By Lauren Toole
Through the fluorescent-white hallway of Farr Hall and down the stairs into the depths of the basement are the parking lot doors, slightly askew. As they open, multiple pairs of eyes flash up and then away: felines ﾗ joined by the occasional skunk or raccoon ﾗ scatter.
There is a name for this place. Colloquially, the students call it the cat lair.
The high frequency of cats in this area is largely due to the efforts of a small group of community members who set out food in the parking lot of Farr. Due to pressure they failed to explain from sources they declined to identify, group members requested to remain anonymous. But cats have been sighted elsewhere throughout campus, suggesting they reside all over Gambier. This impression is likely accurate, according to Jessica Lyon, a surgery technician at the Knox County Humane Society .
“There’s probably hundreds of thousands of cats in the Mount Vernon area alone,” Lyon said. “They’re kind of like cockroaches. You see one or two and there’s really 50. It’s pretty bad.”
Those who have taken on the responsibility to feed and care for the cats are overwhelmed, according to one community member involved in the effort. In addition to setting out food, members have also attempted to spay, neuter, vaccinate and adopt as many cats as they can. Says one member, “[We’re] doing what we can with all the resources we have.” They pay all expenses out of pocket.
Additionally, students, who asked to remain anonymous because College policy forbids keeping a cat, have helped manage the number of strays on campus. One junior currently has a cat living in the bathroom of her residence.
“My roommate found the cat by the [Kenyon Athletic Center] and we wanted to take her to the shelter, but they didn’t have any room for her,” the junior said. “They said to call back another day, but then we fell in love with her, so now she’s ours. For now.”
Raleigh Dierlam ’13 also kept a cat in her Caples room during her sophomore year. After discovering the cat at a party in New Apts, Dierlam lured it back to Caples, where it lived in her room during the day. Dierlam then discovered the feline was pregnant and took it to KCHS to get spayed. Afterward, she released it back onto campus.
Both the “cat lair” and the high number of felines on campus have existed for a number of years, according to Bob Hooper, director of Campus Safety. “Part of it is people want to get rid of their cat and they think, ﾑOh, let’s just drop it off in Gambier,’ because they know people will take care of it,” Hooper said. “We normally see our spike in May when students are all moving out; they just turn the cat out, and then it becomes a Village issue.”
At one time, community members were banned from feeding and sterilizing the cats. Officials were allegedly concerned with the extra wildlife that the food would attract. “With the wildlife in this area, it does draw raccoons and skunks, which as the officers are doing their rounds, kind of jeopardizes their safety,” Hooper said.
This restriction, however, was lifted once it became apparent letting the cats continue to procreate would only exacerbate the Village’s problems. Those who feed the cats have taken steps to control the arrival of other wildlife. Now, feeding only occurs during the day to limit the arrival of nocturnal animals.
In an article published in the Mount Vernon News in late August, the paper reported unprecedented levels of cats in Mount Vernon due to neighbors feeding and sheltering them. Residents were concerned with the growing presence of feral cats in the city.
A feral cat is one that “is pretty much a wild animal,” Lyon said. “The moment you touch them or interact with them, they’re either going to a) run away or b) tear you up.” Strays, on the other hand, are much more affectionate and domesticated. Lyon said that while KCHS has received a few feral cats from Gambier, she speculates most of the cats at the College are strays.
“These colonies are everywhere ﾅ most of the time people don’t realize it until [the cats] become so keen on getting fed,” Lyon said. “It’s really not that person’s fault that all these cats are around. They’re just trying to feed a cat so it won’t starve.”
“There are so many unwanted animals in the world, and people just don’t know how to take care of them, and people need to be proactive about the situation, not reactive,” Dierlam said.
Lyon agreed, saying, “The important thing [to remember] is they’re never going to stop if they’re not managed and fixed. It’ll just keep continuing.”
KCHS offers spaying and neutering services. The Bookstore also accepts donations at the cash register for KCHS.