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Cool Cats go to College

By Raymund Magno GarlitosAugust 27, 2017

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STUDENTS OF DE LA SALLE UNIVERSITY (DLSU) along Taft Avenue in Manila are familiar with their four-legged “schoolmates” hanging around the campus, sitting on top of garbage bins and tables, claiming the benches for themselves as they lay luxuriously for their naps, and lazily looking at their human counterparts from a distance with an indifferent demeanor, unless their onlookers come with tasty treats.

As one of the country’s top universities, DLSU-Manila is not only a place for higher learning and scholarly discourse – it is also a feline-friendly zone.  Proof of this is the 60 to 80 cats that are found in almost every corner of the school.  But an organization aptly named Professors for the Upliftment of Society’s Animals (PUSA) assures visitors that they are not a nuisance – their furry wards are very much welcome in the academic community.

 

Long-time residents

“As far as we remember, DLSU has had cats roaming the campus,” said Chinese Studies Professor Dr. Elaine Tolentino, one of the core members of the group that was started in 2014.  “Way before the group was formed, you’ll see our feline friends mingling with the students, especially near the places where the kids eat or hang out, like the cafeteria. Since they would rather not be bothered, they don’t display themselves conspicuously.”

Tolentino also explained why the cats are naturally drawn to the large spaces of the university.  “Cats are essentially territorial,” she said.  “Taft is not exactly a safe space for them, with all the vehicles.  Nearby buildings prohibit roaming animals, and since cats love to move around, they are shooed away. Since the university has wide spaces, they are free to define their territories.”

She also added that the cats have always had people in the university taking care of them.  “Some of their long-time supporters include Dr. Laurene ‘Lane’ Chua-Garcia (now the university’s vice-chancellor for external relations and internationalization), Behavioral Science’s Dr. Trinidad Osteria and even writer-in-residence and National Artist for Literature Dr. Cirilo F. Bautista, when he was still teaching at the Literature Department.  They would sometimes take a pause on their way to a class and drop some food for the cats to nibble on.”

Soon, the number of cat-loving professors has grown, and people like Tolentino, Garcia, Philosophy and Japanese Studies professor Laureen Velasco, Philosophy department chairperson Dr. Jeane Peracullo and Dr. Guadalupe Salanga have taken it to themselves to care for the cats, doing all sorts of stuff for them.  They then decided to form the group in 2014, and with the blessing of Br. Michael Broughton FSC (vice-president of the La Sallian Mission Office), PUSA was officially started, with the organization under Br. Broughton’s supervision.

Vice chancellor for academics Dr. Robert Roleda is also a supporter of the group.  He, along with members of the Chancellor’s Council, approved the guidelines for animals on campus.

 

Commitment to cats

Professor Velasco clarified that the university is not responsible for the feeding and taking care of the cats, and that PUSA’s supporters, which include both teachers and students, whom they call “PUSApporters,” are the ones providing for the animals’ needs.

“The two of us do most of the leg work. Dr. Lane Chua-Garcia shoulders most of the vet bills these days. Dr Trinidad Osteria (currently Yuchengco Institute director) is our biggest donor,” Velasco revealed.

In fact, the cats are already familiar with them, especially during feeding time. “It is Dr. Elaine (Tolentino) and I who really know all the cats because we feed them regularly,” she said. “The cats know more or less the feeding time. That’s part of their intelligence. In fact, it’s not unique to the DLSU cats. It is their nature to know especially if it’s a regular thing humans do.”

The commitment to care for them sometimes goes even during weekends, and on holidays.  “Laureen and I would go here regularly during weekends and sometimes even on a Christmas Day, Holy Week or Halloween. The guards would allow us to enter just to feed them. I would bring enough food to keep them contented for the day,” Tolentino said.

Velasco added that while they are happy that more cats have recently been added, they are very much willing to find them new homes.  “We would like to bring these cats to homes where they can be cared for, and not just because people find them cute,” she remarked.

A professed cat rescuer, she currently takes care of at least 60 at home, many of them rescued from the streets.

“I have rescued more than 100 since 2014,” she said.  “I have my own quarterly TNR (trap-neuter-return) and neuter/spay event in my community (since 2014).”

Tolentino emphasized the need for spaying and neutering stray cats, especially those in La Salle.

“Cats are very prone to many ailments, one of them being FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), which is the cat equivalent of HIV. When they are spayed or neutered, the risk of infection is reduced.  It also controls the population of the animals here.”

 

Cat companionship

However, more than just having them around, PUSA guarantees that the felines are generally safe to handle and while not all cuddle easily with humans, there were no known cases of students getting bitten by cats.

She invites students, especially the newcomers, to some of the cats that are regularly seen with humans – Chocnut (the wanderer), Yuch (the biggest), Levy (the fattest), Bogart (the bench warmer), Casper (the tree climber) and Archer (the security cat), the most famous of all.

“Some of them were named after the places where they are known to hang out,” Tolentino said.

She especially mentions two cats who are some of the ‘campus crushes.’ “Chocnut is also one of the most adventurous and fearless cats. He attends mass (Br. Michael sent me a photo of him snooping around the altar), goes inside classrooms during classes, sits by the transaction window at the accounting office, and enters offices to rest, sleep, hang around.”

DLSU PUSA has a Facebook group, numbering about 700 plus, with members sharing photos and videos of them interacting with cats. They all share in the monitoring and prepare prospective owners for adopting some of them. Last February, they held a fundraising event for the cats’ food, medicines and other needs.

“Some of our students are involved, too,” quipped Velasco. “[They are] assisting me during feeding, cleaning, and refilling water bowls, giving us feedback all the time about our cats and new strays.  It takes a village – or a university rather – to care for these animals.”