Declassified: Meet the Trinicats

Photo+credit%3A+Andrea+Nebhut

Photo credit: Andrea Nebhut

Illustration by Andrea Nebhut

Students coming to Trinity for the first time can expect to be greeted by many friendly voices and a few welcoming “meows.” One facet of campus life that sets Trinity’s campus apart from similar liberal arts universities is the presence of a roving band of feral and semi-feral cats on campus, commonly dubbed the “Trinicats,” who students are able to interact with and even help feed.

Mindy Morales, Trinity’s Computer Aided Drafting Technician, founded the Trinity Cat Alliance in 2002 along with a group of other faculty and staff members including Kate Ritson and Vee DuBose, during a period of architectural remodeling. When administration buildings were moved into houses on King’s Court, Morales and her colleagues encountered some feral and semi-feral cats in the area, and began feeding and taking care of them. The group looked to the Trap, Neuter, and Release (TNR) programs at Texas A & M and Stanford University as examples of how to humanely monitor feral cat populations without euthanasia.

Faculty, staff, and students are welcome to join the organization and feed the cats, and subgroups of staff members monitor the cats’ well-being.

“There’s a group of staff members who get together and discuss if there’s an issue with a cat, if one looks sick or injured, and there’s a group that talks about what the best course of action is when cats are dumped on campus,” said Steffanie Mortis Stevens, assistant editor and education and programming coordinator for TU Press. “Usually our first option is to find a new home for the cat. We’re not looking to increase the size of the cat population campus, but we’re not just going to abandon any cat that shows up here.”

According to Stevens, who helps train and schedule new feeders and monitor cat feeding stations around campus. the Cat Alliance has helped solve a problem made inevitable by Trinity’s location in San Antonio.

“In the area we live in, there’s different controlled cat colonies. You can control them by spaying and neutering, but … there’s [always] going to be strays and feral and semi-feral cats wandering onto campus,” Stevens said. “Even if we found a home for all of the cats and eliminated the cat program, there would still be cats coming on the campus. Just from a purely logical standpoint, having a controlled colony on campus helps keep other stray cats out.”

Cats can be found almost everywhere on campus — from the lower campus residential halls to the Coates Esplanade to the area near the pool and tennis courts.

“I was volunteering with a philosophy-oriented camp for kids at Trinity recently, and part of our campus exploration involved seeing the Trinicats that were hanging around the Coates Student Center,” said junior Calliope Izquierdo. “It was really cool to introduce some of the cats to the kids: We discussed how cats have their own personalities and why they only meow at humans, not other cats.”

Some of the most memorable cats for Morales include Beau, a friendly and “gentlemanly” cat who was born near the Dicke Smith Art Building; Elsie, who has lived in Prassel Garage since 2007; and Fiona and Flora, two sisters who live by Marrs McLean Hall and have become best friends with a dog who visits campus.

“Fiona and Flora used to be very feral. Then somebody called me and said, “Did you know that there is a man who walks to campus with his dog, and he can pet those two cats?” I went out and sure enough, there was this guy — his name is Richard, he’s a neighbor and walks his dog through campus every day — the cats would run up to his big black lab and just love on him and rub up against him,” Morales said. “It was because of that man and his dog that these are now the two friendliest cats on campus. He still walks his dog here every day, and they still love the dog. It’s really sweet to watch.”

According to Morales, the Cat Alliance shows that the Trinity community can live alongside the feral cats in a way that is humane, sustainable, and mutually beneficial, as well as positively impacting students’ emotional well-being.

“There are many students who are away from home for the first time, and they’re missing their own pets very much,” Morales said. “Because many of our cats are quite friendly, students enjoy having the cats around. The cats have a calming influence, and it’s pleasant just to walk along and see a friendly cat there.”

The Trinicats’ presence has helped sophomore Alex Walker to feel more at home at Trinity.

“At home we had two dogs, and if I was ever stressed out, I could go pick up a dog or take one of them for a walk. While you can’t pick a lot of the Trinicats up, it’s comforting to have animals around when you’re feeling stressed,” Walker said. “When I pet Fern (a Trinicat who lives near Coates), I can take a second to say, ‘This cat is incredibly soft. That’s all I’m going to think about. I can sit down with Fern, and then think of a plan for what I’m going to do next.’ ”