The Daily Gamecock

Column: Cats and squirrels are 'surrogate pets' to USC students

The Carolina campus is home to several animals including birds, squirrels and cats. Students walk from class to class in pathways inhabited by a wide variety of cute critters and cats.

Cats, birds and squirrels are a few of the animals that USC students live with. The campus’ animals aren’t props for visitors to marvel at, though — they’re surrogate pets and they're what makes campus home.

Wild birds and squirrels aren’t traditional pets but they have become mainstays in students' walk to class. The unique diet and antics of the squirrels have warranted the creation of an Instagram account with more than 1,000 followers.

The account is run by a USC public health student who wished to remain anonymous, and compiles pictures of squirrels sitting on trash cans, eating plenty of fries and even being hunted by the resident cats — who also have their own Instagram account. 

Students walking around south campus may find these cats as the furriest residents of the C.S. Lewis house across from the Close-Hipp building: Cissy (who stays indoors) Edmund, Eustace and the very popular Figaro.

On the C.S. Lewis Cats Instagram, students can view pictures of their feline friends and see good luck wishes on upcoming exams.

Unfortunately, Edmund, Eustace and Figaro declined to comment about their USC experience to The Daily Gamecock.

The cats like to spend most of their time outside but are fed by Father Paul Sterne of the C.S. Lewis house. 

The house also has a cat door so Figaro and his friends can come and go as they please. If the night is too cold, there is always a warm bed, seat or corner to greet them when they come home — though Edmund would rather be outdoors at night.

A lot of students may not be aware that Edmund wasn’t the only kitten to call the C.S. Lewis Center home. Sadly, his sister, Lucy, died last year at only five months old.

“We’re in the South, and so when somebody dies, people bring food. People brought treats for the remaining cats,” Sterne said.

The response to Lucy’s death brought out hospitality and warmth from the late kitten's neighbors. Students care for these cats like “surrogate pets,” as Sterne calls them. 

USC students are no stranger to caring for the animals on campus. Whether they’re cats or baby squirrels, USC students offer helping hands.

The creator of the USC squirrels account was sent a video of an abandoned baby squirrel and then created a highlight on Instagram about what to do if you encounter an abandoned baby squirrel.

“I didn’t know that baby squirrels could be abandoned. And they act a certain way if they have no parent," the Instagram's creator said. "So that's a highlight on the Instagram story. Like 'what to do when you run into a baby squirrel.'"

USC students are fans of the squirrels, and plenty of them feed the squirrels Chick-fil-A and tastes of other orders from Russell House. They’re well taken care of, although, it is unclear how fast food ties into a squirrel’s diet.

The wild worlds of these campus animals sometimes collide.

“I get out one day from a physics lecture, and Figaro seems to capture most of the students coming out of the physics hall with me because he is actively hunting one of the squirrels in the yard," first-year computer engineering student Dominic Gaines said. "It was an enjoyable experience, but cats are always cats." 

Seeing Figaro and Eustace interact with the squirrels on campus is a healthy reminder of campus' diverse ecosystem. Between the old trees scattered on the Horseshoe, the bugs and rodents hunting for acorns and students picnicking, the varied life on campus is what makes USC beautiful. 

Campus wouldn’t be campus without the occasional sighting of Figaro warming himself on a grate, or Eustace being taunted by a squirrel high up in a tree. They're Gamecocks, and all their weird, cute and sweet interactions cement themselves in our school spirit.

Correction: (March 15, 2022 at 1:40 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Eustace is Lucy's brother. Lucy's brother is Edmund.