Spread out and peeking from around corners all over campus is a large society of cats.
Some students may think at first that these cats are lost or that they need food or shelter. Christina Galben of PAWS to Care, an organization to provide for cats on campus, says otherwise.
“The cats have plenty of food, and they have shelter, even if [students] don’t directly see a food bowl or a shelter facility,” Glaben, Assistant Professor, Agriculture said. “The idea is, it’s camouflaged and not visible to most people.”
PAWS to Care’s motto states, as shown on the APSU website, “Paws to Care seeks to help the feral cats that reside on APSU’s campus by transforming individuals’ kindness into organized care.”
Individual acts of care such as leaving food outside of a dorm room for the cats may seem nice, but it can cause bigger issues, according to Galben.
“Ways that students can help, first of all, don’t try to catch any cats or pet any cats. Definitely don’t leave food out where you could draw the cats, or it could draw more cats, or it could draw wild animals that we don’t want to encourage to hang around, especially the dorms and things like that,” Galben said.
In addition to luring other feral cats onto campus, leaving food out can also attract possums and “especially raccoons.”
“As far as going hungry, if you notice the cats here are healthy looking. They lounge around looking relaxed. So, there’s plenty of opportunities for them to eat,” Galben said.
Students who are looking to help campus cats in a more substantial way can do so by getting involved with PAWS to Care through volunteering.
“They’re not going to be in direct contact with the cats, but we do fundraising and different activities to try to promote adoption of any kittens that we are able to catch,” Galben said. “If we catch cats that are not feral, that are actually domesticated, then we will try to rehome them too. So, sometimes we have opportunities where we need funding for that, and we need maybe to spread the word that we have kittens, adoptable kittens.”
In addition to providing food, water and shelter for campus cats, PAWS to Care also tries to trap and rehome domestic cats and kitten, while also raising money to get the campus cats spayed and neutered.
“We always take them to the veterinarian and get a clean bill of health before we adopt them out. So, students could provide foster homes if they don’t live on campus. So, that’s an opportunity, or if they have friends or family that are looking for a cat or kitten when we have them available,” Galben said.
Student groups in the past helped by fundraising or sponsoring a cat for its spay or neuter or other medical costs like vaccinations and de-worming.
“Our goal is to trap as many as we can to then spay and neuter them, and if they don’t seem adoptable, if they seem feral, then we release them back to try to help maintain a normal population that would hopefully keep outsider cats from coming in,” Galben said.
When cats are spayed or neutered, they are returned with an ear tipped (the tip of one ear cut off) so that people can tell from a distance that they have been caught before and spayed or neutered.
“There are lots that haven’t been [spayed or neutered] just because cats are really prolific reproducers. I think maybe there’s word on the outskirts of campus, there are lots of cats coming from other neighborhoods partaking of the meal probably. So, it’s an ongoing goal to trap and spay and neuter,” Galben said.
If a student finds a kitten or domestic cat on campus, Galben recommends contacting herself at firstname.lastname@example.org: Tina Reid- email@example.com, Corina Ravenscraft firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 931-221-7285 and 931-221-7193.
“Ideally this student hasn’t caught the cat. They just told us that they saw a new kitten, and then we have to trap it. Then we take to the veterinarian to get it a checkup and vaccines and get it started there,” Galben said. “Then, we would try to find a home for it, even if it’s a foster home, just so it can get socialized with people.”
Students are urged not to pick up a cat they think might be domesticated, as they can never be sure that they are in fact domesticated and they also don’t know that cat’s vaccine history and health status.
“Cats are equipped with lots of weapons, claws and teeth that could potentially cause some serious issues if they were to get bitten or scratched, diseases they could catch or just infections,” Galben said.
Spring is kitten season, according to Galben, and students may start to see kittens on campus.
If a student does, then that student is urged to contact one of PAWS to Care’s points of contact for the safe capture of that kitten.
It is also important that young kittens, which are still nursing, are caught with the mother cat so that they still have her to nurse from.
“Don’t chase them down yourselves,” Galben said.
Even students studying Pre-Vet and Veterinary Technology programs do not have direct contact with campus cats, and neither program is involved with PAWS to Care.
“Just because of the risk to students if they were to get bitten or scratched, it’s been my concern to not allow students to have hands-on opportunities. There may be situations where students could participate that are in the Veterinary Technology Program or Pre-Vet students if they’re already participating at places like the humane society they may come into contact with the cat there, but as far as on campus, no,” Galben said.
For the casual onlooker who just wants to know how best to handle campus cats in day to day life, the answer, Galben says, is simple, don’t approach them.
“The main thing, especially for new students who don’t have an idea what’s going on, is just don’t approach them. Observe them from a distance. Don’t leave food out for them. Don’t chase them or try to stress them out in any way,” Galben said. “If you find one cornered, definitely don’t approach it. They are not accustomed to being handled. So, the risk to the person being scratched or bitten could be more costly.”
It takes a lot to provide for the campus cat colony, but Galben believes for her personally, it is worth it.
“I know maybe not everybody appreciates them. I realize that they can cause a nuisance just because of the numbers or where they choose to go potty or stuff like that,” Galben said. “But I’ve had parents of prospective students say that they enjoyed seeing the campus cats, but I don’t know, overall, what the feeling is. For me personally, I like it.”
For more information about campus cats or PAWS to Care visit apsu.edu/paws-to-care.