With some effort, a three-legged cat hobbles over to a food bowl near the entryway to the Cal Poly Cat Shelter program headquarters. Ellen Notermann, co-founder of the program, scoops up another cat, a brown and grey tabby that’s been rubbing its head against her leg for several moments.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E MILLER
Notermann points to a three-story enclosure: “These kittens here are from a momma cat that a nice couple had tried to catch and spay. She got away before they could do the procedure, and when they finally got her, she had this litter.”
There are currently about 40 cats in the program, and Notermann can tell you how each one came into the shelter’s care.
“Some stay in their enclosures because we’re waiting for their FIV results or because they get picked on a little by the other cats, but most love to wander inside and outside to the closed backyard,” she said.
Cal Poly’s cat program occupies a small building tucked away near the campus Rose Float building and the veterinary clinic. It started in 1992 as a student’s senior project to get the feral cats on campus trapped, tested, fixed, and released.
“A young man kept seeing these cats around campus and had heard about a similar program,” Notermann said. “He wanted to try and limit the amount of strays around by getting them fixed and releasing them back on campus near some feeding stations.”
It was very effective, reducing the almost 400 cats and kittens abandoned on campus by local residents and students to about 60 feral cats today. But the animals were still being euthanized in droves by county services.
Notermann and co-founder Edie Griffin-Shaw oversaw a second senior project that created the adoption program a few years later. The project continues to offer a great opportunity for the students to get senior projects done and for the cats to find loving homes.
“Since we’ve started the adoption program, over 400 cats have been adopted out,” Notermann said. “People adopt from our shelter, but even more so people are adopting from PetSmart, through our events there.”
All the cats that find their way to Cal Poly’s program are tested, treated, and fixed when needed. According to Notermann, many of the cats end up at the shelter due to foreclosure, financial woe, or family relocation. It’s a no-kill shelter, and there are only three ways a cat leaves Cal Poly: adoption, re-release for feral cats, or natural causes.
“This is sort of a nursing home for cats,” Notermann explained. “We don’t euthanize, so some of these cats will stay here comfortably for the rest of their lives.”
With more than 40 cats in residence, the shelter is remarkably quiet. Only a purr coming from a large, black tabby breaks the silence.
“We have about 20 volunteers who come in and socialize the cats, sweep, and clean the enclosures, but we need a lot more people to make this place run,” Notermann said.
Along with more volunteers, the shelter also needs funding. The biggest costs the program incurs are vet bills, medications, and food, particularly for the cats on special diets.
“Our vet’s office is great, and they treat the cats at a discount price, but we still need a lot of funding for other things,” Notermann said.
The program represents a great opportunity for people from all walks of life to donate their time, make a feline friend, and lower their blood pressure. It’s also a great opportunity to make a tax-deductible donation to a worthy organization.
“We’re sort of the last hope for a lot of these animals,” Notermann said. “The message is there are places you can call and get help for your cat.”
Intern Maeva Considine can be reached through Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach at firstname.lastname@example.org.