This feature was written by Kaylee Johnson, Graduate Assistant in University Communications.
Aside from her ability to balance campus involvement with the Honors Program, the Student Ambassador Organization and two off-campus jobs, Payton Broshears ’22 is also committed to controlling the feral feline population on campus. After volunteering at the Vanderburgh Humane Society (VHS) for the last three years and seeing how the overflow of cats and kittens often take kennels by storm, Broshears knew it was time to bring a Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) Program to campus. “It is just horrible seeing how many strays and kittens are brought in every year,” she says. “It really changes your perspective to go into a place like VHS and to know that some of these cats are going to be euthanized based off the sheer numbers.”
USI has a history of having a steady feral cat population on campus—specifically in the campus housing areas where students commonly welcome them with scraps and head scratches. Countless students have showed interest over the years in campus cats, but the funding needed to spay and neuter for population control purposes has been absent until recently. “I have been working at USI since 1992, and we had feral cats [on campus] then,” Laurie Berry, Assistant Dean of Students, recalls. “I think where there are college students in a wooded area, you will likely find cats.”
With support from the Dean of Students’ Office, collaboration with Feline Fix, an organization that specializes in fixing cats and releasing them to their original locations, and employee and student volunteers, a TNR program is currently being led on campus by Broshears and Dr. Sarah Stevens, Director of Honors Program and Living Learning Communities. To trap the cats, humane traps are spread around campus, and a smelly food—tuna for example—is inserted to entice the cats in. Once the cats gravitate towards the tempting traps, volunteers take them to be spayed or neutered for free. Once the cats are fixed, they are logged, identified and brought back to their specific campus locations.
Feline Fix set up traps one evening this spring, but saw no success in trapping any cats, likely because students were still steadily feeding them from campus housing areas. Broshears and Stevens are planning to schedule Feline Fix to come to campus periodically over the summer to try again, hoping the absence of students—and their generous grub—will help the process.
Broshears estimates there are around 25 cats currently calling campus home. Though furry companions don’t sound like a negative for many, the issue with the cat colonies on campus is their ability to quickly replicate. “The only way to decrease the number of euthanizations [at VHS] is to spay and neuter ferals and to adopt whenever possible,” Broshears says. “I want to be able to help the cats on campus, and in doing TNR, I can.”
“I am hopeful this is a partnership that will continue as feral cats and colleges and universities almost always go hand-in-hand,” Dr. Jennifer Hammat, Dean of Students, says. “Having a responsible and humane way of managing the colony that protects our territory is a best-case scenario for our campus.”
Broshears is also hopeful the partnership sees success and eliminates the number of cats and kittens brought to VHS. In the meantime, while trying to schedule Feline Fix for more campus visits in the coming summer months, and with guidance from University administration, Broshears will continue to rent humane traps from VHS and use her personal funds to work to control the cat population on campus. “VHS will neuter or spay the cat, administer appropriate vaccines and treat any minor injuries the cats might have,” she says. “Yes, kittens are cute, but many of them don’t make it, and they add to the cat population in Evansville, which increases the number of cats dropped off at VHS. Neutering and spaying allow cats to be released back into their colonies without the concern of kittens coming up in the spring and without the concern of new cats filling up shelter space.”
Removing the furry friends from campus completely is not the solution. Humanely controlling the population is. And Broshears is determined to take on the challenge.