A love for cats, a love for campus and love for students motivates a group of volunteers to care for the 40-plus cats who make the San Antonio College campus their home. 

Each cat has been lovingly named, with monikers like Sammie, Canello, Chiquito, LeRoy, Connor, Fiona, Grace, Chance, Sylvester and Little Mama.

Michele Tippit, a client support specialist in the college’s Office of Technology Services, started caring for the cats in 2015. Eventually, others joined in: a faculty member, a former student, a retired faculty member and two volunteers not associated with SAC.

While some cats are skittish and stay away from humans, others are friendly and interact with staff and students. They are mostly orange, black and white; each has its ears clipped, signaling they’re fixed, and look healthy and fed. They can often be seen sunbathing around the campus.

Every morning and evening, the cats gather at their bowls upon hearing a familiar voice and the sound of food shaking in containers. After eating, many stick around to play with the volunteers, twirling around their legs and eagerly receiving affection.

Most stray cats show up from around the neighborhood, Tippit said, but others may have been dumped or abandoned. Recently, cameras across campus have been installed and are routinely checked for criminal activity, including dumping, she said.

On Tuesday, Tippit shed tears as she described almost a decade of effort by her and the other volunteers. The group started social media accounts under the name San Antonio College Community Cats, which Qing Liu, professor of graphic design at SAC, manages.

Liu became involved after seeing the strays around campus. When she mentioned to colleagues that she wanted to do something to help, they pointed her to Tippit.

For years, the group attempted to convert their efforts into a student-led organization, but say they were hindered by student and faculty turnover.

They now rotate responsibility and feed the cats “in the shadows,” Tippit said, trying their best not to draw too much attention lest someone complain to the college or the city.

San Antonio College Community Cats volunteers Quing Liu and Michele Tippit estimate it costs approximately $20 to $25 per day to feed all 40 plus cats at the campus.
San Antonio College Community Cats volunteers Qing Liu and Michele Tippit estimate it costs approximately $20 to $25 per day to feed all 40 plus cats at the campus. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In a dozen areas around the campus, including by the Moody Learning Center, the parking garage adjacent to the center and the nursing building, food and water bowls are placed for each group of three to four cats.

When they first began feeding the cats, Tippit and her colleagues noticed pregnant cats and kittens were expanding the population around campus. Over the years, the group has helped manage the population on campus using the trap, neuter and return strategy. 

“If all 40 of these [cats] were not fixed, if you think about how many kittens… ” Tippit said. “There’s not enough homes for all the babies, so by getting them all fixed, … we’ve had a steady population.”

While that work is largely done, the group still needs money to continue their work.

Each day, it costs $20 to $25 a day to feed all the cats on campus, Tippit said, or about $7,300 a year. Lui started a Venmo account, @tory_bambam_sadie, to help defray costs to get the cats fixed and purchase food, but the group still spends their own funds to make ends meet.

The cats whom the Venmo account were named after have been adopted by families who live in Alamo Heights, said Liu, who is currently fostering Tory.

In 2022, the account brought in $820, of which $600 will go toward kickstarting a nonprofit organization to take care of the cats, Liu said.

“We’ve had several meetings just on that,” she said. “There’s a lot of little steps to get to that point.”

“That’s our goal,” Tippit said. “Unless the school could figure out a way they could finance to some degree, but there’s not that many of us that do this and the older we get, we may not be able to do it if we’re not here. Then who’s going to take care of the kitties? What are they going to do without us?” 

Even during holiday breaks, pandemic-related closures, and winter storms, Tippit and the small team of volunteers visit campus to feed the cats.

Over the years, the SAC cats have garnered social media attention from students and staff, some of whom donate to the group’s Venmo account.

While there is other wildlife on campus, including fox, skunks and possums, one threat to the cats’ safety is stray dogs, Michelle said, which have killed several, including one the group had named Orange #1 recently. 

Cats at San Antonio College feed in familiar areas and mostly stay in groups of four to five around the campus.
Cats at San Antonio College feed in familiar areas and mostly stay in groups of four to five around the campus. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“It’s really an emotional hit to us,” Liu said. “We feel really, really sad and unfair for these kitty cats. To live outside is not easy for them. Their lives are hard already and they have to go through this.”

Sandra Woodall, who volunteers her time at the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition, whose mission is to to reduce the city’s overpopulation of cats through public education and trap-neuter-and-return, said the nonprofit estimated that there are at least 100,000 street cats in San Antonio.

Woodall said there may be grants from animal welfare groups or the city that could help this small group fund its mission, and that the coalition could also connect volunteers to Wayward Whiskers Foundation, which helps feral cat colony caretakers with food donations.

“A female cat can have three litters a year, and a litter can be from two to eight kittens,” Woodall said. “Statistically, half of the births will be females. Those females can get pregnant at four months and can have three litters a year.”

“People who are feeding cats and are getting them neutered are doing a public service,” Woodall said.

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Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.