Many on-campus Point Loma Nazarene University students may be familiar with the feral cats that roam around campus, especially the ones that live in the wooded area along the southern edge of Nease Residence Hall. Some may also be familiar with Jim Gaupsas and his wife, who feed and take care of them. I first heard about Gaupsas, and the cat population, from my roommate after she had unsuccessfully attempted to befriend the campus’ cats.
One afternoon, she ran into Gaupsas, who furthered her interest in becoming a cat whisperer.
This past weekend, I walked over to the upper Nease parking lot and found the clearing off the path where the cats’ water bowls were. I settled down with a book for over an hour, hoping the cats would let me get close enough to take some pictures of them. As it grew closer to lunchtime, more and more cats melted out of the woodwork, but none would let me get within ten feet of them.
Then, around one, about six cats burst forward and ran toward a truck that had pulled up in the parking lot. I knew it had to be Gaupsas. I watched in awe as the previously skittish cats butted up against him and rubbed against his legs, meowing as he took bowls of cat food out of a refrigerated bag and talked to them by name. They still skirted around me, though, hiding in the bushes if I got too close or too loud.
Guapsas preferred to not be quoted directly, but he was happy to talk, introduce me to the cats and share their stories. I learned the names of a few: Benjamin, Mom, Brownie, Noble and Isaac. I also learned the names of the three feral cats he’d adopted in addition to his own.
The ones I’d been trying to take pictures of were Brownie, a long-haired cat, and Benjamin, a gray and white. It was a little hard to keep track, with so many moving in and out of the underbrush. Despite the way the cats coexisted, I could see why there was no such thing as a herd of cats.
Guapsas and his wife have put a lot of work into stewarding the cat population. For five years, they’ve been feeding them, catching them to be spayed and neutered and taking them to the vet when they need it. Noble, the black and gray tabby, was one of the first cats they met. He and another cat were taken to a facility in Julian in the beginning, but they ran away and three weeks later Noble was found alone under the Guapsas’ porch.
Stella, a Russian Blue, broke her leg and spent three months at the Guapsas house with a cast before they decided to adopt her.
Campus Facilities was concerned about the cats and wanted the Guapsas to stop feeding them, as there were around 20 on campus at the time and the population wasn’t well managed, but other cat lovers at the school helped move them to the property next to Nease that is a part of Sunset Cliffs Park.
There, Guapsas got to work spaying and neutering them, which helps keep the population under control and keeps them from getting into fights. Many of the cats were adopted out, especially the kittens. Guapsas takes care of about twelve now.
Many of them stay away from the busier roads, and in an area Guapsas said is free from predators like coyotes that could hunt a cat. Only the occasional unleashed dog disturbs them.
The cats’ stories and their place on campus was fascinating, and I came out of our conversation determined to befriend some of them, just as my roommate was. It seemed like it might take a while since they’d been so skittish around me earlier.
I was also a little nervous since I’d read some old articles about the feral cat population that warned against approaching them in case they had rabies, but Guapsas said they were very friendly once you got to know them.
He recommended we take some chairs and a little food over to the clearing where they stay and hang out for a while.
I’m excited to try, although I plan on taking it slow; I’d rather not have to get a rabies shot.
Written By: Lily Damron