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Cal Poly's Cat Program gives feral, disabled, and abandoned cats a safe haven 

Nestled among Cal Poly's agricultural warehouses is a modest looking building with an inconspicuous keypad-encrypted door.

With a flash of green light, Dana K. Humphreys pulled open the door on a recent November morning, revealing a feline safe haven, Cal Poly's Cat Program, a nonprofit program aimed to provide feral, stray, surrendered or abandoned cats a sanctuary.

It began in 1992 as a senior project designed to solve the rising population of feral cats on campus. Initially, the project trapped and euthanized feral cats, Humphreys said, but eventually, the program turned toward a more humane approach—the "trap, test, vaccinate, medicate, alter, and release" technique.

click to enlarge OUT FOR A STROLL Student volunteer Jacob Burgasser gets ready to take one of the shelter cats to a fundraising bake sale. - PHOTO BY SHWETHA SUNDARRAJAN
  • Photo By Shwetha Sundarrajan
  • OUT FOR A STROLL Student volunteer Jacob Burgasser gets ready to take one of the shelter cats to a fundraising bake sale.

As the program grew, so did the services they provided.

"And it just eventually evolved, and it's now a full-service cat shelter," Humphreys said. "We do adoptions. We do rescues ... and it has actually expanded. We actually go out into the community and do trapping."

Humphreys started volunteering four years ago when she tried to find a home for her neighbor's cat, Bubba, whose owner had passed away. When the Feline Network couldn't take in her neighbor's cat, Humphreys was directed to the cat program at Cal Poly. The shelter is managed through the help of volunteer students, such as third year Daniela Jacobson, and community members who all have one thing in common—a love for cats.

"Even though I did have to wake up early—I'm not a good morning person—it was still super, super rewarding," Jacobson said. "It was a good way to just get rid of stress from school and life."

Jacobson started as a volunteer and worked her way up to being a shelter manager, which she says is rewarding despite the extra workload. Her favorite part of the job is helping feral cats socialize with humans.

"We would get feral cats that would come in and they would kind of hang in the corners. [They] tried to hide from people," Jacobson said. "Someone took a picture of me one day when one of the feral cats was letting me feed it from my hand and everyone was crowding around, because she would hiss and bite you if you even stepped foot near her."

As shelter manager, Jacobson is in charge of knowing everything about each cat—what kind of medications, diet, and behavioral issues the cat has in order to make sure each feline gets the medical attention it needs. And these services don't come cheap. A surgery to correct inverted eyelids, for example, can cost up to $4,000, Humphreys said.

"We have a lot of huge expenses for dental work. That could be like $1,000 to have an extraction," Humphreys said. "It's not just running the shelter, you know, the litter and the cat food and that type of thing. It's a lot of the surgeries and the treatments, the medical treatments that are very expensive."

Donations aren't the only thing the shelter needs right now. As students leave for the holidays, Humphreys said the shelter needs more volunteers who can take care of the cats.

"It is kind of left to just a handful of us. We'll take on anybody and everybody. We'll find a position for them," Humphreys said, adding that they'd need at least 15 volunteers to pick up one shift a week, ranging from one to three hours. It's a way to help give animals another shot.

"Not only has it helped the community, but it's continuing to provide more chances at a second chance at life for a lot of animals," Jacobson said.

If you'd like to volunteer at the cat program, head over to the program's website or email [email protected] to sign up.

Fast fact

• Santa Claus will be riding Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner train on Dec. 3 and arriving at the SLO Railroad Museum around 12:30 p.m. Admission to the SLO Railroad Museum will be free of charge while Santa's there, so bring the entire family to 1940 Santa Barbara Ave. in San Luis Obispo. It's just south of the Amtrak Station. Δ

Reach Shwetha Sundarrajan at [email protected].

Readers Poll

Do you think the SLO County Board of Supervisors should have gone against their policy that states funding for independent special districts should not result in a net fiscal loss to the county?

  • A. Yes, the housing and job opportunity the Dana Reserve is bringing is important
  • B. No, it's giving special privileges to the Nipomo Community Services District
  • C. I trust them, they know what's best for the county
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