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Mr. Spunky The Feral

Feral cats are continually faced
with inhumane and cruel methods
to eradicate the 'problem', but when kind, compassionate
guardian angels intervene, wonderful things can happen.

How Kittens Taught a Feral Cat to Love Again #GlobalCatDay

mr. spunky and his kittens

Last updated March 12th, 2018

October 16 is Global Cat Day, initiated by Alley Cat Allies since 2001 is intended to rally people around the world to take a pledge to show compassion and kindness to our community cats everywhere. I love that they have renamed it Global Cat Day to expand their reach and message with the realization that community cats all over the world are faced with the same obstacles: local laws advocating the removal or killing of community cats from their natural habitats, in many cases using inhumane and cruel practices such as shooting and poisoning.

Luckily there are individuals and dedicated guardian angels working against all odds to protect and improve the lives of feral cats around the world. Earlier this year I have had the pleasure to have met up with one such cat guardian angel, sociologist and lecturer, Sharyn Spicer at the University of Western Cape, South Africa.

Campus Cats are TUFCATs

In 1994 when Sharyn started working at the university she noticed hundreds of sick and starving cats around the campus and could not ignore their plight. Sharyn, along with other animal loving staff, started feeding the campus cats and eventually she initiated a trap, neuter and release (TNR) program. This was the birth of TUFCAT (The UWC Feral Cat Project) which now cares for and protects the many cat colonies living on the campus today.

With a life expectancy of two years without human intervention, life for a feral cat is tough. Interestingly, the campus feral cats are not only surviving but thriving with their oldest seniors being anywhere from 12 – 16 years old. Over the past 20 years, TUFCAT has had huge successes, both with the cats and the people, especially the students, many of whom came with their own superstitious baggage about cats. Perceptions have changed for the better and many students volunteer as carers and help with their on-campus bookshop.

The TUFCAT TNR program has been so successful that many other universities and institutions across South Africa, facing similar issues with feral colonies have adopted their TNR model. The cats’ rodent management skills have not gone unnoticed and UWC won the Green Campus award in 2012. One of the university’s ‘green’ innovations is the use of feral cats as a form of environmentally-friendly rodent control. A win for the cats, a win for the people.

beautiful tufcat feral cat

Chong, the resident black and white cat

Meet 10-year-old Chong, a senior resident at the Eduardo dos Santos residence on campus. He didn’t mind my intrusion.

Mr. Spunky, the TUFCAT Steals Hearts

Abandoned when his owners moved and reverted to a feral state to survive, Mr. Spunky’s story will warm your heart. Chased, taunted and rejected like vermin, as he went from house to house searching for food, this ginger and white Tom became very distrustful of humans, not to mention stressed and angry. A kind resident brought him to the Helderberg Animal Welfare (HAWS) in Gordon’s Bay and it was believed that he spent almost two years begging for food and living the hard life. But by then it was apparent that he would not be a good candidate for adoption due to his biting and lashing out at shelter staff whenever they brought him food. At this point TUFCAT was contacted for help. TUFCAT also runs a ‘Home for Life’ Sanctuary for abandoned, abused, unwanted and possibly unadoptable cats and dogs and it was thought this would be the perfect place for him to recover and be free from the stress of his former life.

The first few weeks at the Home for Life sanctuary, Mr. Spunky was still lashing out, obviously bearing the scars of his nasty experiences and his distrust for humans. The turning point was when they rescued a litter of four kittens from a nearby farm.

Mr. Spunky transformed overnight from grumpy old man cat to caring kitten minder. It’s as if the kittens brought new meaning into his life and he now protects them and guards them like he’s their dad cat. Wherever the kittens, Jimi, Miss Tortoise, Messi and Jam go, he follows along grooming and playing with them.

mr. spunky and his kittens

mr. spunky and his kittens

mr. spunky and his kittens

Spunky lives permanently at the TUFCAT ‘Home For Life’ Sanctuary, with his four cats, 52 other feline residents, and 13 dogs. He has been through some tough times, but it’s incredibly heart-warming to know that he will always be loved and cared for, because of the kindness, compassion and dedication of guardian angels willing to take a chance on an unwanted feral. Sharyn reports he is truly the king of his castle.

We support TUFCAT in their remarkable endeavors to help their community cat colonies located at the UWC campus and at the Home for Life TUFCAT Sanctuary, as well as their ‘surviving pet program’ when owners pass. Our calendar will be out for sale soon and all proceeds will be donated to TUFCAT.  Please visit their website at TUFCAT and follow their news, events and daily dose of cute cat pics on Facebook and Instagram

How else can you help? Take your pledge to “be an ally to cats, including those who call the outdoors their home. Advocate for compassionate policies that protect every cat in your community.”

