Kittens on campus? A catastrophe, teachers say

CatWhen one thinks of Carmel High School, plenty of things come to mind: the Padre, the rigorous academic standards, the Shoe Game…and the endless construction work.

But one thing that doesn’t often top the list? Feral cats.

Now, it’s not quite “Cats” the musical, and it’s certainly not “The Aristocats”—but according to some CHS staff members, stray cats have been present on campus for decades.

Over the last summer, the computer wing was home to a rude intrusion: fleas. Tech worker Erik Halbrend says that he had noticed “little black specks” all over the classroom, and computer science teacher Tom Clifford shared a similar experience.

This led the Maintenance and Transportation department (MOT) to safely fumigate the classroom before school started in August. Still, the question remains where these fleas came from. It’s impossible to know for certain—but according to Halbrend, it’s a very real possibility that the fleas came “from stray cats [living] under the floor.”

However, this was not the first time that CHS has struggled with a pest issue.

“Back in the day, there were teachers who would leave food out for the cats,” Clifford says.

Science teacher Michael Guardino recalls that “at the time, we had lots of feral cats on campus, but they have since been trapped and taken out.”

The cats were taken off campus, but this time with consequences. Without any predators to keep their populations in check, disease-carrying rats and mice infested the school.

Quoting John Muir, Guardino remarks that “if you try to isolate anything in nature, you find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

But the science teacher’s story didn’t end there.

About 10 years ago, Guardino started hearing a scratching sound inside the wall by the entrance to Room 17. Then, he started hearing meows.

“Apparently, momma cat was living below the building, but one of the kittens climbed up inside the wall, and momma couldn’t get him because only a kitten could fit in there,” Guardino says.

Then things went from bad to worse: an MOT employee showed up at the classroom with a hypodermic needle and household bleach to kill the cat.

“So, forget it,” says Guardino, who went home and talked to his next-door neighbor, a construction contractor, and the two hatched a plan to open up the wall and rescue the kitten.

Once they finally got the wall open, they found a tiny kitten, no more than five days old and four inches long.

What did they decide to name him? Walle.

Today, Walle is living happily ever after with the construction contractor.

“Being the son of feral cats, Walle is the most adventurous cat in the neighborhood,” Guardino says. And although it’s been 10 years since the rescue, “He basically doesn’t pay any attention to anyone” but the two people who saved him.

Luckily, CHS is presently pest-free. The fleas are long gone, and rats are nowhere to be seen.

But although they stay out of sight during the school day, Clifford says that “if you’re walking around after hours, you will see cats scampering from place to place, not wanting to be seen or touched.”

This is a feeling that seems to be common for most of the staff—after all, out of sight, out of mind. But if you think you hear meows while walking around campus, you just might be right.

-Christopher Good