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FAU animal lovers are the cat's meow

The assistant to the president at Florida Atlantic University has the purrfect volunteer job on weekends. Instead of writing speeches and conducting research, Laurenti dedicates her Saturdays and Sundays to feed and care for the homeless cats on FAU's Boca Raton campus.

"Come on kitty, kitty," Laurenti says as she puts the cat food and water down, calling out to no one cat in particular – just whichever one is in the area at the time.

Laurenti leaves only enough food and water for the cats at each site she visits, being careful not to attract any other species. One by one, the cats appear and greet Laurenti by rubbing against her calves.

"They don't seem to need much, just a fresh bowl of water and food once a day," Laurenti says.

According to FAU's public health manual, feral cats are "cats that have no apparent owner or identification and apparently wild, untamed, unsocialized, unmanageable and unable to be approached or handled." Somehow, she wouldn't go that far in describing her charges, some of whom are quite affectionate and not all that unapproachable.

Every once in a while, Laurenti says, she comes across domesticated cats that have been abandoned by their owners, as well.

FAU's director of office space utilization and analysis, Shannon Clouts, recalls when former FAU President Anthony Catanese approved caring for the Boca Raton campus feral cats in the early 1990s. Perhaps it had something to do with his last name.

"Every president since then has continued to allow it," Clouts said.

The volunteers who take care of the feral cats have strictly enforced the "trap, neuter and release" program, which humanly reduces the number of feral cats on campus. A couple of local veterinarians have assisted, allowing the volunteers to bring in the feral cats for updated shots, including their rabies vaccinations, and getting spayed or neutered when necessary. This "trap, neuter and release" program is said to be the most effective form of stabilizing feral cat populations.

"Studies have shown that removing cats from an area results in more cats moving in with the same multiplication problems," Clouts said.

Volunteers, like Lorraine Jetter, an FAU employee, have a close enough relationship with the feral cats to pet them. Jetter can then check the cats for ticks, fleas and injuries. She has been feeding the feral cats for about three years during the week in the morning.

"I love animals, all kinds, and it makes me happy to do something to make their lives a little better," Jetter said.   The rewards are great.  I get to start my morning with a little love too," she said.

The volunteers who feed the homeless cats take turns, and they make sure someone is there everyday. Laurenti lives close by, so she has been able to feed the cats during breaks.

Like Jetter, Laurenti also feels a very close bond with these wild animals.

"He's not heavy, he's my brother," Laurenti says poetically as she places a bowl of food down at her next stop.

Laurenti travels in her car around campus to about three different spots. Each location is home to a different feral cat colony. Because she travels the route so often, she calls each cat by name. She also checks to make sure the surroundings are unharmed and that the cats are safe, and then she makes her way out.

As Laurenti wraps up a recent Sunday's feeding session, she whispers, "All right, I think we have done all we can for these kitties today."



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