Patrick knows he has the best job in the world. He is responsible for feeding up to 120 cats who call the University of Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa, their home. When he starts feeding breakfast at 7 am he is soon surrounded by his furry friends who gather around him, running out from under nearby bushes, parked cars, and trees. It’s a quiet time of the morning, perfect to start feeding breakfast before the campus is abuzz with frantic students rushing to classes.
Patrick knows exactly which cat likes head scratches, which cat loves head boops and which cat will be vocal in chiding him that he is late with breakfast.
Like this morning. Breakfast was late. Sorry kitties, that’s my fault.
This particular morning I joined Patrick and Sandra on the exciting feeding expedition around the campus and I could not make it in time to join them that early. So there were a few protest chirrups of “where were you this morning?” being sung by the cats as we walked towards the feeding stations. I was thousands of miles away from home but felt right at home thinking of Mr. Jack and the Chirpies’ early morning breakfast ‘Acatpella’. I was in complete awe of how the cats absolutely adore the hand that feeds them, literally.
I got to see some student interactions with the cats as they rushed to their classes. These mostly feral or community cats are part of campus life and the cats live on the grounds and near the resident buildings. Some students stopped to watch curiously as we fed the cats and left with a big smile on their faces, clearly a great way to start a day of boring lectures with a little feral cat purr therapy.
Who is the campus Cat Man and how did he end up with one of the best jobs in the world?
TUFCAT staff first met Patrick Luvuyo Lupuzi in 2010 when he worked as a cleaner and did general maintenance on campus since 2004. Patrick, who hails from Tsomo (near Queenstown) in the Eastern Cape has always loved dogs but has grown to love cats through his interactions and work at UWC. Sound familiar? I know a cat man or two who has transitioned and expanded their love into the land of feline ‘mystery,’ only to discover that cats are no mystery. They want love and a safe space to call home, whether pampered on your couch or living in a colony as the TUFCAT cats do. Patrick soon discovered, as with any relationship it takes time to build trust with the cats and once you’re in, you’re owned by cats for life!
“From the first meeting we knew he was a special human being and the cleaning company that hired him held him in high regard. We started giving him odd jobs to do to make extra money and every time he absolutely excelled and exceeded our expectations,” says Sharyn Spicer, sociology lecturer, founder, and coordinator of The UWC Feral cat Project which operates on the campus. Staff at TUFCAT soon noticed how naturally he took to the cats during trapping and feeding and knew he would be perfect for the job full time.
“We knew that he was capable of much more than his current job required and we decided that as soon as we could, we would try to hire him,” says Sharyn. Sadly, when one of TUFCAT’s staff members in charge of the day to day operations became ill with advanced cancer they needed someone to step in and run the program.
Patrick was hired in May 2017 and since then he has taken over Operations. He feeds, traps and cares for the cats, repairs and cleans their shelters, does rescue and fundraising by selling books to the students from the TUFCAT bookshop situated on campus. Patrick is married, has two children, two cats at home, and four ‘teenage’ cats that live in the TUFCAT bookshop.
For those of you in cat rescue, you know that a cat whisperer’s work is never done and Patrick goes above and beyond. He ensures that not a day goes by that the cats’ tummies aren’t filled, even on weekends, when he’s off duty and doesn’t have to come in to feed them, but still does. I ask him about this and he just replies:
“The cats have to eat.”
The year 2018 was a milestone for TUFCAT with the realization of one of its biggest goals; the reduction of the feral cat population. For the first time since the 1990s when they had over 400 cats, the UWC feral cat population numbers dropped significantly. TUFCAT’s last audit was done in January 2019 and around 118 cats were counted. Of these 98 are sterilized and 22 still need to be sterilized. This dramatic decline in numbers is due to various factors such as a significant number of very old cats died or were euthanized and sadly, several cats were run over at the roundabout for which they have requested a Cats Crossing sign to be erected.
But having Patrick on fulltime has made the real difference and his constant trapping efforts have paid off.
UWC is the first campus in South Africa to have a proper, officially supported feral cat program in conjunction with their very own nature reserve. They are also the first local university to offer modules in Human-Animal Studies starting in 2020. For several years it has been voted Africa’s Greenest campus and the feral cat rodent management program is one of several eco-friendly initiatives on campus that has snowballed to other universities in South Africa.
If you have been following stories about TUFCAT over the past few years or have bought our calendar in support of TUFCAT you may remember some old favorites. I was so delighted to catch up with two resident cats that I had met on my trip there in 2017.
Skeeltjies and old mancat Chong
Two years ago I met Skeeltjies, a shy silver tabby who blinked eyes with me. Imagine my delight upon seeing him again this year, in more or less the same spot as before. Luckily Patrick knew exactly at which colony he hangs out and it wasn’t hard to coax him out. They are convinced there is a Siamese mix in the TUFCAT gene pool as there are many cats with Siamese traits such as cross-eyes and long limbs. In fact, “skeeltjies” means “cross-eyed’ in Afrikaans and it’s a term of endearment.
My other friend is Chong, an old mancat who they guess is about 15 years old. He has some health issues but otherwise doing fine. When I left I blew him a kiss goodbye with the thought that this might be our last meeting.
I am so glad that I finally got to meet Patrick and see firsthand the wonderful work he is doing for the cats and for TUFCAT in the long term. The daily sightings of a man carrying his basket of cat food and water, going around each day to feed the cats can only help to dispel long-standing myths about feral cats and cats in general.
And when I asked him what part of his job he loves the most, he replied:
“I love feeding time and the way the cats ask for attention.”Patrick, the Campus Cat Whisperer
Who can resist a cat that asks for attention? Patrick thinks it’s a dream job and all he wants to do is take care of the cats. Here is a man who was touched by a whisker and never looked back.
Our 2020 calendar is ready for purchase and once again all proceeds will be donated to TUFCAT.