Students and employees are organizing to find homes for strays from the cat colony near campus.
At 9 o’clock on the bitter winter mornings in North Philadelphia, as students, staff and faculty hustle from the train to the warm buildings on Main Campus, little wet noses peak out from under Philadelphia Housing Authority buildings, awaiting their morning meals.
These noses belong to a dozen or more cats that have taken up residency underneath public housing near campus.
They are easy to miss. They keep their distance from the traffic of the morning rush. But there are two voices that can draw them out. The first belongs to recent Temple grad and current Web master for the College of Engineering Alanna Burke.
“That one we named Bunny,” Burke said, pointing to a small, gray spotted cat behind a fence. “His back legs don’t move independently from one another. I think he was born that way.”
Soon after, Terri Martin, director of recruitment at the College of Engineering, arrived dressed for a day at the office but carrying a tote full of cat food.
“They are starting to recognize my voice,” she said.
As she called them, popping open several cans of wet food, they began to venture out.
The first to arrive was aptly named Bunny, hopping awkwardly to the fresh food from behind the gate. Soon, a few other felines ventured slowly from under a rusty broken grate that leads to a crawl space.
“It’s getting to be an expensive habit,” Martin said. “I go through 10 to 12 cans a day.”
Martin feeds the cats once in the mornings and once in the evenings on her way to and from the train. She has been doing so for more than two years. She’s even been known to make the trip on the weekends to ensure that the cats are getting their meals.
“The funny thing is, I wasn’t really a cat person,” she explained. “But it just breaks my heart.”
Both Martin and Burke said they realize feeding the cats is not the solution.
“I think people see the cats here and think, ‘This is a good place to dump my cat. At least he’ll be with other cats,’” Burke said. “But I have seen my fair share of cats get hit by cars.”
She recounted picking up a badly injured and bloody cat off the road recently.
“He didn’t survive,” she said.
The weather, living conditions and lack of food and water pose a danger to the felines.
Though they are unsure about the feral ones or others born on the street, Martin and Burke said many of the cats are adoptable.
“Most of them seem friendly and have probably been dumped here,” Burke said.
“There are dozens of Temple cats that we are taking constantly to the clinics to be spayed/neutered, vaccinated, put into foster homes and adopted out,” Kathy Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Community Cats Council, said.
In Philadelphia, generally 59 to 69 percent of stray, feral and abandoned cats can be adopted, Jordan said. These numbers inspired Burke to organize efforts to rescue these cats.
“I have pulled a couple of cats out of this area, and I just got frustrated,” Burke said. “I saw another pregnant cat out there, and I thought, ‘We have to trap her, so why not trap them all?’”
Burke recently set up a Web site, temple-cats.org, to take donations and share stories and pictures of these cats with the Temple community. She said she hopes to obtain volunteers and donations to help trap the cats and ultimately get them adopted.
Student organization Prompters of Animal Welfare recently met with Burke to plan some events and get involved with her efforts.
“We have a bake sale coming up on Feb. 3,” PAW President Kristina Paulk said. “We are going to donate the proceeds of the sale to the project. We will also be accepting donations.”
Paulk plans to have pictures of the cats and will offer students the opportunity to sponsor specific cats and follow them through the process.
Burke will use the money raised by her site and PAW’s efforts to trap the cats and take them to a low-cost clinic to be spayed and neutered.
Jordan, of the PCCC, said the cost for spay/neutering, vaccinations and flea treatments is $25. The clinic the council runs, also known as “The Cube,” is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Philadelphia headquarters on Erie Avenue.
Liz Williamson, a public relations associate at the PSPCA, said her organization has a certain amount of funding set aside for “The Cube” that allows them to offer this low-cost service.
Most students at Temple seemed to be aware of the cat situation and excited to hear that real efforts were being organized.
Michelle Smith, a junior advertising major, said she sees strays up and down 13th Street near campus. Smith works at the Fairmount Pet Shop, which holds rescued cats for adoption. She said she hopes to help Burke and Martin in their efforts.
“I will talk to my employer about donating food and gift baskets,” she said. “We’ve done it in the past.”
Burke has three cats herself and is currently fostering a pregnant one that she trapped at the colony.
“She could be giving birth at any moment,” she said.
She will be fostering and giving the kittens for adoption with the help of the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society.
Burke said she is concerned because earlier a resident mentioned to her that there might be kittens. Their chances of survival are low in winter weather.
Burke and Martin continue to watch the cats and check on their statuses daily.
“That’s the pregnant one,” Burke said. “We think she has a few months to go.”
Martin pointed out a large white cat in the distance.
“He’s the leader,” she said. “I thought he might be sick, but he’s a big cat, he must be taking care of himself.”
It’s obvious the women know the cats well from feeding them each day.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” said Burke as she looked around the housing project.
This is not an isolated incident. In fact, Brenda Malinics, director of alumni relations at the School of Pharmacy and PCCC member said she has seen cat colonies on the campus of Health Sciences as well. Colonies like these can be found all around the city.
“The problem is that these animals don’t get fixed,” Burke said. “They just keep reproducing. Then you have a whole new generation of cats that can reproduce.”
Just as Burke and Martin were ready to leave for the morning, Burke spotted a group of cats in a courtyard a few feet away. She walked over broken glass, trash and even a forgotten kitty litter scoop to another sharp and rusty broken grate, where two more cats peer out.
“I haven’t seen this one before,” she said. “There must be a few a living in here as well.”
Behind her, a small black cat quietly shivered behind a fence. She stretched to reach it and picked up the small animal.
When she brought the cat close, it was obvious the animal was ill. The cat was covered in dirt and feces and breathing heavily, putting up no fight when Burke reached toward it.
She wrapped the cat close to her.
“I don’t have a crate with me,” she said, cradling the cat. “I will have to sneak him into my office. I can’t just leave him here.”
Andrea Hanratty can be reached at email@example.com.