There are cats on campus at Mercer and it’s not good for them or us

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You may have seen them if you are stuck on campus after dark or arrive for classes early. I’m talking about the cats that live on the Mercer campus.

The cats have been here at least as long as Collin Kuklish, one of Mercer’s security officers, can remember. The officer of 13 years said there were a “couple at first, but babies having babies…”

He’s right, of course, feral cats often have kittens when they’re only a year old, so the number of cats in a colony can rise exponentially.

Kuklish estimates there are now least 15 cats on campus, but notes that it is hard to be sure. It is hard enough finding a house cat that doesn’t want to be found, finding cats in a forest is nearly impossible. Personally, I’ve been able to find 5, a mother and her four kittens.

If nothing is done, these kittens are likely to die within the year according to statistics provided by the ASPCA. If they survive the winter their life expectancy still isn’t much better, only about another year at most.

There is a protocol called “TNR. It stands for trap, neuter, release. It’s simple. First cats are lured into trap cages set with food. Then they are brought to a TNR friendly vet, who neuters them, or prevents them from having babies. Kittens that are young enough to be socialized and made into housecats are taken to be fostered and adopted. Finally, any cat too feral to live a domestic life is released back into the wild.

However, the fate of neutered feral cats changes drastically. According to TNR advocate Alley Cat Allies, tomcats that have been neutered no longer feel the need to engage in dangerous behavior like fighting to impress lady cats (how similar cats and humans are!). They’re also able to gain more weight extending expected lifespan to at least 6 years. While TNR cats are neutered, the vet also vaccinates them against rabies.

Kuklish says that the cats haven’t caused any problems yet, but he noted their poor health. “Some are obviously not too healthy. And there’s the health of everybody else too, you know?”

One student, Gabrielle Feinstein, says she has taken matters into her own hands. She told The VOICE, “I called animal control, but they [said they] won’t do anything. So I’ll just trap them myself soon.”

Kuklish recalled that Mercer did try something once. “Had somebody a few years ago. Think they took [the cats] to a shelter.”

That method might have removed some cats, but didn’t address the overall problem. Also it is not as good a strategy as a TNR program because feral cats in shelters are notoriously difficult to place in “forever homes” and are often euthanized.

Furthermore, with no intervention it is only a matter of time before someone on campus will approach one of these cats and get scratched or bitten. Then Mercer will have a serious problem on its hands.

As a cat lover myself, I welcome the sight of cute kitties, but I know they are doomed without intervention. A trap for TNR costs about 50 dollars, and each neutering is done cheaply by TNR-friendly vets, the price is roughly 50 dollars a cat. If Mercer takes action now the cost will hundreds of dollars lower than it will be in a few years.

Mercer could be the community college that betters lives of not one but two species. Can Bergen County boast that?

When asked if the college had any plans to deal with the feral cats, Kuklish said “I don’t know…but I hope so.”

I do too. I want those cheerful little kittens I see chasing each other in the mornings to be able to grow into healthy old cats. I think we all do.