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Friday, January 18, 2008

Campus organization working toward educating the public about animal needs

Over the past several months one Northwest Missouri State University organization has been doing their part to educate people about animal advocacy.

One of the major areas of concentration within the Northwest Advocates for Animal Awareness (NWAAA) group is their feral (wild) cat program.

The NWAAA group strives to strengthen the community's capacity to make good decisions concerning domestic animals and to set an example with the care and attention they give their own pets and those they advocate for.

Kristina Martinez, campus safety officer and advisor to the group, has always been an animal lover, owns several dogs and fosters others. To her, it is all about providing important knowledge to the public, so instead of merely masking the problem, they can fix and eventually prevent one.

"We don't just try and get rid of them (the cat population on the campus property) because that doesn't really fix the problem," Martinez said. "You have to teach people things. If we spay and neuter the cats, they generally stay in their areas. We are learning to manage the feral cats."

Last spring, Martinez trapped and had seven wild cats spayed or neutered. Veterinarians around town gave the group discounts because of the work they are doing for the community.

Winter brings slower activity for captivity of those feral animals. Martinez generally leaves a cat that has just had surgery in a cage for a while afterward. She doesn't want the animal to get cold while trapped in a cage, or get caught in an unexpected snow storm — where it wouldn't be able to run for cover.

Because she hasn't been able to spay and neuter over the winter months, she predicts they will have several litters of kittens in the spring.

"We might have to start adopting them out then, because the campus is not good for little kittens," Martinez said.

Groups of cats consistently stay in certain areas around campus. Several stay near the campus safety office, others stay near the Station and still others near the apartments and high rises on campus.

"I wouldn't say they are getting more tame, I would just say they are more predictable now," Martinez said referring to why the cats continually visit the same locations on campus.

Martinez, who often feeds the cat with money out of her own pocket, feeds the group of cats near the campus safety department building.

"I feed them every day when the afternoon sun is shining down and there is less wind," she said. "Every day I drive by around noon and I see them out there waiting for me."

While these cats are getting used to being fed everyday, they are still very much wild cats, Martinez said. Most of them run when approached, but one student on campus has been able to approach at least two of the cats.

"There's just something about her that the cats like," Martinez said. "I'm no Emily, I just feed them."

Cats are also vaccinated upon their captivity and released back into the campus population. Those that "are fixed" have a tipped left ear to show that they have already had surgery, and also so Martinez knows she doesn't have to trap them again.

The group raises money through fundraisers, she said. Last year Martinez received $200 from a lady who took one of the feral cats to a rescue agency in Kansas City.

"I told her we weren't in the business of selling cats," she said. "The point was to slow down the rate at which feral cats reproduce by getting them fixed and then releasing them back into the wild.

"She handed me a check and I looked down and I couldn't believe it was $200. She wrote a little note on it that said, 'keep up the good work.' I've never heard from her again, but it was good for the students to see that people really do support what we do."

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