The official mascot of Fordham is the ram, but at the Rose Hill campus, a smaller, more skittish four-legged animal has taken up residence.
Feral cats are regulars at the parking garage, near the Metro North railroad tracks, around the Bathgate Avenue entrance, and even near the McGinley Center, where food is left out by members of the community.
According to Robert Freda, director of campus operations, wild cats have lived on campus for as long as anyone can remember. But two years ago there was a noticeable uptick in their numbers. Capturing them was not an option, as adult feral cats cannot be rehabilitated for adoption. But their breeding was not sustainable either, he said.
In January 2016, Holly Malkasian Staudinger, a volunteer from Rye, New York, began trapping and transporting the cats to veterinarians in Westchester. After the cats were spayed or neutered, Staudinger released them in the same spot where they’d been caught.
Since September 2016, she’s trapped and released 16 cats on campus.
Staudinger learned about the Rose Hill cats through a friend whose daughter is a Fordham student. She said that “trap, neuter, and release” is endorsed by most humane societies, as the procedure keeps cats from reproducing but also allows them to live in a familiar environment. Kittens born in the wild can be taken from the mother after six weeks and put up for adoption, but by their 14th week in the wild, they’re unfit for domestication, she said.
There are benefits to having feral cats around, though.
“Cats are great to have outside because they keep the rodent population down,” she said.
“A dozen cats on a campus like Fordham is great, but you don’t want 100 cats—they’re also wild animals. They might look like cute little house cats, but they’re not. So you don’t want people to go over and try to pet them.”
On a recent visit to campus, Staudinger caught three male cats in specially designed traps that enable a person to change bedding, food, and water without touching the cat. Most of the cats tend to be a year to two years old. As part of their visit to the vet, they’re screened for diseases such as leukemia and Feline AIDs.
It can be a challenge to trap Fordham’s cats, Staudinger said. There are myriad hiding spots on and directly around the 85-acre campus. Several benefactors feed them regularly, so they’re less tempted by the vittles in the traps. Staudinger hopes that once every cat living on or close to campus has been neutered, the University can establish a maintenance routine in partnership with the community.
To help, she said, look to see if a feral cat has a notch cut from its ear. If not, it hasn’t been neutered, and should be trapped before it breeds.
Freda echoed the need for a long-term maintenance routine, noting that the facilities department put four straw-lined storage containers out for the cats to use as shelters during inclement weather last year. A member of the department is being trained to use the trap, and will eventually alert Staudinger when a cat has been caught.
Freda is also eager to contact anyone who’s been feeding the cats and recruit them to alert his department when they see an unclipped cat. Ideally, on days when a trap is set, volunteers will refrain from putting out food, thus making the traps more appealing. On such a big campus, Freda said they need all the help they can get to track the stray cats.
“You see them around lunch time by the McGinley Center, you see them in the afternoon by Bathgate Avenue, and I’ve seen them by our office in the early morning. Other times I go two weeks without seeing them. There’s really no rhyme or reason; they just sort of appear,” he said.
“But they help us keep the mouse and rat population down. That just in and of itself is a good thing.”