Feral cats find home at Chemeketa CC
By CARA PALLONE
Of the Statesman Journal
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Popeye, Linda, Sissy, Sassy, Olive, Tux, Gray, Black 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Meet the Chemeketa Cats, a colony of free-roaming felines that calls the northeast Salem campus home.
The story of them taking up residency at Chemeketa Community College, by all accounts, began in 2001 with the best of intentions. A woman thought they were hungry so she fed them. And she continued feeding them for nearly a decade.
And then she moved.
In the winter of 2011, as the feline population on campus continued to grow, volunteers with Salem Friends of Felines decided to introduce a feral cat management program without gaining permission from college officials. For the past two years, they have trapped, neutered, spayed and vaccinated cats, finding homes for the adoptable ones and returning the others to a wooded area that separates the north end of campus from the south.
On Feb. 11, during a clearing project in the wooded area, Chemeketa employees discovered 14 shelters and feeding stations.
“That was a surprise to us,” said Chemeketa spokesman Greg Harris. “We didn't feel like we could add a colony of cats to our learning community here, so we removed (the shelters and stations).”
And that's when the claws came out.
The cat caretakers rallied supporters and posted messages on Facebook, saying that though they were not officially permitted to establish a program on campus, they have served as guardians of the cats and custodians of the area.
Meanwhile, Chemeketa officials say a cat colony on the property poses health and safety risks to students, staff and the children who attend daycare on campus and also creates maintenance issues for staff.
“It's not part of the mission of Chemeketa Community College to house feral cats,” Harris said. “We're trying to stay focused on our students and to manage the issue with Salem Friends of Felines in a satisfactory way for everyone concerned.”
At the peak of the feral feline predicament in 2011, Harris said employees in Building 49 were complaining of headaches. The school called in an industrial hygienist, who determined cat dander was the culprit. The result was an extensive cleanup process, Harris said.
Around that same time, Salem Friends of Felines applied for a $38,000 grant from the PetSmart Charities Foundation to establish a feral cat management program in the upper northeast area of Salem, which encompasses Chemeketa Community College and a slew of multifamily dwellings.
Salem Friends volunteer Lora Meisner said she tried to contact Chemeketa officials about formally introducing a feral cat management program, but never heard back.
Meisner referenced the dozens of programs that have been implemented across the country, including at Stanford University in California.
The Stanford Cat Network cares for the free-roaming cats on campus and identifies new, hungry newcomers. Cats are trapped, fixed, vaccinated and released back to campus, where they are fed and monitored daily. Kittens and tame cats are put up for adoption if their owners can't be found.
Carole Miller, a former research administrator at the school and co-founder of the Stanford group, said an estimated 500 cats roamed the campus prior to the introduction of the program in 1989.
Now, Miller said about 14 free-roaming cats call the Stanford campus home, yet it's a constant effort to maintain the population.
“People are the problem,” she said. “It makes sense to have a stable, managed program.”
It made sense to Meisner, who, after she never heard back from Chemeketa officials, decided to take matters into her own hands. She and another volunteer hid shelters and feeding stations amid the blackberry brambles, rhododendrons and underbrush in a wooded area.
For the past two years, the PetSmart Charitites Foundation grant has paid for spaying, neutering and vaccinations. Meisner said volunteers have found homes for 72 felines.
Which leads to Popeye, Linda, Sissy, Sassy, Olive, Tux, Gray, Black 1, 2, 3 and 4.
They are the present core group of Chemeketa Cats. All of them have been fixed and vaccinated, but they are not adoptable. The campus is their home.
Since discovering and removing the feeding stations and shelters on Feb. 11, Chemeketa officials have permitted volunteers to continue feeding the cats daily. But Meisner said it's not enough. She hopes the college will partner with Salem Friends of Felines to formalize a program on campus.
“We're providing a service,” she said. “There's so much good that could come out of this.”
Harris said campus officials plan to meet with members of the rescue organization this week to negotiate a solution. Internally, at the top of the list of priorities is revisiting the policy about feeding and hosting animals on campus.
“We want your students,” Harris said. “Not your cats.”
Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com