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Pro­fessor Kátia Sherman holding Pro­fessor Carmen Wyatt-Hayes’ missing cat Mici. Courtesy | Carmen Wyatt-Hayes

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.”