The Cat Colonies of Norman

Lurking in the alleyways behind campus corner, in the tight spaces beneath rental houses and scurrying across the street to avoid oncoming traffic are the many stray cats of the Norman, Oklahoma, community.

The surrounding area of the University of Oklahoma has experienced a decline of stray felines over the past decade, and although the problem persists today, Norman’s history of stray cats varies.

Today, with the advocacy of organizations like Hands Helping Paws, the overpopulation problem continues to decline, but many still see a persisting trend of cats wandering the streets of Norman.

Kim Fairbanks works for the Department of Real Estate Operations at the University of Oklahoma, but a little under 10 years ago she and a retired colleague decided to do more for the feral and stray cat overpopulation problem in the community. They started Hands Helping Paws, a nonprofit organization that specializes in “trap, neuter, return,” otherwise known as TNR cat rescue, to bring down the feral cat population that, 10 years ago, was very noticeable.

“We had all kinds of stray and feral cats on campus continually having babies and getting hit by cars. So, we were trapping the campus cats. You could notice that there is are dramatically almost no cats on campus now,” said Fairbanks.

Fairbanks did a trap, neuter, return rescue of a colony of 18 cats in 2008, and with no newcomers and no reproduction, there were only four cats left after a couple of years in the same area they were found. She thinks there are still many people in Norman who do not know enough about the overpopulation problem in the community. Hands Helping Paws works as a resource for students who have any questions or concerns about the cat population that is evident near campus.

Hands Helping Paws is different than other shelters in town because it does not take in animals to be sheltered, they only help facilitate the wellbeing of stray and feral cats as they are in the community. Some argue that the cats that roamed campus 10 years ago may have found their way into the residential neighborhoods near campus.

Feral cats are not socialized to people and survive on their own outdoors. Most of the time these cats are not friendly and cannot be put up for adoption as an adult. Stray cats, on the other hand, are socialized to humans and can often be adopted into homes. To communities like Norman, the difference between a stray and feral cat can be important if cats are often found near houses or apartments. Feral cats are often unfriendly and will not approach people.

Hands Helping Paws partners with Norman Animal Welfare to prevent some feral cats from ever entering the shelter system by doing trap, neuter, return rescue operations on site. Fairbanks takes referrals from Norman Animal Welfare and also works with them to conduct a small adoption program.

Since 2016, Fairbanks operates a barn cat program within Hands Helping Paws that allows unfriendly cats to live as working “mouser” cats in barns who can help eat mice that populate properties. She began this program when she rescued 21 cats from shelter euthanasia in one day, had them spayed, neutered, vaccinated and back in barns within four to five days. In this way, Hands Helping Paws further assists the Norman community because shelters use taxpayer money to euthanize shelter animals.

According to the Oklahoma Alliance for Animals website, “these innocent animals pay the cost with their lives and taxpayers pay the cost with tax dollars that could (and should) be used to meet other needs.”

Caroline Graham is a pre-law senior at OU and has lived in a rental house near campus since the summer of 2017. She often feeds different community cats that frequent her porch, but said it can be difficult because other animals like opossums are attracted to the wet food she sets out. For this reason, her roommate, OU senior Hannah Hackworth, does not always support feeding the community cats, but Graham worries that if she does not support these cats, no one else on her street will.

“Lately the same two have been coming around, but before that there was one alone that always came. The most I’ve seen in one week was 9, but consistently, there are about three to four right around our house,” said Graham.

Graham said Hackworth has recently warmed up to the idea of supporting these cats because they have seen two smaller kittens make their way to their porch that do not seem to have a home. Fairbanks said kittens can be removed from the streets to become socialized and adopted into homes because they are not yet feral.

Fairbanks wants students and others in the Norman community to understand the negative impact of removing adult feral cats from the streets has on the wellbeing of the animal.

“If you remove the cats from their community or colony and take them away, shelters will kill them,” Fairbanks said.  “If you don’t relocate properly it is a death sentence because they don’t know where their shelter is and they don’t know where the food and water is.”

