Grace Chua writes about campus cats management in NTU, NYGH and NUS (The Sunday Times, 21 Nov 2010)

“Life’s good for ‘campus cats’.” By Grace Chua. The Sunday Times, 21 Nov 2010.
Students and teachers at some schools and universities feed and clean up after feline residents

NYGH Cats
At Nanyang Girls’ High School, the cats that roam the school
are fed once to twice a day, even on holidays and weekends,
and the teachers have rostered themselves for the duty
of taking care of feeding and sterilising the cats.

Photo: Nanyang Girls’ High School

There is one more ‘C’ on the minds of some students in Singapore, but this one purrs contentedly when fed.

Dubbed ‘campus cats’, a number of the felines that found their way into campuses and school compounds have found carers among the teachers and students.

Teachers at Nanyang Girls’ High School (NYGH) have long rostered themselves to feed and sterilise the four cats that roam the school’s carpark, and this year, a group of students there began to feed the cats and clean up after them during the school term.

At the National University of Singapore (NUS), two postgraduate students are trying to organise a programme to look after tame cats at the Faculty of Science.

While cats and their occasional feeders are not uncommon on school campuses, cat carers are getting more organised, drawing up feeding rosters and raising funds for vet bills.

The Housing Board does not permit pet cats in public housing. Caring for community cats in neighbourhoods and schools is one well-established way cat lovers get round that ban.

Mrs Marcella Do, 60, who is married to a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) faculty member, has helped put together one of the first organised campus-cat programmes there.

She explained that when NTU’s Cat Management Network started in 2004, campus felines were already ‘partially domesticated’. But their begging for food at places such as cafeterias was a nuisance.

A team of students and teachers then designated feeding spots – tucked away from human traffic – and made sure to clean up after the cats had eaten.

An organised feeding regime ensured a steady stream of student feeders after earlier cohorts had graduated.

This need for continuity is on the mind of NUS graduate student Keven Ang, 29, who is pursuing his doctorate at the university’s medical school. He and several others have fed the science faculty cats for three years, taking care of some since they were kittens.

He said: ‘We’re going to graduate in a year or two and are worried there won’t be regular feeders.’

Cat care does not come cheap. The NTU group spends $600 a month on cat food alone and is supported by a grant from the university each year.

At NUS, a group of staff and students based out of one of the science laboratories has sponsored sterilisations.

During school holidays, when campuses are all but deserted, NTU cat caregivers return to their Boon Lay campus from as far away as Ang Mo Kio and Woodlands. At NYGH, teachers feed the cats once to twice a day, even on school holidays and weekends.

Cat Welfare Society president Veron Lau commented that such responsible feeding and sterilisation cut down social problems that cats can cause, such as begging or scavenging for food, tipping over bins and dirtying the premises.

NTU’s programme has been so successful that complaints went down from 30 a month to half a dozen a year, Mrs Do said.

Still, campus cat caregivers face problems and resistance.

Mrs Do said irresponsible ‘ghost feeders’ who are not part of the team sometimes lure cats away and leave feeding areas a mess.

Worse, she said, outsiders dump cats at the university. But the dumped cats are often attacked by the university’s resident cats as the animals are territorial. Or they may not know where to find food, or be killed by traffic within the school.

At NYGH, there have been no complaints from parents or the administration, said teacher Sandra Teng. The cats now ‘have a home in our school community’, she added.

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