Those Cat People
A piece about the steps the Pre-Vet club takes in order to manage the feral cat population on campus
Staff Writer Holly S. Trowbridge
Photographer Emaje Hall
The Pre-Vet club has been known by many observers as the cat club, or as “those cat people.” Part of the reason this club earned this reputation is because of their involvement with the feral cat population on the UH Hilo campus. The feral animal populations that can be found on campus are “cats, rats, mice, mongoose, hens and roosters, two-to-three kinds of doves, mynah birds, various sparrows, and many insects such as little red fire ants, carpenter bees, psychidae and tineidae larva on buildings, as well as the occasional dogs, pigs, and humans,” states Conservation Biologist Jesse Eiben, an affiliate faculty member in the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management (CAFNRM) and Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science (TCBES).
According to Lorna Tsutsumi , co-advisor for the Pre-Vet club and professor of entomology at UH Hilo, the various animal populations are important and students need to be educated on this subject. The Pre-Vet club helps manage the feral cat population on campus by feeding them once a day, seven days a week. The cat feeding is part of maintaining Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR), which is a feral animal management method that involves trapping cats, sterilizing them, and releasing healthy adult cats back on campus.
“The feeding of the cats is a part of Trap-Neuter-Release, because the cats are in one location, instead of all over campus. They aren’t in the trash cans or in other places they’d try to get food otherwise,” says Ariana Dolan, president of the Pre-Vet club and UH Hilo student.
As a result of building these territories, cat-feeders can see when there are new cats that need to be spayed or neutered, and the club organizes trapping days for this. Kittens get rehomed if they are able to be socialized, and diseased cats are euthanized. Spayed and neutered cats are marked by having clipped ears.
Although many believe that the Pre-Vet club is the group in charge of the campus' feral animal populations are a problem that fall under the responsibility of Auxiliary Services. “They are very grateful and appreciative that the Pre-Vet club steps up to address one of the issues they have on campus, which is cats,” says Tsutsumi.
Many years ago, the Pre-Vet club and Auxiliary Services worked to initiate TNR, which has been successful to date according to Tsutsumi. A long time ago, the Pre-Vet club decided to help Auxiliary Services with the feral cat population. The only condition was that they would be allowed to use a method of their choosing. TNR contributes to a student’s volunteer and hands-on animal work hours, 1,000 of which are needed to get into veterinary school.
“My understanding is the Pre-Vet club students work with a local vet for supervised training and assist with the sterilization techniques that they may perform in a vet office environment,” states Eiben. He continues that managing the colony by feeding stations to attract the cats in the area for efficient monitoring, and tracking cats on campus, tracking health, giving vaccinations, and ensuring all sterilizations are part of those duties.”
Tsutsumi recognizes that TNR is not always the best option for managing feral cats, especially in regards to conservation areas or bird sanctuaries, and is of the opinion that it works in an urban area where you have influx, and have students who will always feed the cats.
“Like any town, there are people who drop off animals in any area that the public sees humans attempting to care for animals. Population expansion of animals from non-managed areas surrounding campus will certainly move into campus naturally,” says Eiben.
The current numbers of the cat population are stable. The Pre-Vet club keeps an itemized list documenting the numbers of cats, and has noticed that there is no birth rate since they are all fixed. Overtime, the numbers will decrease as current cats pass away.
As an accredited university, UH Hilo gets examined by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). One of 10 examples in WASC for extracurricular and student involvement on campus is the cat program, according to Tsutsumi.
“It has that academic component that gives them exposure to feral animals, and volunteer hours, and knowledge. As a vet, you become more knowledgeable about working with feral animals and different techniques and learning about this stuff,” says Tsutsumi.
The Pre-Vet club’s biggest expenses are cat food, traps, and containment cages. To pay for these commodities the club fundraises and receives donations, in addition to receiving some subsidiary support from their acknowledgement as a Registered Independent Student Organization (RISO). The cat-feeding stations were provided by UH Hilo.
Dolan asks that when students encounter feeding stations, they “don’t put human food on the feeding stations, because the cats aren’t going to eat it, and it just attracts ants, and we have to throw it away, and it’s pretty gross.” Furthermore, it is recommended to not attempt petting the feral cats as they are more comfortable with the people who feed them.
Most of the cat-feeders on campus are Pre-Vet students, though not everyone who is part of the club is involved with cat-feeding. The Pre-Vet club has 20 dedicated members, and their duties go beyond working with the cats on campus.
The club helps with emotional support animals, check-ins, animal-related emergency situations, and assist Student Housing when illegal animals are found. They even helped to evacuate horses from Leilani Estates during the lava eruption.