While it might not work with the fight song, having a cat as the Cal Poly mascot seems a lot more fitting than the mustang, since felines currently outnumber the mustang 80 to zero on campus.
Despite a strict policy regarding animals on campus (the owner must be holding a leash or the animal has to be secured in a vehicle), there were almost 400 feral cats living on campus in 1992, when Garrett Quindimil started the Cal Poly Cat Program (CPCP) as his senior project. Since its founding, almost 1,000 cats have gone through the program, director Edie Griffin-Shaw.
The program significantly reduced the number of feral cats using the “Test, Trap, Vaccinate, Medicate, Alter, and Release” method developed by the National Feral Cat Resource Center, or specifically by neutering or spaying the cats.
CPCP relies on people to notify the staff about a stray cat. The program lays traps to catch the cat and then staff members bring it to a local veterinary clinic, where if it hasn’t been fixed already, it is neutered (males) or spayed (females), vaccinated and tested for AIDS, leukemia, and rabies. Then its ear is clipped so staff members know which cats have been through the program.
Staff members and volunteers run the shelter (located on Mount Bishop Road off Highland) as well as 12 feeding stations spread around campus.
“It’s a wonderful program,” Griffin-Shaw said.
“When we first started, people thought we were just a bunch of crazy cat women. But when they realized what we were doing and why, a lot of the critics turned around.”
Griffin-Shaw and her co-director Ellen Notermann have a core group of 20 volunteers. The university allotted the space for the shelter, but staff and volunteers are responsible for all expenses, including vet bills, litter, cleaning supplies and food. They work with community members to donate money and fundraise with events like raffles, golf tournaments, car washes and garage sales.
Rachael Maingot, 22, has volunteered at the shelter for nearly two years, two two-hour shifts a week.
“I first got involved because I had cats that passed away. I heard about it through the grapevine; then when I saw the shelter, it had a lot of cool cats;” like her favorite cat Snowy, who has one eye and no ears. “Everyone stares at him like he’s scary, but then they realize what a nice cat he is,” she said.
The shelter is a great place for people who love animals; the cat-human interaction is mutually beneficial, she said.
Biology senior Elizabeth Goodenough sees the shelter as an opportunity to learn.
“I want to have a career in a similar field. Ethology (study of animal behavior) and rehabilitation are my main interests. So working at a cat shelter is not so much work to me as it is honor knowing what I am doing is a part of something so much bigger to give homeless and abused animals the voice and help they need so badly,” she said.
Most of the cats found on campus were dumped by students; others were owned by staff members who went into nursing homes or died. The program also works with others around the county, sharing volunteers and providing space for cats when other shelters are full.
“Some cats are here for a short time. They may have been sick and needed to come in for medical needs. Others, like the old campus cats, are there until they pass away,” Griffin-Shaw said.
Bucky was one of the original cats in 1992. When she was found she was just a kitten; she’s now 17-years-old, Griffin-Shaw said.
“She started her life as a very wild girl and wouldn’t let me touch her for many years. She’s hard of hearing and is probably blind in her bad eye. She loves being in the shelter where she gets lots of attention and pets, a nice dry bed and where she is treatedlike a queen.”
In addition to caring for the cats, the shelter also has an adoption program. Since its founding, CPCP has adopted out over 700 cats, Griffin-Shaw said.
“Usually with someone you can tell if they’re there to have a friend. We want the cats to go to good homes,” computer science senior and CPCP volunteer Daniel Luces said.
Luces has volunteered with the program since last summer; in March he adopted an orange tabby named Hitch.
“I think almost every volunteer has adopted one,” said Griffin-Shaw.
In addition to screening potential adopters and volunteers herself, Griffin-Shaw sees how a 10-year-old black cat named Woody responds to them.
“He’s a great judge of character and I watch how he reacts. He’s always right,” she said.
“One time someone came in to volunteer. I wasn’t too sure if this was the place for him to work. I was trying to find a gentle way to discourage him from volunteering, when out of nowhere, Woody came up and starting rubbing all over him. I decided to give him a chance and he wound up being one of our best volunteers.”
The shelter has one large main indoor room and an outdoor area, both furnished with cat paraphernalia. The cats are free to roam around, except those who need medication, who haven’t seen the vet yet, or who aren’t the friendliest felines.
“The cats mostly get along. We do have a few bullies that we would love to find homes for. They would love to be only pets. We introduce the cats slowly so they get to know each other,” Griffin-Shaw said.
If you see a cat whose ear has not been clipped (which means it has not been through the program) or for more information, contact CPCP by calling Edie Griffin-Shaw at (805) 756-5220 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or Ellen Notermann at (805) 756-1625 or email@example.com.