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Helping Paws and Campus Cats are caring for MU’s feral cat population

A motion-sensored camera captures one of MU’s feral cats, as it wanders near a feeding station. Photo courtesy of Sydney Clark/Snapper.

Sydney Clark
Associate Arts & Culture Editor

Millersville University has a monitored feral cat population on campus and many students may not even be aware of it. Not only are there feral cats, there is also a running organization that oversees if the cats are getting the care that they need. Campus Cats monitors the felines on campus while Helping Paws fundraises the money needed to feed them. 

A feral cat differs from a stray because strays may have been someone’s pet that were either left outside or escaped from their home. Strays are accustomed to human contact, while feral cats aren’t. Feral cats are unfamiliar with human interaction and can see humans as predators. 

Pictured above is Zola one of Millersville’s feral cats peering into a window. Photo courtesy of Melissa Williams.

Campus Cats is a program designed to control the feral cat population by monitoring them with motion-sensored cameras, trapping them to make sure they are spayed/neutered, then releasing them back into the colony. Dr. Boal, a biology professor at MU, originally started Campus Cats after an explosive feral population broke out. These cats would roam around and breed, creating more ferals.

After years of trying, Dr. Baol eventually went all the way up to the Millersville cabinet. Around 2011, she was approved to start Campus Cats, which is now an official MU program. Now that Dr. Boal has retired, Millersville’s Nursing Department Secretary, Melissa Williams, has taken over the program. 

Campus Cats can only operate within Millersville’s campus. Students tend to see stray cats near House of Pizza, but nothing about the stray cats can be done over there. House of Pizza is not on MU’s property along with the residential homes on N. Prince Street.

The motion-sensored cameras that are set up near feeding locations on campus gives Williams the chance to monitor the population and see if there are any new cats in the colony. If a new cat is sighted, she knows to do a TNR— a trap, neuter, release program. This ensures that the ferals can’t have anymore kittens, keeping the population stabilized. This is also an opportune time for the captured cats to get their shots.

After a TNR, the cats receive an ear tip. Ear tipping is a common, universal sign that the cat has been spayed or neutered, had shots, and is being monitored. This also allows Campus Cats to keep track of everyone in the colony so they’re not trapping the same cat multiple times. 

Helping Paws is a student run organization that helps feed the cats and assists in the upkeep of the feeding stations. They also run fundraisers to raise money that pays for the cat food. Elyse Clay, President of Helping Paws, explains, “We go through about $300 worth of cat food about every 2-3 months because of how many cats we have.”

Helping Paws is a club for students who are passionate about animals. Not only do they help with the feral cats, they also volunteer at local animal shelters and run fundraisers. Clay mentions that raising money to support an organization is just as beneficial as hands on help.

Being aware of the cats’ presence on campus can also be beneficial to them, Williams explains, “It’s just about educating people about feral cats because a lot of people don’t know we have a feral cat population,” she continues, “Or they misunderstand what a feral cat is.” 

Knowing that a feral cat isn’t like a typical house pet is important so people trying to help don’t feel the need to trap them and take them to an animal shelter. 

Clay explains the misconception people have on feral cats by saying, “People get the misconception that [feral cats] need to be rehomed or rescued and that is something that is not the best scenario because they end up going to shelters and getting euthanized because they’re not friendly and they’re not socialized,” 

Clay continues by talking about  the goals of Campus Cats: “To not have any more cats introduced into the population, to keep the numbers that we have stable at about 15, and then hopefully just let those cats live out their lives.” 

It’s also important that the trapping of cats should be left to Williams, who is experienced with the process. A student with good intentions shouldn’t necessarily go and try and capture any of these cats themselves, due to the potential of them getting injured themselves. If that cat or kitten does end up getting captured, the student would have to cover the cost of the vet out of their own pockets. 

Clay explains, “It’s definitely awesome that people recognize the cats and want to help. We just have to make sure that it is done in the right way so that it works out well for both parties.” 

“I think if more people were a little more active in handling feral cats, we could do a lot better for the animals that we have,” Williams concludes.