For 21 years, the UWC Feral Cat Project (TUFCAT) has been taking care of the University’s feral cats, and helping staff and students with sterilising and emergency veterinary assistance for their pets. To celebrate, they’re giving you the opportunity to adopt a cat - in your home or virtually.
“Helping feral cats is time-consuming and can be frustrating and emotionally draining,” says cat carer Patrick Lupuzi. But it can also be extremely rewarding, with each situation and each cat presenting a new learning experience.”
For years, he’s been an integral part of TUFCAT, running much of its on-campus operations, from the trap-neuter-release (TNR) programme to the feeding to the campus book sales that help keep the project going.
TUFCAT was initiated by animal-loving UWC staff who could not ignore the plight of hundreds of sick, unsterilised and starving cats on campus. Lecturer Sharyn Spicer (Department of Sociology) and the late Andre Oppelt (former Operations Manager) initiated a TNR and feeding programme.
“Soon after starting work at UWC, I found that there were literally hundreds of cats all over campus and the off-campus residences,” said Spicer. “Since the cats were mating and hungry, they started becoming a serious nuisance and potential health risk - they were going into the UWC Nature Reserve to hunt, scratching in bins, entering residences, and causing a nuisance.”
But when Lupuzi came aboard, the project really kicked off.
“I was working at UWC doing carpet cleaning, of all things,” he recalled. “That’s when I met Sharyn, and she asked me to help here and there. It all grew from there - and it’s been an interesting experience.”
Since 2000, the initiative has ensured that the cats have food every day, as well as helping workers at UWC and students with sterilising and providing emergency veterinary assistance for their pets.
Overall, the feeding and sterilisation project, along with the extremely popular book sales, have drastically improved the situation - not only are the cats declining in numbers, they are healthier and all in all are seen as less of a nuisance.
The cats give back to the campus as well: the (sterilised) core cat colonies on campus prevent potential rodent problems from emerging. They’re so good at it that they represent one of the “green innovations” that’s earned UWC the title of Africa’s Greenest Campus (thrice). And TUFCAT is now a PBO (Public Benefit Organisation), and can issue 18A tax certificates to donors.
TUFCAT’s success has inspired others to try to achieve similar results, and the Project has also advised CPUT, Wits, Rhodes and UKZN about their own feral cat issues and programmes - and even done the same at Pollsmoor Prison. TUFCAT has also assisted farmers (who previously resorted to cruel and lethal means to deal with cats) by sterilising feral cats in their vineyards, orchards and packing sheds.
And now they’ve set up the TUFCAT Cat Sanctuary for unadoptable adult cats - a permanent property was secured for this in Grabouw in May 2021.
“As a cat lover, TUFCAT is my absolute passion - so it gives me enormous personal fulfillment,” says Dr Spicer. “But, beyond that, what we have achieved at UWC (humane feral cat population control) is an example to others - a humane form of feral cat population control where we share benefits and love rather than suffering. We’ve demonstrated that TNR is the most effective and sustainable way to manage feral cat colonies - and many other institutions have followed our lead.”
COVID & Cats: Crisis & Opportunity
Of course, all that changed when COVID-19 arrived. With campus closed and students and staff scattered, TUFCAT had to find new ways of caring for their cats.
“Although many of the cats enjoyed campus being empty during the initial lockdown, not all are completely feral and the tamer cats who are used to human interaction (and also receiving treats from campus cat lovers) were less impressed,” Spicer said. “But all in all the cats enjoy a quieter campus - and no cats have been run over since the advent of COVID with far less traffic on campus.”
Friends of TUFCATS who live close by helped feed the cats and checked for problems (especially Sandra van Reenen, UWC lecturer in Foreign Languages), and Lupuzi returned to campus as lockdown regulations eased. Furthermore, donors continued supporting the project - but with campus book sales coming to a halt, TUFCAT had to find new ways of funding their mission.
“Our biggest challenge is funding to pay staff, pay the vet, buy cat food,” Spicer noted. “We relied heavily on books on campus to bring in funds, but this came to an abrupt end with COVID. Some long-time supporters helped us through this difficult time, but like so many others, we had to use this time to innovate as well.”
TUFCAT started to sell their books online via their Facebook page - as students had long been requesting - with orders delivered for collection. That proved popular enough and the model expanded - they now also sell good quality used clothing online to bring in funds.
And then there’s the virtual adoption / sponsorship programme for cats (both on campus and in the sanctuary).
“Consider becoming a donor - cash, food or clothing,” said Spicer. “Or help us fundraise by distributing collection tins in your area and amongst friends and family. And of course, we’d love it if you adopt or foster a cat, or just buy a book from us via our online bookshop - every bit helps, after all.”
It’s worth it.
“Cats have needs, just like humans,” said Patrick Lupuzi. “They may be solitary animals in many ways, but they also need to be taken care of in terms of food, shelter, health, and so on. And like us they love attention and companionship - and they give as good as they get, if you let them.”
Want to know more about the TUFCAT initiative? Thinking of buying or donating books, lending a hand, or finding a feline friend to care for? Why not check out 5 Things You Should Know about TUFCats? Or just visit http://www.tufcat.co.za/, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to keep up to date with the latest campus cat developments.