SHARING lunch at the cooperative-run canteen, my students and I learned a few things.
Some of us cannot stand vegetables. So we scraped all our leftovers and went to the back of the canteen and near the dorm entrance.
This is a hangout of feral dogs and cats, aside from students taking an alfresco break or making their projects under the canopy of trees.
The day before, we shared our packed lunch with Puti. That day, it was Mal for “malnourished.”
Watching the yellow-coated pooch gobbling leftovers, we saw he had a bit more meat now on his bony frame. That’s how Mal came to be Mellow Yellow, or Mel for short.
Three years of studies at the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines (UP) showed me how the “feral” tag only describes the animals’ lack of human owners, not their temperaments or proclivities.
At the College of Mass Communication (CMC), where the cats are as territorial about their niches as the tenured professors, some resident divas draw a following among students, faculty, and staff.
A TV network crew once interrupted my study in a CMC gazebo because they were looking for the cat that saved a night-duty guard when it jumped on his lap and broke his nap. He woke in time to prevent an intruder from hitting him with a plank.
For academics, who dwell in their own worlds, feral cats and dogs make the best listeners. They keep silent and appreciate everything from Alinsky to Zero Vector, specially if a bit of sandwich is tossed after.
Animals show us how to listen to each other’s discourse without interruption or eruption.
Marga, the pet of the chief of security, accompanies her chief everywhere in the Cebu campus. When he was in an inter-agency meeting, Marga sauntered in as I pushed open the conference door.
Used to long meetings, Marga made no fuss until the session extended beyond noon. Then she started a low-register whine, pacing back and forth to the closed door.
My fellow teacher sought to distract her with his packed lunch. Marga ignored him and kept her dignity.
Perhaps we should have dangled research funds. That would have appealed better to Marga’s academic soul.
Though we classify them as feral, stray animals teach humans about co-existence with other humans.
Even in UP Diliman, where our furred brothers and sisters have inspired a Facebook page devoted to the “Cats of UP Diliman” and a Geography student project charting the movement of campus cats that was uploaded on YouTube, there are other humans who think it’s uncool to have corridors smelling of cat piss or worse.
Stray animals are also campus risks because they may bite, spread rabies, or cost the government P7,000 to repair an engine damaged by fur left by cats huddling overnight for warmth.
However, the solution is never to go as draconian as “total eradication”. Twice—in July 2015 and again in July 2016—the UP Diliman community arrived, after consultations and dialogues, at “humane” solutions, such as “retraining” and neutering, to address all concerns, including the safety of humans and the welfare of animals.
Cloud Sarmiento’s post, shared by “Cats of UP Diliman” on Facebook, shows a cat sprawled out in sleep. Beside it is a cardboard sign, with this message: “Wag tularan pusha ako”.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 16, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”