September 1, 2023

‘This cat has people’: Rescue cat ‘Cookie’ unites campus community

Cookie the cat lounges on campus.
Rescue cat Cookie has captivated the Wayne State campus community.

Cookie is safe, soon available for adoption

It’s not unusual for feral cats to find homes in urban areas or college campuses, and Wayne State University is no exception. Not all these cats elevate to near-celebrity status, though, as one long-haired feline — dubbed Cookie — has on campus this summer.

Cookie, so named for his sweet personality, has brought together students, faculty and staff who are united in their concern for his welfare. He’s been frequently photographed, and the subject of much concern. Librarian Virginia Thomas has led efforts to safely trap and foster Cookie and help him prepare for eventual adoption to a forever home. According to Thomas, it’s clear why Cookie has gained such a following.

“He’s a very large and spectacular cat,” she said, noting his distinctive black and white markings and short stub tail. “I suspect at one point that he was somebody’s cat because he’s so people savvy and friendly. It’s been remarkable to watch how many have come to care for him — this cat has people!”

Cat camaraderie

Cookie the cat relaxes outside the Student Center Building.
Cookie frequented the area between the Student Center Building and the David Adamany Undergraduate Library.

Thomas first noted Cookie on campus earlier in the spring, when she saw what she thought was a small dog running from the David Adamany Undergraduate Library toward Cass. A few days later, a group of people had gathered outside of the Student Center Building around the creature, which turned out to be a large, long-haired feral cat.

Having worked with various local foster and adoption groups to trap/neuter/release (TNR) feral cats for over 20 years, Thomas knew just how to help Cookie. Over several weeks, which included numerous check-ins on the cat’s welfare from members of the campus community, Thomas fed and eventually trapped Cookie so he could receive a veterinary exam. Thomas was surprised to learn that Cookie had already been neutered. After a basic health check, Thomas had Cookie vaccinated and brought him home as a foster cat. Once Cookie is fully socialized and comfortable with an indoor life, he will be placed for adoption, most likely through the Pet Adoption Alternative of Warren (PAAW).

“People were so invested in his well-being — they were checking in on him, bringing cans of food, asking to help find him a home,” Thomas said. “Cookie really brought us together. I’m confident that when he’s ready to be placed for adoption, he will find a forever home quickly.”

In conversation with Cookie’s many supporters, Thomas learned Cookie had likely been on campus for a couple of years. Before appearing in the center of campus, Cookie had previously frequented the Walter P. Reuther Library loading docks in 2022, where he was spotted by Custodian Tom Jackson and Archivist Sarah Lebovitz. Concerned about his welfare, the pair set out food and kept an eye on Cookie. In the winter, they worked to establish a temporary shelter to protect him from freezing temperatures.

“We’ve come to realize that there have been quite a few of us working to help Cookie,” said Lebovitz. “I’m grateful for Virginia and all the others who came together to support him. We’re nurturers here, and I’m glad Cookie found his way to campus.”  

Another nurturer on campus, Jane Warkentin, assistant director of experiential education at the Wayne State University Law School, also connected with Thomas based on a mutual love of animals. Thomas and former colleague Kaylee Place helped trap and care for a stray cat near her home — on Thanksgiving during the pandemic.

“There’s a whole group of cat people at the Law School, but I was just speechless,” Warkentin said. “They were so willing to help, no matter the circumstances. It speaks to your heart, and brings people together, to have this shared compassion.”

Warkentin is currently fostering five kittens that Thomas rescued as they prepare for adoption. She plans to help with Cookie’s care if necessary before his adoption.

Cookie was safely transported for a health check ahead of fostering and eventual adoption.

A learning opportunity

Thomas said that she hopes the camaraderie built around Cookie’s experience might be channeled one day into a more formal TNR program for feral cat colonies — a group of free-ranging and feral cats that share a common food source — on the Wayne State campus. Similar and successful programs exist across the country on campuses including the University of Texas at San Antonio, Southwestern University, Texas Tech University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, among others.

In addition to her role in helping Cookie, Thomas cares for a colony of cats at a local business where she has firsthand experience with the benefits of proper colony care. In five years, she’s helped bring the area’s cat population from 24 to a stable 11 through TNR and re-homing.

“There’s a great learning opportunity here,” she said. “The feral cat population is an ongoing issue in urban areas especially. Organizing and educating communities around how to properly manage and care for these cats is a potential win-win for the neighborhood, faculty, staff and students, and the broader university.”

Thomas noted that Cookie is not the first — nor the last — cat to call Wayne State home. While Cookie is preparing for adoption, another cat has already taken his place at the center of campus.

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