Second Chance Animal Sanctuary is a nonprofit “no kill” animal shelter that runs only on donations. They rescue dogs and cats from nearby shelters to give them a second chance at life in a permanent home. Second Chance also focuses on compatible pets for their owners, making the process of adoption more stable and enduring than adopting without thinking of long-term implications of pet owning.

Second Chance adopts out around 600 animals annually, helping the problem of overpopulation by giving stray or unwanted animals a home. However, the problem is not solved at adoption shelters.

“The number one thing that anyone could do to help animal welfare, dogs and cats across the board, whether it be street cats or just household pets, is spay and neuter,” Fairbanks said.  “That’s the only way we are going to make any dent into the pet overpopulation problem.”


Defining Community One Wardrobe at a Time

Jessi Murray is Oklahoma City’s own Tom Haverford.

On the hit show “Parks and Recreation,” Haverford, a local Pawnee, Indiana, bureaucrat and entrepreneur flipped on the lights to show friends his own rundown, not-even-painted space of his new clothing boutique. Haverford explained his concept of a store where teens can rent high-end clothing for low prices.

Murray lightheartedly watched this scene in her modern, avant-garde apartment in downtown Oklahoma City. In the midst of her laughter, an internal light bulb flipped on: being a fashionista who already sells clothes online, why doesn’t she bring that fictitious concept to life for her friends?

She decided to give the online community of women she helped create through Instagram an in-person space to come together at the soon-to-be-open Library: A Modern Clothing Store.

Murray describes herself as a 23-year-old jack-of-all-trades who is always moving forward, working on new opportunities with an innate drive to achieve her ambitious goals and make friends along the way. She wants other “girl bosses” in Oklahoma City to be connected and support one another through supporting local entrepreneurship.

Library will allow customers to check out items like they would at a traditional library, bringing them back within the month to take out more clothes and customize their wardrobe without breaking a budget. Members will pay $25 a month to get points they can spend on different items. Higher priced items are worth more points, so customers could use their points on a more expensive item, like a BCBG dress, or a few lower-priced items, like off-brand t-shirts.

Selling clothes on Instagram

Murray has 5,400 followers on her personal Instagram account, @xjessimurrayx, where she posts photos of herself carefully posed in almost exclusively black clothing, her fringed hair dyed red and oversized sunglasses, all of which she says defines her personal style.  

Since she was a sophomore at the University of Central Oklahoma in 2013, Murray has also used Instagram to market clothes she sells from her own wardrobe. She started to hone in on her own personal style and wanted to edit her closet and make money doing it. In the past three years Murray realized that she could help others find their own personal style, so she began offering styling services as well as lifestyle photography sessions.

Hilarie Salamone became a customer and friend of Murray’s when she bought a pair of shoes from her on Instagram. Salamone now finds that Murray pushes her to try pieces she has never tried before and she knows that Murray is honest just wants women to look and feel their best in clothing.

She and her husband, Kris Murray, will open a storefront for Library by the end of November in the lower-level space of Spark Creative, the Murrays’ marketing company in Oklahoma City’s Midtown district. Murray hopes she can bridge the gap between those who shop online and those who like to shop in store. If customers see an item they want on Library OKC’s Instagram, they can come into the store, try on the item and take it home. Or, they can buy from Murray through direct messaging on Instagram and have it shipped to their address.

The space will feel inclusive

From selling her clothes on Instagram to a diverse group of women, Murray wants her store to feel inclusive as a space for everyone.

“I want to run a business, but I also want to create a community of women that all become friends because, to me, one of the highest compliments is when somebody goes ‘I love what you’re wearing, can I borrow that?’ So, I wanted all sizes [of women] to feel included, but it’s hard to shop for people who aren’t your size,” Murray said.

She takes friends with her to shop at various local thrift stores for clothes that will fit different body types. Then, she photographs them in the clothes and posts weekly to the Library OKC Instagram account, @libraryokc. Murray has over 4,000 followers on the account who she hopes will help the storefront become successful in the next few months.

Kris Murray sees many of her followers as quality friends she was able to make through online connections that she may not have met in real life.

“She’s found it kind of fun through Instagram [to be] able to connect people together and she feels like it would be a fun thing to make a space where people can hang out,” he said.

