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.
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.
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!