Two winters past, I set foot in Sogang for the first time. I was newly accepted and on my way to Arrupe Hall to submit the last batch of high school documents. It was mid-January, and with winter semester over, the campus was quiet, vacant—which meant I did not have someone to ask the way. Lost, I found myself near a construction site upon which Geppert-Nam Duck Woo Hall now stands and beside a cat. It was the first time in my life I came across this cat, but that did not stop him from rubbing his furry, fluffy, and fat head against my legs. I felt somewhat welcomed by this I had the feeling that like this orange, big-headed cat, I could call this place home. (I came to know his name—Leo—much later.)
With the passing of seasons, I became a Soganger. I also became a member of Sogang Cat Group, an all-volunteer club comprised of Sogang undergraduate and graduate students who dream of and work towards a campus coexisting with cats. The Sogang Herald interviewed Woo Seung-hyeon (20140213, English Literature & Linguistics), for an insider opinion on Sogang Cat Group.
Q : When did you first get interested in alley cats?
Woo: One day this summer, my friend invited me to come with him to feed the cats. I tagged along for company’s sake, but I was very surprised to know that there were so many unknown neighbors in our campus. Seeing that the places I frequented—Loyola Library, Dasan Hall, and the main gate, to name a few—doubled as shelters for campus cats sparked an interest in me.
Q: How did you join the Sogang Cat Group?
Woo: After I became aware of their existence, I also became interested in campus cats’ mode of lives. Cats lead a hard life in cities made by and made for humans, and I felt sorry for them. I thought that I could start by taking care of the cats around me, so I joined Sogang Cat Group as a feeding volunteer this summer.
Q: What are pros and cons of the current status of Sogang Cat Group activities?
Woo: The first and greatest strength of Sogang Cat Group is that all its activities proceed on the base of its members’ voluntary and enthusiastic participation. Sogang Cat Group consists of horizontally organized individuals who actively feedback each other by sharing information and discussing.
Ironically, this is also our weak spot. Because we lack a systematic rank structure, responding to offenses or taking decisions occur without someone who would take the pivotal role. Sharing duties are also hard.
Q: Is there a cat or an episode that rang your heart?
Woo: A cat named Tasoon lives near the Dasan Hall feeding station. She suffers from chronic stomatitis, which makes it hard for her to eat and groom herself. Late summer this year, her stomatitis got so bad she could not eat. Tasoon was starved and she could not open her eyes. Another member of Sogang Cat Group and I started giving her medicine. One day, Tasoon was not there for her dose, so we spent a while looking for her. We found her on the slate roof of Dasan Hall, skin and bones and loose bowels. She gazed into my eyes for a long time. That day, I cried buckets.
Fortunately, Tasoon survived that fall! The first time Tasoon ate up a whole can of cat food, I was so happy I actually shrieked. Since then, Tasoon gives me “kitty kisses”—slow eye blinks that translate to “I-love-you”—every now and then, so I assume she felt my worries about her. Through Tasoon, I came to understand that when people open their heart, cats do too. I also learned that cats have a tenacious hold on life and a strong will to survive. In many ways, Tasoon holds a special place in my heart.
Q: Were there negative opinions or complaints from the part of neighbors or students?
Woo: Yes, there were. “Why spend your time and money on alley cats?” and “If you have time to care for alley cats, care for people in need instead.” are some that I was told. Not long ago, I was giving Tasoon medicine and when Tasoon gave a cough, a student sniggered at her.
In such occasions, I talk about how cats are also our neighbors. The land we stand on are not ours alone, but humans have molded this land to suit our taste and so many lives suffer for it. Some understand, others do not. Of the latter case, many are of the opinion that animals cannot come before humans under any circumstance. But actually, they understand that cats are also a form of life, so persuading them is not so difficult. The hardest are those who have forgotten that cats are a living organism. How to deal with them, I am still contemplating.
Q: Did volunteering at Sogang Cat Group change your perspective on alley cats?
Woo: I learned that alley cats can commune with humans. A moment with interaction with the cat I have been caring for feels like a an unexpected gift. I fell both proud and happy. Sharing feelings with humans through common language is hard enough—imagine how hard communing with animals would be. I give my thanks to the Sogang Cat Group which made such rare pleasure possible.
One last thing I want to add is that cats exist around us. Unless you are going to—and you should not do so by all accounts—get rid of cats everywhere, cats will exist everywhere around us. In the end, cats are also part of the environment we humans are to live with.
Taking care about nature benefits not only nature but also humans. Likewise, the benefits of taking care about cats will be reaped by both cats and humans. I hope for a Sogang where humans and cats can peacefully coexist in happiness.