It was a December morning, and Courtney Sheppard showed up for work at McMaster University just like she would have any other day—unaware that her next few weeks would be consumed by a feline mystery.

According to Sheppard, who works for the Faculty of Social Sciences, the story began with the discovery of a grey tabby cat and her tiny kittens in a bathroom in Kenneth Taylor Hall on Dec. 2.

“There was this beautiful mother cat… with four tiny baby kittens. Eyes not yet open, umbilical cords still attached…tiny kittens in a box with a blanket underneath,” she said. “They clearly had been left by somebody.”

Sheppard and her colleagues called various local shelters and organizations, but nobody could take the cats in. The SPCA advised them to call animal control. While many members of the faculty were aiding in the care of the kittens, it was clear they needed a home.

“We are the faculty that has the therapy dog program and studies how animals benefit our students. That is a big part of our identity and what we value. We weren’t just going to abandon these kittens again, there’s no chance,” Sheppard explained.

Kelli Cale, an academic advisor, was kind enough to take the five felines into her home temporarily. Considering the costs needed to properly care for these cats, a GoFundMe page was set up to help alleviate the financial burden.

Within a matter of days, the GoFundMe page raised almost $1,500. The story of the abandoned kittens attracted attention from social media and local newspapers but the underlying question persisted: how did these kittens get here?

A month after the launch of the GoFundMe campaign, Sheppard received a message from a man saying: “That’s my cat, please call me.”

Sheppard and her colleagues called various local shelters and organizations, but nobody could take the cats in. The SPCA advised them to call animal control.

“This young man, who has no affiliation to McMaster, said he had this cat for three years but had to re-home her for personal reasons. He was trying to find a good home for her and left his pregnant cat with one of his co-workers,” she said.

“Everything seemed fine, and he hadn’t heard from the co-worker since.”

The co-worker then placed the cat for sale on Kijiji with the agreed meeting place set as McMaster. The person who chose to buy it never showed up, so the pregnant mother was left abandoned in the washroom.

“At that point, it was just one cat that he left at the bathroom… in the morning we found five,” Sheppard said.

And with the backstory settled, Sheppard addressed some of the accusations made towards students regarding this incident over social media.

“These were people who had no affiliation with McMaster at all. [The incident] had nothing to do with students. Perhaps a nice reminder to some people that just because something happens in the McMaster area, doesn’t mean you can blame it on the students,” she commented.

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