The Feral Cat Initiative now tests stray cats on campus for immune deficiencies and viruses.
The program, initiated by ACU’s Facilities and Campus Management Department in early 2013, seeks to keep the campus safe from an overpopulation of feral cats.
The program started out with a Trap-Neuter-Return program and has since expanded its agenda with feeding stations and health examinations, said Emily Geller who is involved in the program.
“Last semester, a senior named Emily Schuster decided to create her undergraduate (research) project from what we were doing with these cats,” said Geller, sophomore animal science major from Memphis, Tennessee. “She expanded (the initiative) to test the cats for FIV and FELV.”
FIV, feline immunodeficiency virus, and FELV, feline leukemia virus, severely inhibit cats’ immune systems. So far, Geller said only one kitten has tested positive for FIV.
The trap-neuter-return program consists of trapping cats in cages with food every Tuesday night and individually inspecting cats at the Dearing Veterinary Clinic the next day. After cats are evaluated, they are spayed or neutered, given a rabies shot and then ear-tipped for future identification.
Geller said despite rumors on campus that the identification markings are a form of mistreating the cats, the markings are completely harmless.
“It’s just like an ear-piercing. It doesn’t hurt the cat since they’re still sedated when we do this, so it’s completely humane.”
Geller said ACU’s cat population has been large in years past because cats from local neighborhoods would gather and breed on campus. However, students have already noticed the program’s results in controlling the population over the last year.
“I noticed a dramatic drop in the cat population at ACU and learned that (the school) was doing a new program,” said Ashton Darrow, sophomore management major from Abilene. “I love the fact that ACU feeds the cats on campus while keeping them wild at the same time. By neutering the cats, we are not only helping the ACU campus but the city of Abilene as well.”