Professor of Spanish Carmen Wyatt-Hayes recently stumbled onto a problem plaguing Hillsdale County. She was still in the process of transitioning her cat, Mici, from an outdoor to an indoor cat when he went missing. It wasn’t the first time that Mici hadn’t come home at night after being let out to roam during the day, so Wyatt-Hayes wasn’t worried. That is, not until she began talking to her neighbors.
“I went and talked to my nextdoor neighbor. They were missing three cats,” Wyatt-Hayes said. “And so I went to their next-door neighbor, and I was surprised to see on the porch two live traps baited with cat food. So I spoke to the gentleman, and he said, ‘Yes, I’ve been trapping cats, there are too many in the neighborhood. I’ve trapped seven.’”
As she continued digging, Wyatt-Hayes realized the sad reality of the situation.
Wyatt-Hayes found out someone else, one street over, was also trapping cats: a network of trappers, according to her. “The unfortunate thing I found out that day is that, according to Hillsdale ordinances, dogs have rights, but because cats roam, they have no more standing than a raccoon or a possum. So in essence, you could do just about anything to a cat,” she said.
Wyatt-Hayes realized this problem looms larger than her own personal loss.
“That’s why it’s so important to see what we can do about reducing the number of feral cats,” Wyatt-Hayes said. “Because it is true that Hillsdale has many feral cats.”
Fellow Spanish Professor Kátia Sherman became aware of the problem almost immediately after moving to Hillsdale. When she arrived about three years ago, her next-door neighbor’s house was foreclosed and they had skipped town.
“They left behind a very large feral colony,” Sherman said. “I was either going to take care of them, or I was going to see them starve and get scattered. So, I got everybody neutered and spayed and have been feeding them and caring for their health ever since.”
Sherman’s cat collection has only grown. She now takes care of a total of 27 cats, as well as her dog Lucy.
“I learned about myself that I can’t turn cats away. So I decided, ‘Well, I know the need is great. I have to find a solution for this,’” Sherman said. “If they want a cat to get out of their property, they can trap them, but there is no need to kill these cats.”
Upon finding out that Hillsdale’s Humane Society is both underfunded and overwhelmed, Sherman realized she had only one reasonable option: to build a shelter herself.
“I was able to purchase an empty lot immediately behind my house, so that is where the shelter is going to go,” Sherman said. “As soon as the building is up, we are going to become a fully licensed shelter in the state of Michigan. We are eventually going to file for nonprofit status, so we can ask for contributions from the community.”
Sherman believes that her ‘no-kill’ shelter will have a profound impact on the community and provide a solution for the spreading feral cat population in Hillsdale.
“A big component of what I want to do is not only to rehabilitate these cats, socialize them, and get them adopted into good families, but to offer outreach to the community,” Sherman said. “I want people to know that they can have their pets, whether they are indoor or outdoor cats, neutered and spayed. We will cover the costs, we will offer transportation, and we will even trap them if need be.”
Professor of Spanish Sandra Puvogel explained, “Dr. Sherman is well aware of the important role our pets play in our lives and is devoted to making life better for all animals. This proposed shelter would be a great help to our community, both for the felines and the humans who love them.”