Baylor makes the purr-fect home for cats

The cats on campus are unofficial mascots that enrich the lives of both caretakers and passing students.
 Audrey La | Photographer

By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer

Walking around the Baylor campus, students are likely to see cats hanging out in bushes, climbing trees or napping in the sun. According to the cats’ caretakers, around 100 cats call Baylor home, living in many different colonies situated around campus.

The cats on campus are unofficial mascots that enrich the lives of passing students and the caretakers who ensure they are healthy.
Auderey La | Photographer

Some colonies are small, like the two black cats living behind Castellaw Communications Center or the four kittens living in the courtyard of Draper Academic Building. Other colonies have up to a dozen cats, like the colony that explores the pipes and tunnels under Russell Hall.

Many of the cats on campus are named. Shadow and Junior hang out in one of the back corners of Castellaw. Panda, Leopard and Skinny Minnie call the bushes by Sid Richardson home. Midnight Fluff, Mama Cow, Grandma Cow, the tailless Stumps, the cross-eyed Derp, Baby Derp and many other cats hang their hats underneath Russell Hall.

Panda (left) and Skinny Minnie (right) chow down on their breakfast of kibble and wet food outside of Sid Richardson. | Photo by Matt Kyle

All of the cats on campus are cared for by various Baylor staff members, who said they are currently trying to get an official Baylor student organization together in order to better coordinate the care of the animals. Dr. Tim Campbell, a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, said he feeds the cats at Sid Richardson and Russell Hall kibble and wet food every morning. He said having a university-recognized organization would allow for the cats to receive a higher standard of care.

“There’s a lot of different groups and different people that take care of the various cat colonies on campus,” Campbell said. “If we can all get coordinated and set up feeding stations and feeding times, it will be good for the animals. More people on campus involved in the welfare of the cats can help alleviate the pressure on individuals. I feed these cats every morning, but if I go away for three days, who’s going to feed them? Making it a larger organization which collaborates around campus could help maintain the standard of care for these animals.”

The Draper cats cuddle together in the bushes of the Draper courtyard. | Photo by Matt Kyle

Campbell said the cat caretakers have been trying to get elevated feeding stations, which would prevent other wild animals like skunks, raccoons and opossums from taking the cats’ food and would be covered to protect the cats from rain. The elevated surface, about two feet off the ground, would allow the cats to leap up and get to their food, while other wild animals could not. Campbell also said that despite wild animals stealing the cats’ food, he has seen some of the cats playing around with opossums and skunks.

Wild animals and stray cats aren’t an uncommon sight on college campuses. Dennis Nolan, the senior director of Environmental Health and Safety at Baylor, said many universities — like the University of Texas, Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University — have their own formalized cat programs to care for the cats that live there.

Nolan said cats and other wild animals come to college campuses to seek out food and shelter. In addition to feeding the cats, the cat coalition also gets the cats spayed, neutered and vaccinated against diseases like rabies through the Waco Animal Birth Control Clinic. It also sets up traps to catch other wild animals on campus.

“You can’t make the cats leave,” Nolan said. “They’re always going to be on your campus, but you can control the parameters and how they live there. By getting them spayed and neutered, getting their shots, checking on their feeding and how they’re fed, they’ll actually occupy the space and keep other cats away. So it actually reduces your cat population long term.”

The legion of Russell cats enjoying breakfast. About a dozen cats live underneath Russell Hall, including Mama Cow (second from left), Baby Derp (third from left), Midnight Fluff (black cat in middle) and Stumps (second from right). Grandma Cow (black cat furthest from photo) watches the feeding frenzy, waiting for her turn. Photo by Matt Kyle

Carrie Kuehl, the executive director of the Waco Animal Birth Control Clinic, said getting the cats fixed and vaccinated helps improve the health of both the cats and humans. She also said that having cats on campus helps improve mental health by bringing an “emotional connection” to Baylor and that the cats act as a natural element of pest control.

“In the past, there’s been some connection to even the squirrels on campus,” Kuehl said. “So I think that speaks to the need to have some kind of non-classroom, non-human connection to rest the mind and to feed the heart. These are outdoor cats, so they’re naturally going to augment their nutrition. In addition to kibble, they’re also going to eat things like mice, bugs and things that might help to make the campus a little more pleasant to be on.”

Many Baylor students said they love having cats live on campus. San Jose, Calif., senior Allison Laidlaw said she loves seeing the cute cats all over campus.

“There is a little community of cats over by the Carroll Science Building, and they had kittens a little while ago,” Laidlaw said. “I feel like [it] was definitely relaxing and wonderful to see them — just tiny little cats living their best life.”

One of the Russell cats rolls around and sunbathes after finishing breakfast. | Photo by Matt Kyle

Other students have forged connections with the furry felines they see every day. San Antonio senior Hunter Hargett said he stops to pet Shadow and Junior almost every day when he goes to class at Castellaw. Keller junior Georgia Bundick lived at Heritage House her freshman year and said she could see Shadow from her dorm window and would visit her multiple times a week.

“It’s a really compassionate thing to see,” Bundick said. “I like that everybody cares enough about Shadow to give her a lot of good amenities. [The cats] always make my day a little better. It’s not necessarily going to turn my whole day around, but it’s really nice walking to campus and walking through Draper and seeing those little kittens.”

Shadow, sometimes called the “Castellaw Cat,” has been a staple of Baylor for quite some time. Ron Garrett, a TV engineer with the Department of Film and Digital Media, said Shadow first appeared about 10 years ago. Along with John Cunningham, a senior lecturer of communication, Garrett has been taking care of and feeding Shadow since she first arrived. They have upgraded Shadow’s bed from a makeshift plastic box to a covered bed, and they have given Junior, who Garrett said first showed up about two years ago, a covered bed as well.

Garrett said Shadow was shy at first but has warmed up to faculty and students over the years. While Junior is still pretty skittish, Garrett said Junior has been warming up to him and loves it when people pet him.

The cat’s names often have meanings tied to their personalities. Campbell said that Grandma Cow and Mama Cow have taken a motherly role for many of the younger kittens, and Leopard loves to hang out on top of the bushes and dangle his feet down. Campbell said Derp got his name due to his crossed eyes and his habit of getting caught time and time again in the traps meant for skunks and raccoons.

The cats on campus are unofficial mascots that enrich the lives of passing students and the caretakers who ensure they are healthy.
Auderey La | Photographer

Campbell said it is “against his set of morals” to leave the cats without care. He said Skinny Minnie was “skin and bones” when first caught but is now healthy and well.

“I cannot let animals starve that don’t have any other option,” Campbell said. “There are values to having cats walking around campus. People see a cat, and it brightens their day. Then they go into class with a smile, and we’re in a more positive attitude. They’re here. That’s not going to change. That’s not going to go away. We should be good stewards of our furry little friends and help them out.”

Two of the Draper cats napping in the bushes. | Photo by Kaity Kempf