Campus cat program seeks to manage feral cat population

By McKenna Middleton | Opinion Editor

A partnership between the Baylor Pre-Veterinary Medical Association and Waco’s Animal Birth Control Clinic has launched a new effort to manage the population of feral cats on Baylor’s campus.

The Campus Cat Project follows the “Trap, Neuter and Release” (TNR) method, which the Animal Birth Control Clinic Executive Director Carrie Kuehl said has had success locally and on a national level. To complete the TNR process, feral cats are safely and humanely trapped, neutered or spayed by professionals at the Animal Birth Control Clinic and then released back in the same location 24 to 36 hours after the procedure.

“Ideally you trap in the morning, bring the cat in the trap and they do the surgery that day, and the cat stays overnight without human interaction. The next morning, the cat is released once [it recovers from surgery],” Keuhl said.

Kuehl said that in addition to fixing the animals, the clinic also provides rabies vaccines and an “ear tip” to help identify cats that have already gone through the surgery.

The cat population at Baylor is not an anomaly, Keuhl siad.

“Anywhere there are humans, you’re going to have cats. They provide food so the cat comes back to that food source,” Keuhl said.

The Campus Cat Program helps reduce the cat population by preventing it from continuing to grow while keeping the current community of cats healthy and safe. Cats that are too young to undergo surgery will not be trapped because they don’t weigh enough to trip the sensor plate. Keuhl said cats that are fixed are less likely to roam far from food sources or encounter dangers. Additionally, since the Campus Cat Program includes vaccinations for the animals, the safety and health of humans and cats are both benefited.

The Animal Birth Control Clinic met with officers from the Baylor Pre-Veterinary Medical Association to teach them how to safely and effectively trap cats on campus.

“They can help other members who are wanting to participate as well, so someone from our clinic doesn’t need to trap at every location. To have the community take that step, they know the cats best. They know their feeding schedules for trapping,” Keuhl said.

Dr. Doriann Beverly, interim senior coordinator for community service, helped the organization get the project off the group by connecting the students with other departments and offices on campus. Beverly, who has trapped about 30 cats in her own neighborhood, said trapping cats is relatively simple if you have the behaviors of the cat in mind beforehand.

“I think cats are pretty easy. They just have to get in. If you set the trap right, and they walk in, they’ll set off the pressure plate,” Beverly said. “You just kind of sit and wait. It’s like fishing for cats.”

Beverly said the program’s goal is to reduce the size of the feral cat community on campus, which will ultimately give them a better quality of life. Beverly said that until now, the only efforts to manage the cat population on campus has been through the Baylor Law Student Animal Legal Defense Fund. Through education and TNR methods, the group was able to greatly decrease the number of feral cats on the Baylor Law School campus.

Fort Worth senior Megan Dillman, president of the Baylor Pre-Veterinary Medical Association, said there are key guidelines the Baylor community can follow to make the TNR process run more smoothly. She said an understanding that feral cats are not candidates for adoption because they are not socialized with humans is critical to the process of ensuring the well-being of the cat population on campus.

“Adult [cats] probably won’t let you, but I know some students have tried to take home kittens, which, I know they do that out of a good place to help, but most likely the mom has just left them and is going to come back in most situations. So it’s really not in that kitten’s best interest,” Dillman said.

In addition, Dillman and Keuhl emphasized the important role feeding feral cats plays in the trapping process. Dillman said anyone feeding these animals should not leave food out overnight. When feeding free-roaming cats, Dillman said the best method is to leave food out for 30 minutes and then completely clean it up. Leaving cat food out can attract other wildlife such as raccoons and skunks to the site.

Dillman said the organization completed the TNR method on a handful of cats last semester, but has a goal of trapping 15 more this year.

“It started out as just a group service project and then we realized that a lot of the members were really interested so we thought let’s make it a more long term project,” Dillman said.

The Campus Cat Program initiative also provides pre-veterinary students with experience handling animals in a veterinary public health setting.

“They have really embraced this, and they are super excited about it,” Keuhl said. “I know the demands on their curriculum are pretty big, so I think their embracing of this is a compliment to the project.”

Another aspect of the program is that members of the Baylor Pre-Veterinary Medical Association can shadow veterinary doctors at the Animal Birth Control Clinic and observe the surgery side of TNR, Dillman said.