Salamone is very excited for Library’s opening. She thinks it is important to have the option to go into a store and try on items while having Murray help with styling. Salamone has already experienced the community and friendship Murray has brought to her, so she is hopeful that others will get to meet her through the store as well.

“She’s so good at bringing people together. She is always pouring into someone else and encouraging someone else to go and chase their dreams or dominate whatever they’re doing. It’s never about ‘how far can I get,’ but ‘how can I do something for you,’ which I love about her,” said Salamone.

Hard work pays off

Murray keeps up with her photography, while also working as the director of digital marketing at Spark Creative, which leaves less time to prepare for the store’s opening. She tries to split her time as evenly as she can, which Kris Murray said includes her waking up early and working late into the night editing photos, spending as much time as she can with their tiny Chihuahua Zara, named after her favorite clothing store and who can be seen posing in many of her Instagram photos.

I feel like I work a lot. I am stressed out a lot, but starting something new is always stressful so it’s worth it,” said Jessi Murray.

Kris Murray thinks that while many young people have big dreams, few have the drive to figure out how to make them happen and become reality. He said she always follows through when she puts her mind to something. Murray works hard not only for herself, but also for the community she is working to create.

“I think just [my customers] are looking for unique clothes and aren’t trying to just look like everybody else and aren’t trying to spend a ridiculous amount of money to look nice because I don’t think anybody should have to spend a ridiculous amount of money to look nice,” said Murray

The future for Library OKC

Due to the November opening date being near the holiday season, Murray expects the store to do well initially. In the next few years, she hopes to move the store out of the Spark Creative offices and to its own location.

“Eventually, it would be fantastic if I could also expand into menswear as well because I think there’s a need for that. And then multiple locations would be awesome, but that’s dreaming real big,” she said.

So far, big dreams have not stopped Murray from pursuing new ventures, and being surrounded by eager and helpful friends and family make those dreams possible. “Asking for help isn’t hard when you’re surrounded by such helpful and loving people,” she said.

The Unseen Force Behind Oklahoma City’s Jones Assembly by Haley Dobson

It may be difficult to catch a glimpse of Brittany Sanger’s small stature amongst the multitude of gleaming pots and pans and the swarm of bodies in white aprons through the large, waist to ceiling windows at The Jones Assembly. She works quietly and moves quickly, helping everyone wherever she can to ensure each dish is perfect. At any given time, she might be plating, cutting, frying or even butchering to prepare a dish from her curated fall menu. And this happens all before noon.

Sanger is the executive chef of the at The Jones Assembly in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where she brought her culinary expertise all the way back to her hometown from Paris, France.

After facing many obstacles at home and abroad, including isolation, harsh teachers, a language barrier that left her confused about her place, and even those who doubted her ambition and ability, Sanger uses her experience to create a dining experience unlike any other in the metro. In March, 2015, with plans to open a music venue, bar and restaurant in Oklahoma City’s Film Row, Brian Bogert and Graham Colton asked Sanger to partner with them and operate the kitchen.

Bogert continually followed Sanger, a long time family friend, on social media as she worked in California, France and Boston. He was impressed by her ambition and knew she would be perfect for the concept.

Sanger’s culinary experience began at a well-known seafood restaurant in Los Angeles, California, during the summer before her senior year of college at The University of Oklahoma. She decided to change her major from pre-med to communications and planned to go to culinary school after graduation. Although she applied to many schools in America, her first choice was Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

According to the Le Cordon Bleu website, the school is, “considered to be the guardian of French culinary technique.” Sanger has maintained high standards for herself when it comes to her career. She found herself moving to Paris, a city she had never visited, to go to an esteemed culinary school while not knowing a lick of French.

“It was a big risk for sure, but I think at the time I was so excited about the whole thing that I wasn’t nervous at all,” Sanger said.

To graduate from Le Cordon Bleu, Sanger had to pass three different levels of lectures and practicals. The three-hour-long final exams for each level consisted of an empty recipe sheet of a difficult dish, which she had to know from memory and execute in a miniscule time frame. Sanger faced 10 culinary chefs from around Paris for each final and had to pass each time in order to graduate on time.

