Black Cats of Artemus Ham Hall: Who takes care of them?

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Two stray black cats sit outside Artemus Ham Hall. Photo by Teresa Nguyen.

Black cats roam around the grassy hills of UNLV, occasionally hunting for pigeons, but they don’t always hunt for their food; who feeds them and why?

Near Artemus Ham Hall is the residence of two black cats, a smaller 12-pound cat and a larger 15-pound cat. The larger cat is friendlier to students, whereas the smaller one is more skittish. But instead of avoiding humans entirely, there are some students who have earned the trust of the pair.

Teresa Nguyen, a Biology student, has been feeding the cats regularly. Sharing how she first learned about the cats, Nguyen says, “When we were doing student orientation, the person who was guiding my group pointed to the building and said that there were cats underneath it and they were friendly.” 

Nguyen calls the bigger cat, “Peridot,” and the smaller cat, “Cayyo.” Nguyen says, “The first time I saw them was when I was a sophomore … I had an 8:30 a.m. class and I came early to get the best spot [at the parking lot], and the chemistry building was close by. When I was walking to class, there was a cat there. It was Peridot. I approached the big black cat and noticed the back left foot was missing a paw. Like most students, I crouched down to take a picture, but to my surprise, that cat approached me.”

It took a while for Cayyo or the smaller cat, to get used to Nguyen. “I just kept going to the cat area more often at the same time. I always arrived at the cat area around 7 a.m., so [Cayyo] always knows I show up around that time so he’s not afraid of me. Treats helped; I threw treats so he got more comfortable … One administrative staff member that used to work at UNLV would give me cans of food because they knew I would stay to make sure the cats ate their food, and I would [scare] the pigeons from stealing the food,” Nguyen remembers.

Emilie Rubalcaval, an English major, has only recently started feeding the cats. Rubalcaval has different names for the cats, naming the smaller cat, “Mini,” and the bigger cat, “Footsy.” Rubalcaval named the bigger cat, “Footsy,” because the cat is missing a paw. Rubalcaval shares, “In order to go to my classes, I have to pass the colony of cats, so they got used to seeing me … I don’t have a lot of spare money but I get the 60 cent cans. I have a roommate that also has a cat and sometimes she’ll let me bring down a cup of dry food because it’s good for their teeth.”

Rubalcaval theorizes, “Someone probably brought them to the apartments or dorms around campus and lost them. Hopefully, they’re not abandoned, or the descendants of cats that have been lost or abandoned.” The cats have been spayed and neutered at some point in their time at UNLV, indicated by their clipped ears, a technique veterinarians use to identify spayed and neutered stray cats. They are wary of crowds, loud sounds and sudden movements. 

When asked how the cats add to the atmosphere of UNLV, Rubalcaval says, “They make [campus] more alive. I find them inspiring. Sometimes I’ll have a horrible day and horrible classes, and I’ll see one of them running around and I’ll feel better … I like to think of them as students too.” 

Rubalcaval jokes, “The bigger one’s ribs are sometimes showing, so my philosophy is that you can never feed them too much.” The black cats can be seen running around on the south side of Artemus Ham Hall.

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