ABILENE, Texas - ACU may be home to the Wildcats, but it seems the campus may be home to too many "wild cats."
"there's about a million cats around here," said Criminal Justice major Joshua Taylor. "It's pretty ironic that we have a bunch of wildcats running around ACU."
"As i walk through campus each day, I just count how many cats i see in one day. I think my record is 26 or 27," said Corrie Reeter, Communications major.
The school has battled a feral cat problem for as long as many can remember. In recent years, the population of the cats has increased dramatically.
"I've worked here 26 years and there have always been cats around," said Richard Guthrie, who works as an AC Tech for the school.
Guthrie took it upon himself to pay for about ten of the cats to be neutered. That was before a new program, dubbed the Feral Cat Initiative, took effect.
The school's Facilities and Campus Management Department instituted the plan to help control the population. They humanely capture the cats, neuter and vaccinate them, then return them to campus.
"It's gotten out of control, so we decided that if we just got rid of all of them, if they just catch them and euthanize them, more cats will just show up," said Dr. Dale Hembree.
Hembree is a veterinarian and adjunct professor at ACU, and he partnered with the program to perform the procedures, along with the help of some of his students.
Hembree thinks the cats may have been adopted and left behind by students who couldn't take them home.
"We think the majority of the older cats originally came from the students at ACU who when they got them during the semester, they didn't think about how they couldn't take them home with them," he said.
These cats are not domesticated house cats.
"These cats are not pets, they never will be pets," said Hembree.
Corey Ruff, Executive Director of Facilities and Campus Management, agrees.
"They're either abandoned or they were the offspring of a stray cat or something of that nature. So they're not necessarily adoptable," said Ruff.
Jessica Cosby, one of Dr. Hembree's students, has assisted with several of the procedures.
She said though some may think it's inhumane, the program is benefits everyone. The cats are sedated before the procedure, and left to rest before they are released the following day. She said the program is the best chance they have to keep the cat population healthy and sustainable, and to keep students safe as well.
"By spaying and neutering we have a chance to control the population so we know who's here and we know what's here and that we've vaccinated against rabies," said Cosby.
The project started a couple weeks ago and so far, 15 cats have gone through the process.
"It appears to be a success so far and hopefully we can continue the program and help control the population in the future," said Ruff.
The next step in controlling the cat population at ACU is regulating who feeds them on campus and where they do it.
Ruff said students are in the process of collecting data. After the cats are neutered or spayed, they are ear-tipped so it's obvious which have been captured and vaccinated. The students are creating an inventory of the cats and where the main groups are located. Feeding stations have already begun to be built.
The program is looking for volunteers. Any one interested in helping volunteer can email the group at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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