Forty-five of SMU’s smallest inhabitants were almost relocated this summer.
SMU announced Aug. 7 that it would safely reduce and remove its SMU Feral Cats population due to health concerns. However, after a strong response from feral cat volunteers, animal activists and an online petition gaining more than 2,000 signatures, SMU chose to change their original plans.
In its original statement, SMU stated that concerns of overpopulation and the risk of diseases transmitted by insects, such as fleas, were the reasons for their choice to reduce the feral cat population. They also stated that the feeding stations for the feral cats attract other wild animals.
Despite the health concerns, members of the SMU community and feral cat volunteers were upset with SMU’s decision, creating an online petition to keep the cats on campus and alleging that SMU removed the cat’s food and locked volunteers out of the Feral Cat supply room. It also states that the Emergency Operations Committee (EOC) hired Terminix to begin trapping the cats in the heat on Aug. 7; however, it is important to note that no cats are trapped for relocation to date.
Many students responded on social media with phrases like “save the cats” and “stop SMU.”
“Wait that is not allowed,” senior Emily Heft said in a Facebook post. “If I go out and feed the cats myself, will I get in trouble?”
Student and Feral Cat Volunteer Brittany Knowles was also shocked by the “abrupt actions and decisions” made by SMU, especially because of their order to remove all feral cats on campus without notice.
The outcry from these groups caused SMU to release a new statement Aug. 11 saying that it has suspended relocation efforts as it “works with feral cat program volunteers on possible solutions.”
According to Knowles, the SMU Emergency Operations Committee (OEC) and the SMU Feral Cat Program met on Aug. 11 to discuss progressive measures to ensure both campus health and safety while protecting the cat’s home on campus.
“These measures, including flea prevention, are beneficial for both the health of the campus and the campus cats,” Knowles said.
According to the Vice President for Student Affairs ad interim Joanne Vogel, the volunteers agreed to move the cat feeders away from the affected buildings and have ceased overfeeding the cats, which attracts other wildlife, like raccoons, possums, foxes and squirrels, in the area.
Vogel said that the conversation between the two parties is on-going and will continue on Aug. 19.
“We appreciate that they understand our primary goal of comfort, health and safety for our students, faculty and staff, and we look forward to collaborating on a solution,” she said.
Vogel said that the administration was not surprised by the outcry of those who love the animals on campus.
“Many of us (myself included) feed feral cats, rescue animals, and love them, too; however, we cannot allow this issue to continue unaddressed or unresolved,” she said.
The primary concern now is balancing health, comfort and safety with care for the cats and other wildlife on campus. SMU is also completing efforts to treat five campus buildings for flea problems.
The Student Health Center was the only building infested with fleas and was relocated from Daniel Avenue to its temporary location in Perkins Hall. Three other campus buildings required treatment for fleas and one was treated as a precautionary measure.
According to Vogel, the moves and treatments added a financial burden to SMU, with the relocation of the Student Health Center costing nearing $70,000 alone.
“It is estimated that we will be over six figures before the areas are properly addressed and remediated,” she said.
Visitors and students can help keep these costs and problems at bay by not feeding the cats and leaving the care of the SMU Feral Cats to the trained volunteers.