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Thursday, May 23, 2024

UF employees urge action before catastrophe strikes

When Kat Worden heard there was a cat trapped under sealed grates near Bryan Hall on UF’s campus Monday, she went home to get a crowbar.

Worden, the office manager at the Warrington College of Business Administration’s Center for Management Communication, said “it wouldn’t matter if it was a puppy or a kitten or a raccoon” — she wanted to save the crying animal.

Worden’s removing of the grate is one of many recent actions taken by a handful of UF employees to care for a feral cat colony near Bryan Hall, which houses Warrington.

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said the university’s policy prohibits the feeding of wild animals, be they raccoons, alligators or cats. However, trapping or removal of animals is up to the Environmental Health and Safety Division.

Sikes said she didn’t know of any complaints about a trapped cat beneath the Bryan Hall grates this week or ever before.

“There have been no calls from anyone letting us know there was a cat there. No one alerted us or notified us,” she said. “This is the first issue I’ve heard of related to cats in my five years here.”

About a month ago, Bryan Hall was treated for ants, roaches and fleas, said Bill Properzio, director of the Environmental Health and Safety Division. He said his team tried to determine what was attracting the pests. Raccoons or cats could be to blame.

Workers secured openings beneath the building with grates, Properzio said, and they didn’t look for animals that might have been trapped beneath.

“You can tell there’s a cat-hating community among workers,” said Joan Lyon, senior secretary at Warrington.

Monday, Lyon said a co-worker heard a cat’s cries coming from the grate. Lyon managed to push some food and water through the grates to the “half-dead” cat.

“We should have probably told the Physical Plant to make sure no animals were down there,” Properzio said. “We’re not trying to do animal cruelty or anything like that.”

He said that while he understands why some people may be passionate about saving the cats, food left for them often attracts other animals like raccoons and roaches. He said as predatory animals, the cats also negatively affect wildlife like birds and reptiles.

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Properzio’s department traps cats infrequently, he said, but when they do, the cats are sent to Alachua County Animal Services. There, Worden said, the cats are often euthanized.

Properzio said he wasn’t sure if there was an alternative, viable policy or solution UF could implement.

Worden said UF employees around the Bryan Hall area have been catching the cats and paying out of pocket for their spaying or neutering, and vaccinations. Worden even kept one and named it Luther. She said she has found homes for at least three litters born at UF and is currently fostering four kittens.

Julie Levy, director of the College of Veterinary Medicine Maddie’s Shelter Medical Program at UF, said the solution lies in coordination across UF’s campus. If nothing is done, the feral cat population will grow to a “nuisance” level, she said.

At the University of Central Florida, Levy said, volunteers reduced the on-campus cat population from more than 100 to about 10 now over 20 years. She said volunteers spayed and neutered older cats and sent younger ones to be adopted.

She said UF has an added advantage because there’s a veterinary school on campus.

“The policy on campus has been to remove the cats, so it’s technically against policy [to help them],” Levy said. “We haven’t taken an active role yet, although we would like to.”

Back at Warrington, Lyon said cat-loving employees need help from UF to continue caring for the feral felines.

“It’s not easy, and it’s expensive, and we’re receiving no assistance from UF,” Lyon said. “My dream would be for UF to adopt a policy like those around the country that allows the population to naturally die off. For having one of the best vet colleges in the country, it’s just really not the best we can do.”

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