After her military-like schooling at Le Cordon Bleu, where Sanger estimates she spent 10 hours a week ironing her white uniform to meet her teachers’ extremely high expectations, she decided to apply to be a cooking assistant at the school for the summer to gain even more experience in the kitchen. She then took that experience to a kitchen at Paris’ notable Le Meurice Hotel.

For three months, she worked unpaid with only four other women and about 250 men (who liked to yell in French when frustrated.)

“It was definitely the hardest part of my entire experience in Paris,” said Sanger. “It tested my patience, but also my ability to stay strong and not let others and how they treat me defeat my dream.”

When her visa ran out, a friend she met in Paris asked Sanger to work for him at a new restaurant called Liquid Art House, an artsy venue with global cuisine. The executive chef for the restaurant was a well established woman in Boston who Sanger was eager to work for. She saw this time as an important opportunity to push herself to become even better at her craft, and Boston seemed like a great city to work her way up as a chef.

“The one thing I did know was that I was not going to be working in Oklahoma City,” she said.

At that time, Sanger believed that no restaurants in her hometown of Oklahoma City were up to her standards that she had built in Paris. However, in Boston, she learned a lot about restaurant management and what strong leadership should look like in smaller kitchens.

Although she made many close friends and loved living in Boston, she knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with Bogert and Colton to open a restaurant where she could have creative control in the opening. It took her two months to make the decision, however.

“I definitely thought long and hard about this opportunity. I knew if I did it, it would pretty much be my baby and I wouldn’t have a life for a while,” Sanger said. She said she wanted, “to help create a higher standard of what’s to come here (in Oklahoma City).”

Through all she learned in Paris and Boston, she believed she had the technical skill and discipline needed to run a kitchen herself. When Sanger told the chefs at Liquid Art House about her move, they said she was too young and inexperienced to open her own restaurant, but those who doubted her did not stop her from following her dream of working in a kitchen she could be proud of calling her own.

Madison Moore, a hostess at The Jones Assembly, said it is easy to talk highly of both Sanger’s cuisine and character.

“Not only does she care about her food and her image, but she cares about the people around her,” Moore said.

Moore sees locals come to the restaurant to food they cannot find anywhere else in Oklahoma City. She said often customers will come for dinner and come back for brunch or lunch the next day just to try more of Sanger’s unique creations.

Bogert believes customers appreciate Sanger’s worldly perspective with her use of ingredients, plating and different flavor profiles. Sanger specializes in seafood from her experiences on the East and West Coasts, but landlocked Oklahoma does not stop her from accessing fresh seafood. Four to five times a week they receive shipments of fresh salmon and scallops.

Bogert said even with their considerable staff, Sanger often uses her skills to butcher and prepare the seafood herself.

“She’s definitely a silent leader, but she’s always there. She works long and hard hours and kind of leads by example,” said Bogert.

Moore also described Sanger as collectively helpful in the kitchen, and how, even in stressful situations, she always stays calm so no one is afraid to ask for help.

“Never for a second have I regretted moving back (to Oklahoma City). It’s been an incredible experience and it’s taught me a lot more than I ever would have thought,” Sanger said.

Haley Dobson: “Breaking the Silence” by Ali Klima

When senior Ali Klima began working at the “Sooner Yearbook” her freshman year at OU, she wanted to get involved in something that would make a difference on campus. She was already involved in the Student Government Association, where she now holds an executive position, but wanted to use her love for writing in a more meaningful way.

When a friend suggested that she join the yearbook, she did not realize a yearbook was in existence at OU. However, after a 30 minute interview with the editor, she was hired as a writer-on-staff. She now feels like the yearbook is different than other publications on campus, like the “OU Daily,” because it covers important, more in depth stories that investigate larger campus issues.

Now, after working at the Sooner Yearbook for three years, she says her favorite thing about writing stories based on student issues is that she gets to meet students from different backgrounds on campus.

She was assigned to do a story about sexual assault on campus for the 2016-2017 publication. She thinks her editor assigned her the story because the topic went well with her writing style, as well as her concern with social justice through student congress. She did a lot of pre-reporting, including reading articles concerning sexual assault in the “OU Daily” and other local publications. She then usually tries to use her contacts in student government to talk to people who are directly involved in such issues.

