In the early 1990s, hundreds of feral cats roamed Cal Poly’s campus and the surrounding neighborhoods. Some were pets students had abandoned. Others were the offspring of cats brought in by the agriculture department for pest control.
Animal science senior Garret Quindimil started the Cal Poly Cat Program in 1992, when he found the cat population to be around 400. Back then, volunteers operated out of an outdoor shed that held up to four cats. Volunteers would wake up early in the morning and stay out late at night to rescue cats using a “fur friendly” trapping system.
Since then, the program has found homes for close to 3,000 cats and kittens thanks to a team of hardworking, self-proclaimed crazy cat ladies.
“We were so successful with trapping cats, socializing them and finding them good homes, [and] that just inspired us to do more,” Executive Director Sharon Dobson, who has been with the program since it started, said. “I feel like it gives me a lot of purpose.”
With over 100 different student and community volunteers, the cat program works to manage and support all cats regardless of their situation. They feed the remaining feral cats of Cal Poly, take in cats who have been left behind, help babysit cats for months on end and even save cats who shelters have deemed unadoptable and who would otherwise be euthanized.
The feral ones who are unable to be domesticated are trapped, vaccinated and spayed or neutered to decrease the surrounding population. Then they are set free. The shelter has six different feral-cat feeding stations, which are maintained by the volunteers. These feeding stations allow the cats to remain prominent hunters while still being able to get the proper amount of food to survive.
“I’ve brought books from class, and I’ll just study with a cat in my lap”
With over 40 cats residing in the shelter and at least 30 feral cats now surrounding the Cal Poly community, volunteers at the Cal Poly Cat Program put in long hours to ensure the cats are well taken care of.
“My experience with all the volunteers is that everybody has a huge heart to the point where they’ll just go so above and beyond and take in more than they probably should,” community volunteer Erika Callero said.
Estimated Number of Cats Roaming Campus
With an estimated 10 to one ratio of students to community volunteers, the program has really been impacted by the students of Cal Poly. Some are pre-veterinary students who have benefited from hands-on learning by giving shots and vaccinations to the cats.
Others use the shelter as a place to escape, to simply enjoy the company of a furry friend.
“It’s a good stress reliever to have a place to come to,” student volunteer and art and design junior Hope Golden said. “I’ve brought books from class, and I’ll just study with a cat in my lap.”
Volunteers help clean, feed and give medication to the cats. Because of the mutual responsibility and shared passion, the shelter has brought many of these volunteers closer together.
“The environment and community around the shelter is very wholesome and rewarding,” Cal Poly Cat Program Co-Manager and animal science sophomore Caroline Sumi said. “It’s almost therapeutic in a way, getting to come in weekly, knowing that you’re helping a good cause and getting to pet all of the cute cats.”
The shelter hopes to expand its horizons by opening a separate space where soon-to-be owners can play with the cats they are interested in. In the meantime, the options to adopt, foster, volunteer or donate are always encouraged by the volunteers of the Cal Poly Cat Program.
“I always say, with the cats, there is a lid for every pot,” Callero said. “If you want one that is super playful and wants attention and all that, great. If you want one that’s going to sleep all day and be a couch potato, perfect. We got them all!”
Carter Harrington, Max Goldberg and Alyssa Mavor contributed to this story.