How Universities and Prisons Help Cats

Amid the students, professors, and college administrators, there are other residents on campus—feral cats. You may not even notice them at first. They typically hide during the day and come out at night, and they are generally leery of humans.

Alley Cats Allies

Great Meadow Correctional Facility has become home to four unlikely inmates. Some might call them cute and cuddly. A litter of tan kittens found its way into the bowels of the prison a few months ago and since then, into the hearts of some of the staff and inmates.


While searching for positive Trap Neuter Release stories, I frequently came across examples within two very different type of institutions: universities and prisons. I wondered, why would feral cat colonies be found at either of these institutions, and why these institutions care about feral cats?

A university student’s research paper entitled TNR and Campus Cat Organizations described to campuses as “hotspots for feral cats”. Why? One reason often given by university TNR programs is that students and campus neighbors don’t have their cats fixed, which then results in litters of kittens. Another common explanation is that campuses are apparently viewed as an ideal dumping ground for an unwanted cat. Finally, a reason given in the aforementioned research paper is that wild cats will congregate where food and shelter are available. TNR and Campus Cat Organizations notes that “Dumpsters and crawl space under buildings alone attract cats.”

Stanford University is regularly cited as being a model for all other universities, including that of our own University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who embrace TNR. In January 1989, reports a news release from the Stanford University Service, Stanford announced that it planned it would be taking steps to deal with an unmanageably large feral cat population on campus. After plans were announced to trap as many as 1,500 cats and ship them to humane societies where they would likely be euthanized, “a group of volunteers approached university officials with a proposal to humanely trap the cats and have them spayed, neutered, vaccinated and tagged so that they could remain alive on campus.”

This group formed the highly successful The Cat Network. On the fifth anniversary of The Cat Network the number of feral cats had dropped to a mere 300, while on the tenth anniversary the numbers had declined to just 150. In addition, one of the network’s founders is quoted in 1999 by the Stanford University Press as saying, “Litters are a thing of the past at Stanford since the current cat population is spayed and neutered. We really don’t have kittens born at the university anymore.” In 2012, Stanford’s Daily Post reported that another of the network’s founders estimated the cat population to be as low as two dozen. In addition, a volunteer observed, “One thing people comment on when they look at the Stanford Cat Network webpage is that all the cats look really healthy. People expect feral cats to be all skinny, scrawny and unhealthy-looking but that’s exactly what we try to avoid.”

According to TNR and Campus Cat Organizations, other universities who followed Stanford’s lead have also seen success. To name a few:

  • Southern Methodist University’s feral cat population went from 62 cats to 50 in four years
  • California Polytechnic State University’s feral cat population went from over 400 cats to 60 cats in nine years, and its adoption program has found homes for 450 cats and kittens
  • University of Texas’s feral cat population went from over 200 cats to 15 cats in fifteen years, and no new litters of kittens have been born in ten years

As part of my own research, I also found that Saint Mary’s University practices TNR and reports success too. Numbers started at about 120 and dropped to 60 after five years.

In contrast to the successes of TNR, City of Berkeley Animal Shelter cites the failure of trapping and removing at Georgetown. Officials took the feral cats to the local animal control agency where the cats were killed. In under six months, 10 new unaltered cats and 20 kittens appeared on the campus, leaving Georgetown with an ongoing problem of cat overpopulation.

Kudos aside, the above numbers could suggest that spay/neuter efforts alone were responsible for the success of reducing the numbers of cats on campus. However, an issue that all universities face is that new cats will appear each year, left behind by students. The solution? Many universities will place in foster homes and later put up for adoption those cats which are recognized as non-feral. They also recommend animal welfare education.

With an estimated 30 to 40 million cats being homeless, both TNR and adoption are needed to curb our pet overpopulation crisis, as prisons have found. Global Animal contends that TNR has become mainstream. It states that more than 430 municipalities nationwide, along with numerous prisons (ten of which are specifically named) have started TNR programs. Regards the latter, Global Animal states, “Inmates are often the cats’ primary caregivers and their biggest supporters, constantly advocating for the cats, with whom they form deep bonds.”

One of the most recent examples of a successful prison TNR program is the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in New York.  According to PostStar, the feral cats wandered from a nearby farm to the prison. Not only is TNR being used to manage the cat colony’s population, but ten cats have been adopted by employees and their extended families.

When I first started my series on cat overpopulation, I said that there were at least three ways the average pet owner could help.

  • Ensure your cat is spayed/neutered
  • Keep your domesticated cat indoors
  • Support Trap Neuter Release

In reality, other ways exist too. Some I have discussed in earlier posts such as fostering and adopting. Others, such as educating yourself, you’re doing simply by reading these articles. There may even be more ways. What’s clear to me is there isn’t just one single way; instead we need passionate people and creative individuals to continue to work together find a mix of ways that will help our feline friends have the best lives possible. Will you be part of that solution?

If you wish to support Trap Neuter Release right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it. The Cat House and Husker Cats always needs volunteers, donations, and those willing to foster and/or adopt. Help them out today! To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.


Cat Network Celebrates Five Years, Stanford University Press

Cat Network Marks Ten Years, Stanford University Press

Cat Tales, Stanford Daily

Stanford Cat Network

TNR and Campus Cats


How Prisons Are Keeping Cats of Death Row

Kittens Break into Prison


2 thoughts on “How Universities and Prisons Help Cats

    1. Thanks for the compliment! If you haven’t already, please check out the rest of our TNR series from this past week.

      I like your post too. Watch for a contact message from me about it.

      Actually, your whole blog is great, and you have a new follower. Happy rescuing!

      Liked by 1 person

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