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
Due to Husker Cats’ aggressive and proven Trap-Neuter/Spay-Return activities, the feral cat population has stabilized and in fact, has reduced to a manageable number.—Husker Cats
Why are feral cat colonies found at universities and why should universities care about feral cats? One university student’s research paper entitled TNR and Campus Cat Organizations described campuses as “hotspots for feral cats”. An explanation often given by campus Trap-Neuter-Return programs is that students and campus neighbors don’t have their cats fixed, which then results in litters of kittens. Another reason commonly offered is that campuses are viewed as an ideal dumping ground for an unwanted cat. Finally, a third reason 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 who embrace TNR. In January of 1989, in a news release from the Stanford University Service, Stanford initially announced that it planned to trap and ship its unmanageably large feral cat population to humane societies, where they would likely be euthanized. But then a group of volunteers convinced university officials to let them trap, spay/neuter, vaccinate, tag, and release the cats back to the campus. And so, in 1989, Stanford became the first American university to use TNR to manage its feral cat colony.
The group that pioneered Stanford’s TNR program were called The Cat Network. On the fifth anniversary of The Cat Network, the number of feral cats had dropped 1,500 to 300; on the tenth anniversary, the numbers had declined to 150. In 1999, one of the network’s founders was quoted 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 2012Stanford’s Daily Post reported that another of the network’s founders estimated the cat population to be as low as two dozen. One 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 successful. 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.
Another university with a successful TNR program is Saint Mary’s University . Their feral cat population went from 120 to 60 in five years.
Nebraska has its own examples of successful campus TNR programs. Inspired by Stanford University, Husker Cats formed in 2008 to stabilize the feral cat population on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. Phyllis Larsen and Kim Hachiya shared that Husker Cats operates under an agreement with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and that the group partners with The Cat House. Husker Cats manages the campus TNR program, while The Cat House takes in any campus cats that are deemed adoptable. There have been no new kittens born at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus since 2016.
Inspired by Husker Cats, in 2011 a group at the University of Nebraska-Kearney put in motion efforts to stabilize its population of feral colonies. The organization was officially recognized in 2016 and is called Lopercats. Sherry Morrow and Deb Schroeder shared that the group’s members are primarily UNK employees. They maintain eight feeding stations, which were built by a UNK Construction Management Club. Volunteers feed and water the cats in seven campus locations every other day. Facilities staff notify the group when new cats and kittens appear. Lopercats is registered with the Kearney Area Community Foundation and raises funds annually for the care of the feral cats. Generous donors allow the group to pay vet and boarding bills. Food is donated by a local business.
The benefits of TNR are magnified by the poor results achieved by other methods to control feral cat populations. The City of Berkeley Animal Shelter cites the failure of trapping and removing cats 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 feral cat population.
Are you interested in helping community cats? Husker Cats encourages first care for your own cat(s) by having them altered, by keeping them inside where they’ll be safer, and by not abandoning or dumping them. Use shelter or rescue resources if you cannot maintain ownership of your cat. In addition, Husker Cats asks the public not to approach or feed campus cats. They’re undomesticated cats that fear people and that receive controlled diets by assigned caretakers.
Besides following the above practices, other ways exist too. For example, there’s the simple fact of educating yourself, which incidentally you’re doing simply by reading articles published at LAA Pet Talk. What’s clear to me is there isn’t just one single way to help feral cats; instead, we need passionate people and creative people working together to help our feline friends have the best lives possible.
If you wish to support Trap-Neuter-Return right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it: The Cat House, Husker Cats, Husker Cats, and Joining Forces Saving Lives always needs volunteers and donations. To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.