Do you rescue or care for your community cats? We’d love to hear your feral cat rescue stories, chirp us a line in the comments. Happy #GlobalCatDay!

About the author

The Lady Cat

Whiskers make me smile.
Coffee is good for you.
And cats are for life.
Helping cats live enriched lives with their people.
(Yasaar Nakchbendi)


Leave a comment
    • Yes, she has done wonders for these community cats. The students even have to sign an agreement upon their acceptance that they acknowledge that the campus is the home of the cats and they should not be mistreated.

  • Oh, this gives us happy tears! We enjoyed reading about this special program so much! Wouldn’t it be wonderful for all campuses everywhere to be like this? Thanks for spreading the word today.

    • I only saw your post about the Boardwalk cats today and loved it! TUFCAT has already inspired a few other universities as well as Pollsmoor Prison, to start their own TNR programs with the community cats living there.

  • What an incredible story. It’s reassuring to know that their are successful programs proving TNR and education can work. Sharon is to be commended and wouldn’t it be wonderful if her program was instituted on campuses worldwide where there are outdoor cats.

    Purrs from Deb and the Zee/Zoey gang.

    • Yes, that would be amazing right? Plus universities are educational institutions and this is exactly where minds are shaped for the greater good for future generations, teaching respect for life.

  • Excellent post. I got Brody when I was helping with TNR. In my state if a feral has wounds it will be euthanized unless you can keep it in for 6 months. I wasn’t going to let him be killed so I agreed to keep him in and now he is a lovebug. He hides when company comes, but he loves us.
    Ellen Pilch recently posted…Another Hopping MondayMy Profile

  • Thanks, Miss Yas for sharing that story about Spunky. It just goes to show that kitties have so much love inside of them to give if humans just give them a chance & show them some kindness & compassion. TUFCAT sounds like it sure is doing wonderful things to help kitties. Purrs!
    Valentine recently posted…Swallowed Up By the GoldfishMy Profile

  • What a great program! I’m so glad that those feral cat colonies have someone looking out for them–it sounds like everyone is benefiting from the arrangement!

  • We love happy endings. I myself, am the daughter of a feral kitty whose well known by the people at our shelter. They finally were able to trap her and spay her and she now lives a wonderful life as a barn kitty,. People who give their time, treasure and love to feral cats are heroes in our book!
    Purrs & Head Bonks,
    Lily and the Tribe of Five

  • This is my absolute favorite Global Cat Day post! I love the pictures of Mr. Spunky. Cats are amazing, amazing creatures and we have so much to learn from them. I love the story of him with the kittens – connection – and love transforms life in all forms. Beautiful story. And thank you for linking up to the Showcase!
    mommakatandherbearcat recently posted…Pet Blogger Showcase 10/21/2017My Profile

    • They are indeed such amazing creatures because, on the one hand, they are admired for their stoicism to survive almost anything, yet so vulnerable when pushed to the edge of society. They deserve to be protected. Because of TUFCAT’s amazing TNR program, universities around South Africa and even the famous Pollsmoor prison (where Nelson Mandela served his sentence) has implemented a successful TNR program.

  • A great report on fantastic work undertaken by some very dedicated people at TUFCAT. And what a happy result for Mr Spunky, who just needed his place in life to find happiness…
    Toodle pip and purrs

  • Oh my gosh, what a sweet story and a great organization! It makes me so sad to realize how many animals are ‘tossed’ away globally every year. I’m so grateful for people like Sharyn who see a need and are able to fill it. I’m signing my e-mail, would you consider shipping a calendar to the US? If so, do you think I would get it by Christmas? It would make a beautiful gift for my daughter.

    • Yes, indeed, it will be available for purchase online and it ships from the US, so no problem with shipping. The layout is still in production and once ready, I will announce it on the blog and in the newsletter 🙂

  • […] Our favorite TNR group in Cape Town South Africa called TUFCAT has been doing amazing work for their campus cats for 21 years. Not only have their cats been thriving but the environmentally friendly rodent control services offered by the cats have earned their University Africa’s greenest Campus Award in 2018 for the third time! A round of applause for these hard working felines! If you would like to know more about these campus cats, read how a litter of kittens rescued from a fruit farm healed the heart of a grumpy ginger feral called Mr. Spu… […]

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