A cat is found lying out on the lawn in front of the Main Library. Another cat is found hiding in the small bush on the lawn. The cats catch the eyes of Sookmyungians who call out to them by name in order to take pictures of them. However, the cats run when they hear a human voice. Soon after some students feed the cats as if they were all one big family. The cats, hungry, eat quickly. Sookmyojigyo, taking pride in caring for the cats, feed them well. SMT reporters met with Sookmyojigyo, the guardian of stray cats at Sookmyung Women’s University.
Before we begin, would you please introduce Sookmyojigyo to our readers?
Just as Sueojigyo (水魚之交) represents the relation between water and fish, Sookmyojigyo refers to the relationship between Sookmyungians and the campus cats. Our club is the first and only club in school made by students with the goal of a happy coexistence between campus feral cats and students. The club provides the cats with food and water every day, treats wounded cats, and practices Trap Neuter and Release (TNR).
What motivated you to establish the club?
Every time I recall the start of Sookmyojigyo, the cats of Sookmyung come to mind. In the summer of 2017, a school community post claimed that one campus cat friendly with Sookmyungians was getting sick often, but the students didn’t know how to treat the cat. The tail of the cat in the photo was so seriously injured that the cat’s skin could be seen. It might be necrosis, and it seemed that it would deteriorate because of summer heat coming. I had never been friendly with cats, but I felt responsible for it because we were both part of the Sookmyung community. The next day, I met with the student who posted the comment about the cat in an attempt to rescue it. She took it to the veterinarian for treatment. Because of its serious condition, the cat renamed ‘Sookmyung’ had emergency surgery. It refused food and water for five days after the surgery. Sookmyungians were all concerned about its refusal to eat or drink. One Sookmyungian visited Sookmyung in the hospital even though she has a big test, and after the visitation, Sookmyung started eating again. Because it had had two big surgeries, Sookmyung should stay in the hospital for about a month. Although the cost of the surgery and hospitalization were considerable, thanks to the care given to it and the donations of Sookmyungians, all hospital costs were covered and Sookmyung recovered well. After its recovery, Sookmyung returned to its original home and has been doing well ever since.
Sookmyung is one of a few cats that have undergone the TNR project at Sookmyung. Cats that are neutered or spayed lose their competitiveness in the world, which could be the reason Sookmyung has only done TNR once. However, to keep structure and order on campus, TNR must be done with all cats in addition to providing them with food. Since it is impossible for one or two to do it alone, we formed the club, Sookmyojigyo, and we had 40 members right from the beginning.
What exactly does Sookmyojigyo do for the feral cats on campus?
We have four main activities: maintaining the food stalls, TNR, helping the sick, and funding through product making. We have total of three food stalls operating with permission of Sookmyung Women’s University. We placed them in places where few people pass so that the cats are comfortable during meals and there is less chance of conflict with humans. Every week, members register for weekly duties, like supplying clean water and replenishing their food. The second one is TNR and third is treatment. The goal of TNR is to neuter or spay all cats living on the campus grounds because if we don’t, there is a risk of illness and injury among Sookmyungians and the cats. To help sick cats, leaking the night is taking granted like the capture of Argon. Even if it takes more than one day, we care for them and check on them frequently. After trapping a cat, we take it to a designated hospital immediately. After checking the cat for health issues, the cat has surgery and then it is released back on the campus grounds. In order to earn money for our activities, we operate a product making venture with the help of fellow Sookmyungians. We felt it better to make a product and sell it than just ask for donations. We sell various products like sticky notes, badges, electromagnetic shielding stickers, electric fans, water bottles, strap key rings, hand mirrors, eco bags, and so on. The ultimate goal is to secure enough money to rescue all the cats, so we are trying our best to secure financial stability. The club displays our products and activities on SNS platforms to ensure transparency.
What concerns or hardships have you faced as president of Sookmyojigyo?
When I first took over as president of Sookmyojigyo, I got permission by the university to create feeding stations for the campus’ stray cats. At first, the school saw no issues with the feeding of the cats, but over time, the campus saw an increase in the number of stray cats roaming about campus. Some Sookmyungians expressed concern and started to oppose the feeding stations as it was negatively affecting the campus. There were outcries like ‘Stray cats that get food from the feeding stations will breed, and this will make controlling their population even more difficult’. We had to do our best to explain to Sookmyungians, who opposed our activities, that we were not only feeding the strays but also capturing them in order to perform a TNR.
What do you think is the uniqueness of Sookmyojigyo?
It’s a strength that we produce our own products using the various talents of our members. With the money we earn, we easily buy the 20 kilograms of feed needed for the cats, and we have enough members to operate the feed stations daily. The best part is that we are not merely a club of members, but we are a community that gathers all Sookmyungians at Sookmyung Women's University. The club works closely together but also with Sookmyungians.
Should Sookmyungians take any precautions when approaching stray cats?
Analyzing the amount of food eaten at the feeding stations, Sookmyojigyo is gaining a lot of data on the stray cat population. We are also ensuring that the feeding stations are kept clean. Therefore, please be careful if you are attempting to feed a stray individually as it could make the feeding stations unsanitary. Also, the stray cats do not need more food since we supply them with an ample amount. Next, please do not become overly intimate with the stray cats for both your safety and the safety of the stray cats. Even members of Sookmyojigyo rarely get too close to the stray cats or touch them. It’s really important to keep a discrete distance between yourself and stray cats.
Lastly, please say something to Sookmyung Women's University students who are interested in Sookmyojigyo.
First of all, thank you for all your support. It’s a shame we cannot thank each of you individually for all the love you show us through the joy and sorrow we live daily with caring for the cats. As a club that works for harmony between feral cats and the Sookmyung community, we are grateful to be working with Sookmyungians. In 2019, Sookmyojigyo will continue to work for a good balance. Please continue to show your interest and support for the members of Sookmyojigyo and Sookmyung’s cats in this year.
- Department of English Language & Literature
- President of Sookmyojigyo (2017~)
- Animal Health Technician of Yatap Seoul Veterinary Clinic (2017~)
Kim Ma Seunghee / Editor-in-Chief
Kim Shin Hyerin / Society Section Editor
Oh Kim Youbin / Culture Section Editor