Controlling San Antonio’s feral cat population

Fumiko Fujimoto prepares for the arrival of her outpatients at 7 a.m. A half-hour later, she opens the door of the steel shed and starts helping a legion of residents control the city’s feral cat population.

A long line of early risers is dropping off free-roaming cats secured in blanket-covered, humane cat traps for spay/neuter surgeries. Workers said the service has also made it accessible to older residents and people with disabilities.

Fujimoto and co-worker Crystal Sewell line up the small crates in the shed at the back of the Animal Care Services campus. The drop-off point is part of the Trap-Neuter-Return program that includes rabies shots, a combination vaccine that protects cats from common feline diseases and a surgical ear clip to identify that the cat has been sterilized.

Fujimoto is the lead coordinator of the community cat program, a role she’s had since the service began in 2015. She said nearly 4,000 people have participated in the program, and veterinarians have completed more than 2,124 surgeries this year — almost 28,000 since 2015.

“I have a lot of residents who are making a huge difference in San Antonio,” she said. “I love being a part of it. I never knew so many people cared; it touches me every time I see it.”

Many in the animal rescue community know of her work. Across the nation and as far away as Japan, she’s known as “Miko.”

Fumiko “Miko” Fujimoto dons a cat mouth mask while posing for a portrait at the city of San Antonio’s Animal Care Service on Friday. She is the lead coordinator of the community cat program.

Fumiko “Miko” Fujimoto dons a cat mouth mask while posing for a portrait at the city of San Antonio’s Animal Care Service on Friday. She is the lead coordinator of the community cat program.

Sam Owens, Staff Photographer / San Antonio Express-News

“Other animal rescue organizations around the globe have tapped into her expertise to start or expand their own feral cat programs,” Animal Care Services spokeswoman Lisa Norwood said. “With Miko, it’s not just that she’s an animal lover. She also wants to give back to her community. This job allows her to engage in both those passions.”

People are often surprised to hear her pet isn’t a cat but a dog — a lab mix named Pepper.

Her tenure at Animal Care Services began several years ago as a volunteer. Her son, a national junior honor society member, needed community service hours — she suggested helping at the city’s animal shelter. She began spending all her spare time at the organization, walking dogs, helping at the foster adoption office, anywhere they needed help.

After volunteering for a year, the leadership at Animal Care Services saw her passion and offered her the first full-time community cat coordinator position. Bethany J. Colonnese, chief operations manager, walked her through the process of teaching people how to use the traps they issued out for free. She called Fujimoto “the cornerstone” of the program.

“She is the driving force of educating San Antonio on community cat issues, providing assistance and running a record-breaking spay and neuter program for five years running,” Colonnese said. “Miko has established herself in the community and is able to harness the power of local trappers and volunteers.”

In the early days of the program, Fujimoto would visit neighborhoods and trap feral cats for residents. Those outings stopped when people began calling her office, more than 40 calls a day, for assistance. Norwood said Fujimoto began offering free advice on how people could engage in humane trapping on their own. Animal Control Services also worked in support of the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition to encourage residents to tap into the nonprofit’s resources and expertise as well.

Fujimoto said she strives to make a positive impact.

“My dad always said if you can’t be part of the solution, don’t be part of the problem,” Fujimoto said. “That’s what I try to tell residents when they call. Are you going to be the person who is part of the solution to bring cats in and make a difference in your community?”

As a child, Fujimoto saw herself in a career in business. She invested in that pursuit by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in information systems from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

So why was the woman, who often wears a hat adorned with cat ears and whiskers, drawn to care for cats? She wonders if growing up without a pet increased her desire to join the animal rescue community.

And sometimes she thinks maybe her fate was set years ago in Westland, Michigan, by a possible subliminal message transmitted from her family’s TV set.

About the author

A 22-year veteran of the Air Force, Vincent T. Davis embarked on a second career as a journalist and found his calling. Observing and listening across San Antonio, he finds intriguing tales to tell about everyday people. He shares his stories with Express-News subscribers every Monday morning.

When she was 4 years old, she would sit with her mother, who religiously watched “The Price is Right” with television game show host Bob Barker. She recalled hearing Barker talk about controlling the pet population and the importance of having pets spayed or neutered.

“I wonder if, psychologically maybe, that had something to do with it,” Fujimoto said. “I always wish that someday I could thank him for that. I’m sure the cats of San Antonio would like to thank him too.”

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