This was a timely topic because David Boren made comments about the report the Gender and Equality Center released about sexual assault cases at OU, which caused concern among many students regarding resources for sexual assault victims.  

In her story, “Breaking the Silence,” Ali sheds light on the issue of sexual misconduct in general while also showing its impact on OU’s campus and why it is a relevant topic. She uses quotes to supplement her reporting well, and the ending quote of Kathy Faul, the director of the Gender and Equality Center, shows that there are solutions to the problem which make the reader want to stay informed about the issue.

When writing this particular story, Ali found that many students did not know there was a sexual misconduct policy. She realized that informing people through her interviews and through the publication of her story about Title IX was very significant.

All of the victims Ali spoke to were students at OU, and she made sure to be more sensitive and careful in her interview process. Most of the victims she interviewed wanted their stories to be told because they wanted to help inform and educate others about the issue and the resources that OU offers. She felt like she was able to empathize with everyone she interviewed, which she said made them more comfortable talking to her about difficult things.

Ali said only about 10% of sexual misconduct cases are reported, so she felt that those who did openly talk about their experiences made her writing feel even more meaningful.

Q&A Haley Dobson: Rachel Lukaszek and Riley Rohrer on OU Delight Ministries

With almost 200 likes and a cover photo of a large room packed full of college women, the OU Delight Facebook page continues to gain attention. Seniors Rachel Lukaszek and Riley Rohrer use social media to spread information about the ministry, which they hope can be a safe community for women at The University of Oklahoma to make friends and learn about the gospel.

According to the Delight Ministries website, “Delight is a nationwide ministry that invites college women into Christ-centered community that fosters vulnerability and transforms stories.”

Haley Dobson: Why did you want to bring Delight to OU?

Riley Rohrer: There’s a lack of community, especially among women, in regards to their walk with the Lord at OU. So, it was to provide an opportunity for girls to come together and have a complete Christ-centered community. There’s also something to be said when it’s only girls.

HD: How do you run Delight?

Rachel Lukaszek: It’s at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays and we make breakfast every week. At 6 a.m. this week Riley and I were making cinnamon rolls in the kitchen and our roommate had made a frozen pizza in the oven, so it had sprinkled onto the inside. I opened the oven and smoke came out and set off our fire alarm. (the two laugh at the memory)

HD: How many women come to the weekly meetings?

RR: Our numbers vary a lot. Last year, pretty consistently, we had like 40 to 50 give or take. Our first meeting this year we had about 85 girls.

HD: Do you think those numbers will keep growing?

RR: I think it will the more people hear about it, but it’s hard for us because it’s hard to reach people outside of the Greek community. But, I think it will continue to grow especially the more freshman learn about it.

RL: It’s also crazy how many people said that they just saw us on social media, which we didn’t expect.

HD: Do women show up often who you have never met before?

RR: Oh yeah. We had a fifth year senior last year. We had put fliers up on bulletin boards around campus, which I didn’t think anyone looked at. She came all by herself and said that she saw a flier in the Union.

RL: A lot of freshmen were like, “oh we followed you (on social media) last year, and we’ve been excited to come.”

HD: What has been the impact on these women?

RR: I’ve had a lot of girls who have told me specifically that it’s been so neat for them. It’s been kind of like a safe haven for people and like stress relief in a way. This year, at our first meeting we had them break into groups by grade and just talk about what they’re nervous about and what their hopes are for the year. I got to sit with the freshman and hear them talk about how they were so worried about making friends this year, so I think it’s been a cool outlet for people to actually make friends, especially for people who aren’t involved in Greek life.

HD: How does leadership work in Delight and who will take over once you graduate?

RR: We purposefully have younger girls on leadership, so they can learn from us. There’s going to be some changes (next year), so we will see.

HD: How has Delight impacted you personally?

RL: I think for me it’s just kind of been a restful place. Being able to stand up in front of a group of women and be very vulnerable about what you’re walking through and how the Lord is moving in your life can be really intimidating. I think it’s been really good for me to have that experience. We do small groups, and it’s just good to hear where everyone is at and to know that you’re not alone. I think that’s been a big deal for a lot of people, but it’s been a big deal for me too.