Since 1987, the Feline Friends Network at Stanford has rescued hundreds of stray cats that roam campus. After its nearly four-decade history, the organization is now canceling its cat-rescue operations.
According to Lisa Springs, a volunteer with the Network, the nonprofit is headed toward dissolution for a multitude of reasons. “All monitoring and feeding stations on our campus have been taken down,” she wrote, due to reasons such as increased construction and a larger coyote population causing the Network to remove its monitoring and feeding stations.
In an email to The Daily, Springs and other Network volunteers (Kathleen Creger, Laurie Tupper and Larissa Williams) wrote that without their efforts, “many of [the cats] They likely would have ended up in shelters and been euthanized, or lived difficult lives without regular food or proper veterinary care.”
According to student volunteer Caity McGinley ’21 MA ’21, “The main opportunity for [the organization] at Stanford I was putting cat food and water at stations around campus.” Furthermore, he wrote that he “liked to monitor [their] health,” making sure to note if the cats showed any atypical lethargy, injuries, or weight loss.
The Network never became an official university organization, maintaining its “independent, non-profit 501(c)(3)” status, the group wrote. However, according to the group, the Network negotiated an agreement with the University to install power stations around the campus.
According to Springs, the organization experienced some wear and tear when its student volunteers were sent home during the covid-19 pandemic. McGinley was among these students. She began volunteering at Network her freshman year and continued until the pandemic sent her home her junior year.
McGinley wrote that the cats came to her when she called, recognizing her by her voice. “Sometimes they would follow me back to the bedroom in Suites,” she wrote. She also wrote that seeing the cats was the highlight of her week. “[W]hen I was struggling with duck syndrome they cheered me on and watching them live their best lives always put a smile on my face,” she wrote. Regarding the organization’s decision to disband, McGinley said she felt “sad.”
Over the years, cats have been found in a variety of places, from a Stanford Mall construction site to a drainage pipe, according to the group. At one point, the Network even “caught a mother cat and her 7 female orange tabbies,” which was peculiar not only because of the sheer number of cats, but “because orange tabbies are normally male,” the group wrote.
Now, at the end of its activities, the organization has four volunteers in its pack. Its staff size once peaked at 25, including student volunteers, retirees and locals who were employed elsewhere at the time, according to the group.
For volunteers, the time commitment varied depending on their role, but was generally “a few hours a week,” the group wrote. For example, some volunteers would work at the feeding stations, others would retrieve the cats, and others would manage the Network’s newsletter.
The group wrote that the cats ranged in age from kittens to seniors, and that the rescue process typically followed a formula. After receiving word of a cat sighting, the Network would swoop in, locating and catching the cat. If the cat was domesticated and therefore considered adoptable, they would check for a microchip so they could find the owner. “If there is no microchip, we try to find the owner by posting on websites and posting signs in the neighborhood where he was found,” the group wrote.
The adoptable cats would be sent to “a foster home while they await their ‘forever’ home” if no owners came forward, the group wrote. The new owners tended to be from the Bay Area, although some “[came] from as far away as the Santa Cruz Mountains and Half Moon Bay. The Network would do background checks on prospective homes before allowing a cat to be adopted.
On the other hand, the feral cats were considered “unsocialized” or “unadoptable,” according to the group. The group would still take the cat to a vet to check for microchips and any other health care, but the cat would receive standard.”TNR” or “Trap-Neuter-Return”. After treatment, these cats were “returned to campus” to remain under the supervision and feeding of the Network.
Some students were surprised to learn of Network’s previous presence on campus, but appreciated his legacy of rescuing homeless cats.
Hannah Cussen ’23 said she would have loved to volunteer with the Network if she had known about it. “Cat people tend to be introverts and it would have been fun to meet other people through a shared love of cats,” Ella Cussen said.
“I didn’t realize there would be so many cats on campus to have an entire organization dedicated to saving them,” said Alyssa Charley ’23. “My own fat cat at home was a stray, so it’s good to know that efforts are being made here to save strays as well.”
In an email to The Daily, a Network volunteer, Larissa Williams, wrote that the Network “did not make the decision [to disband] lightly or without planning.”
According to Williams, the Network is still active as it is being phased out and there are numerous organizations doing similar work nearby. Before making the decision to disband, the Network “carefully monitored placements on the site for a year,” she wrote.
Williams added that “the sterilization program works incredibly well with 26 years of dedicated effort,” leading to a reduction of the campus cat population from “over 100” to “zero residential feral cats” today.