that this in fact is what happens, I witnessed it happen in the 1990s among the cat population at Sneed Residence Hall.

A feral female, fertile calico cat produced three litters there every year. As her kittens grew into adults, too many cats began competing for territory and food. One day, she vanished. But in subsequent jogs of the campus at dawn, I discovered she had relocated to the uninhabited bushes by the theater building. There, she resumed having kittens.

Feral fertile cats are solitary animals by nature. They require their own territory to feel safe. Whenever and wherever competition for territory is paramount, they will not stick around. This implies that an intact spayed/neutered colony on site can keep feral cats out.   

Tech’s campus always will be at risk for incoming new fertile cats because there always will be students who persist in acquiring pets sequestered in their living quarters, then turn them out onto campus when departing from school in May and December.  

Students did so in the 1960s and 1970s, observed then by a Housing Office employee. They continued to do so as observed in the 1980s and 1990s, and they have continued to do so in the 2000s, observed when such animals were abandoned in May and December.

After classes were over and residence halls shut down, I picked up, off campus, four tame and starving cats that suddenly appeared in the bushes near Gordon and Bledsoe Residence Halls in 1992, Sneed in 1990 and Carpenter/Wells in 2004 and 2006.

As long as Tech is surrounded by residential neighborhoods giving rise to stray cats and harbors students who acquire pets only to abandon them in May and December, Tech will continue to have new feral cats on campus.

So the best option is to arrive at a solution of keeping feral cats monitored by a campus group interested in their welfare, under control — trapped, neutered, released — and healthy — fed to keep them free of malnutrition and disease.

Animal Services of Lubbock lacks the staff, traps and time sufficient to keep feral fertile, reproducing cats and their numbers in check on the Tech campus. Only a well-established trap/neuter/release and feeding program maintained by Tech faculty, staff and student volunteers who care about cats can capably manage a feral cat population, as the one I have observed underway in operation on campus since 2006 because only they have the advantage of proximity. They can directly observe where the cats are on a daily basis.  

Feral cat populations that have been trapped and vet-checked for disease when spayed/neutered, with only healthy ones released back onto campus and fed regularly thereafter, tend to remain in good health and disease-free.

Diseases tend to occur in cats that are stressed from hunger and malnutrition, and in feral tomcats, which, because they are not neutered, fight one another for dominance and access to territory, food and fertile females. They then incur infection because of resulting wounds and become prone to disease through declining health brought on by the infections.

So contrary to the opinion expressed by McRoberts, it is primarily only among hungry and unneutered/unspayed feral cats that the vector for disease is high.

Disease is not endemic to neutered and regularly fed feral cat populations. In two decades, of all the campus cats I trapped and had vet-checked when spayed/neutered, no incidence of rabies, toxoplasmosis or hookworm was ever recorded.

Most cats, if healthily maintained as spayed/neutered animals that are regularly fed, die from old age. Old age in cats is not a contagious disease that poses risks to humans.

In summary feral cats, when monitored in programs that seek to trap, spay/neuter, release and feed them on campus, can maintain good health and stable, low numbers at little to no risk to humans. By contrast, they keep rodents, which do harbor diseases communicable to humans, in check.

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Kudos to Dr. Humphries for writing this and to the DT for publishing it.

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