Meet the Network of UT Staff and Faculty Dedicated to the Care of Campus Cats

For UT staff members Christine Huizar, MA ’11, and Patrick Parker, taking care of cats on campus all started with one beloved feline: Domino.

The big black-and-white cat called campus home for 13 years, lounging around the Peter T. Flawn Academic Center. Ever approachable and even more petable, Domino was full of what Huizar called “cattitude”— he was never boring and always sassy.  

The tuxedo cat’s constant companionship to students made Domino a social media star and a cat of the people.  

“There have been a bunch of Bevos and white squirrels,” Parker wrote in memoriam of Domino after his passing in May 2022. “But there is only one Domino.”  

When the “King of Campus” came out of his West Mall bushes for dinner one day, Huizar and Parker saw someone feeding the celebrity cat and decided they wanted to help feed and nurture the cats on campus.  

“Once you start taking care of one cat, it opens your eyes. We started seeing cats everywhere,” Huizar says. “As we started feeding them, we just met more and more feeders. You’ll see someone carrying a bag of cat food with three hungry cats trailing behind them.”  

Whether it’s one of the oldest cats, like Grandma Tux (the grand “matriarch” of West Campus strays), or a relative newbie, like Mini (another black-and-white patterned cat who resembles a smaller version of Domino, hence the name), Huizar and Parker have consistently been feeding and caring for the Forty Acres’ cats for six years.   

Huizar with her dry and wet cat food before her daily feeding rounds, where she walks an average of 3 miles.

They joined the Campus Cat Coalition in 2016, a network of staff and faculty who have worked together to take care of cats on campus since 1995.  

Over winter break in 1994, UT administration hired exterminators, who trapped and took cats to a local animal shelter, according to a 1995 Daily Texan article. Fourteen cats were euthanized, including one well-known campus cat: Miss Priss. The long-haired, well-loved gray feline was previously spayed and had lounged around W.C. Hogg Building for eight years while being fed by a staff member, but was listed among the missing after what the Texan called “The Great Cat Round-Up.”  

When faculty, staff, and students returned, they were outraged.  

“When we came back from Christmas, we accidentally found out about it and decided we needed to do something,” Jan Shrode, the first director of the coalition, told The Daily Texan in 1997.  

The Campus Cat Coalition was born: A collective of volunteers use the “Trap, Neuter, Return” method to care for the cats. The group of mostly UT staff humanely trap the cats, bring them to local vets to be vaccinated, neutered or spayed, and tested for diseases, and return and feed the cats regularly if they are not eligible to be adopted.   

The approach helped dwindle the number of feral and stray cats on campus from over 100 at the time of the coalition’s founding to 15 in 2010, when Austin became a no-kill city.  

Twenty-five years later, Huizar, Patrick, and the rest of the coalition are carrying the torch.  

“The original caretakers were getting older and retiring. They were really stressed, like, ‘Who’s going to take care of these cats on campus?’” Huizar says. “And as they retired, we just took on more and more.”  

In 2016, Huizar and Parker also created the Cats of West Campus Facebook page to help care for and find homes for stray cats in nearby West Campus.  

“I thought it was going to fail badly at first,” Parker says. “But it was worth a shot. I told Christina if we could only help one cat, then it would be worth it.”  

Now, for three hours every day, the two cat caretakers make their rounds to help feed around 40 cats who call campus and West Campus home. Most of the cats are shy, giving a little purr when Huizar or Parker approaches with food but scurrying away the moment they’ve had their fill.   

Sonny (black and white) and Blue (gray) greet Huizar for their evening meal.

Others are friendlier, like LT. Short for Loud Tabby, LT loves to meow and meow loudly.   

“He calls for us when he sees us,” Huizar says, “He comes running to us. I can pick him up and hold him like a baby.”  

Rain or shine is an understatement for the campus cat caretakers’ dedication. During Winter Storm Uri, the group regularly walked 8 miles through snow and ice to feed the cats, creating cold weather shelters with hay and boiling water to refill the cats’ bowls multiple times a day after they froze over.  

Huizar doesn’t mind getting her steps in during the feedings. “They run out of the bushes. Their tails will race. They’re just so happy to see us, and that’s its own reward,” she says.  

Five years before Huizar helped start Cats of West Campus, she was managing a bed-and-breakfast in West Campus when a stray cat came with several kittens under the porch. She helped rescue the cats from a flood, getting the kittens adopted out and the mom spayed.  

Since then, she’s made it a goal to help as many cats as possible. Some cats, like Grandma Tux, who has been fed by the cat caretakers since 2014, are completely feral. But the goal for most of the cats is to eventually get them adopted after socialization.   

As far as the Campus Cat Coalition is concerned, any help for the cats is welcome. For years, the care of campus cats has been placed in the hands of dedicated UT staff.   

“The reward of seeing the happy little cat faces every single night is what motivates me and keeps me going,” Huizar says, “Sometimes it does wear on me that I can’t take care of every cat in the world, but I can make sure that the cats in my little corner of the world are taken care of.”  

CREDIT: Matt Wright-Steel

 
 
 

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