Greenhouse Watchcats Offer Love, Pest Control

Mendel and Gene sit in on labs, sun bathe and watch over the horticultural gardens and greenhouse complex when no one else is looking.

You might know them as the “Greenhouse Cats.”

Mendel, seen here meowing, loves people and attention. Abby Aldrich / The Hub@TTU

Two and a half years ago, some Texas Tech horticulture student-workers were driving home on a Friday night when they noticed an orange tabby almost get hit by a car. Checking to make sure the cat was OK, the students opened their car door and the cat jumped right in.

Unable to leave the cat, who appeared starved and homeless, the students called Jennifer Simek, the Greenhouse Manager at the PSS Research Facilities. Simek said the students could keep the cat at the greenhouse, where they could feed and keep him out of harm’s way. The faculty at the greenhouse quickly fell in love, and Mendel became permanent.

Mendel roams around or sleeps most of the afternoon in shaded areas around the gardens or in closets around the greenhouse. Abby Aldrich/The Hub@TTU

“By Monday morning, we had all fallen in love with him,” Simek said. “I took him into the vet and it turns out he was four months old. He had just been completely starved his whole life so he looked a lot smaller then he should have been. Otherwise, he was healthy, so we got all of his shots taken care of and brought him back to the greenhouse. I don’t think he has stopped eating since then.”

Mendel is named after Gregor Mendel, a monk who many consider to be the Father of Genetics.

Then along came Gene.

A year and a half ago, a domestic shorthaired cat stumbled in the gardens and never left. Simek said the name Gene is taken from part of the word “genetics”, but there is a little more to the name origin.

In an attempt to take a picture of Gene (pictured above), I sat on the ground. He ended up jumping in my lap, purring the entire time. Abby Aldrich/The Hub@TTU

“Technically, he is named after Gene Simmons because he wails,” she said. “He’s a crier and a bit of a ladies man. If you hear Gene wailing, it’s because he wants a treat or he wants to be petted. It’s not because he’s standoff-ish in anyway. He just likes to be vocal about what he wants.”

Now, the two felines are a valuable part of the TTU Plant and Soil Science Facilities. Simek said the cats watch over the three-acre complex, keeping out mice, lizards, birds and other cats around campus.

“Having two male cats here, even though they are both fixed,” she said, “has been very helpful to keep other animals away.” 

While Gene looks ferocious, he is actually extremely sweet and currently meowing for a treat. Abby Aldrich/The Hub@TTU

The two felines are able to roam around as they please, coming around early in the mornings for their daily treats, and hanging out with students during the day. Simek said many students bring by treats to feed the cats, as well as the treats the greenhouse staff provides. She said the two love the affection from the 400+ people the facility sees on a daily basis.

“They are a fun aspect of the building,” Simek said. “It’s a connection for the people that might not be interested in plants when they first come over.”

But with outdoor cats, comes risks.

A little over a month ago, Mendel went missing. For about two weeks, he was nowhere to be found until a posting appeared on social media. A horticulture student quickly realized it was the cat they had always saw around the gardens. Mendel was shortly returned and Simek said readjusted quickly, but has barely left the facility grounds since.

“They do roam about and people do see them at night,” she said. “I get lots of late night phone calls. It’s gotten to where I write on their tags ‘I live at the TTU Greenhouse’ or ‘I live across from the Rec Center, please leave me where you find me.’”

Simek said she overhears students mentioning how they would like to bring the cats home, joking or not, but stresses that students understand the cats do live at the greenhouse and that is where they need to stay.

Mendel loves when students feed him treats. Abby Aldrich/The Hub@TTU

Now, both cats are micro-chipped. If they happen to be taken to a vet and scanned, they can be easily returned to the greenhouse.

“This is their home,” she said. “They are definitely well loved by lots of people that see them on a daily basis. We definitely want them to stay here.”

About Abby Aldrich

I am a senior journalism major from Fort Worth, Texas. I graduate May 2017 and currently work as the Sports Reporter at The Hub@TTU. I could talk for days about my cats and the Green Bay Packers. Go Pack Go!

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