How the UT Campus Cats Survived the Winter Storm
By Ashley Miznazi
Reporting Texas TV
AUSTIN, Texas – The daily ringing of the University of Texas tower bells at 6 p.m. prompts a big black and white cat to inch his way out of the bushes for dinner.
Domino has called UT home for more than ten years.
“He is a lot of people’s surrogate pet. I think he is the biggest comfort animal possibly at the whole university.” said Al Mackrell, Domino’s feeder.
There are an estimated 40 cats living on the 40 Acres. Most live in colonies of three to four in “family units.” A group called Cats of West Campus feed each twice a day every day, including holidays.
The faces behind Cats of West Campus are employees at UT. They began feeding the cats seven years ago and made a Facebook account a few years after that.
Mackrell said Domino is approachable, but selective with people.
“Students come from a really awful exam, or something bad happens to them, and he’s just always there. When he sees me, he’ll start yelling at me and sometimes even walk into the street to greet me,” he said.
Mackrell feeds Domino wet food out of his hand. He does not leave out dry food in fear of raccoons getting hold of it.
The group believes raccoons are responsible for a gaping, bloody hole found behind Domino’s ear in January.
“The main thing you can do for Domino is to enjoy him, but don’t feed him. Let us take care of that,” Mackrell said.
Yasmine Young feeds cats in the West Campus area. Every month or so she picks up a 20 pound bag of cat food to feed the seven adult cats that come by her door.
“We name them, we named one Brown Cat.” Young said.
When the winter storm rolled around, the group knew they needed a plan.
“These are Texas cats. They’ve never been in 7 degree weather before. They don’t grow in a thick winter coat like cats in Minnesota might, so we weren’t really sure at all if they would survive,” said Christina Huizar, the Cats of West Campus founder.
With road closures, it was left up to the founders to walk eight miles through snow and ice to feed the cats. They prepared cold weather shelters with hay inside and brought extra food.
“When it melted and refroze is like the super slick ice. It was pretty horrifying, actually. We had to walk like penguins trying not to slide,” Huizar said.
She boiled water at home to replenish the cats’ bowls as they froze over every few hours.
When the snow melted away, Domino was the last cat to emerge for Mackrell.
“He had to make a dramatic entrance. I think a bunch of us ugly cried when we realized he was okay,” Mackrell said.