Update on UIS Campus Cat Policies

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Update on UIS Campus Cat Policies


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Within the past few days, the University of Illinois Springfield has temporarily changed its handling of the feral cat population on campus. An email from Charles Coderko, Associate Chancellor of Administrative Affairs, Facilities and Services that was sent on Monday morning stated that the university is taking a second look at the policies surrounding wildlife on campus and forming a focus group to help develop future policies. During this time of the issue being studied, all cats caught in a trap will be released on location instead of being taken to animal control.

The policies surrounding the cats on the University of Illinois Springfield campus have been the source of much strife between people who support the current program and people who feel it should be amended or abolished. There has been little information published on the subject in the past few months, and many people who have tried to find updates on the policy have been unable to do so.

The recent policy on the feeding of non-domesticated animals stated that “The policy prohibits the feeding of non-domesticated animals, including feral cats, on University property; tampering with University property including animal traps and releasing unauthorized animals onto University property.” In effect, this policy disallowed people on campus to set food for any animals, including cats. Another program that was being performed was the trapping of wild animals such as skunks, opossums, minks and feral cats. All except the cats were transported off campus, while the cats were taken to Sangamon County Animal Control. Once there, they were then taken by the Animal Protective League (APL) as long as space allowed. All five of the cats trapped on campus made it to the APL.

Charles Coderko stated that the purpose of this policy was to protect the safety, health, and well-being of all members of the campus community. Feeding any animals would bring populations of unwanted and potentially unsafe animals to campus. Some carcasses of animals such as raccoons have been removed from populated areas where they could cause disease. Coderko cited sources from the Center for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Agriculture. These sources all state that feral cat populations pose a threat to public health and safety.

Furthermore, Coderko stated that, during the winter months when students were away from campus and not feeding the animals, there were no reports of animals in populated areas and the trapping program did not need to be in effect. He said that, more than a decade ago, there was a program to feed the animals away from populated areas as well as to trap, neuter, vaccinate and release them. This program was stated by Coderko to be a failure. However, this program was only in effect before he was hired by the university, so he acknowledged that anything regarding the old program was only anecdotal and did not deem the failure of the previous program factual. The university has stood firmly with the previous policy for seven months until the recent agreement to look at the issue once more.

Several organizations, both on and off campus, have voiced strong disapproval and have attempted to get these policies changed. One organization on campus has dedicated itself to trying every way possible to change what happens to the cats. Loud for Animals feels as if the trapping was done with negligence and incompetency. The members of this organization fought and argued for a change while following all the rules that were in effect. They monitored the traps as much as possible to ensure that no cats were left in them for extended periods of time while also communicating with organizations such as the APL This student organization utilized every opportunity possible to voice disapproval of the recent policy. Instead of the recent policy, they advocate for a renewed TNVR program.

TNVR -meaning trap, neuter, vaccinate and release -is a population management program. Animals are taken from a location, neutered and vaccinated and then released at the same location. By doing this, the population in that area is decreased, since the neutered animals are no longer reproducing. Furthermore, the animals that are still in the area are vaccinated.

The APL stated that TNVR campaigns are the safest, most effective and most humane way to deal with the issue on campus. Sarah Moore from the APL has stated that the APL has offered to set up feeding stations away from populated areas and educate students on the importance of not feeding animals when a maintained feeding program is in effect. The APL has also offered to set up and maintain TNVR programs on the campus. All of these offers were given with the promise that they would be performed at no cost to the university or to taxpayers.

In the Spring of 2018, the Student Government Association contacted the APL about the cat population on campus. A series of emails were exchanged and the APL performed TNVR on 19 of an estimated 30 cats on campus with permission from the SGA. This was about two-thirds of the cats on campus and the population has dropped to about a dozen cats since then. This action is at the center of the controversy due to the interpretation of the administration’s actions on this program. The administration was made aware of the TNVR campaign in effect that spring and allowed it to happen, showing some level of consent. However, the administration did not sign a contract with the APL and have since said that consent was never given. Whether or not consent for the program was given is open to interpretation, yet this lies at the center of the arguments.

The problems surrounding the policies of cats on campus have reached the highest levels of Illinois government. A meeting was held on Thursday morning with Chancellor Koch and Coderko, several representatives from organizations such as the APL and the Humane Society and several legislators. Among these legislators were representatives from both houses and both parties of Congress. House Majority Leader and Democratic Representative Greg Harris was also in attendance. Harris stated that all members in attendance were “puzzled” by the administration’s refusal to give any ground at the time and accept free help from professional organizations in the area. Harris ended the meeting when it became apparent that the UIS administration was unwilling to compromise and that any further dialogue would achieve no results.

A Senate bill that Sarah Moore said was a direct result of the situation at UIS has passed through Senate committee 11-0 with unanimous support from both parties. It is now in its third reading on the Senate floor. This bill, Senate Bill 61, would make Universities that participate in TNVR programs for feral cat populations immune from criminal and civil liabilities for damages caused by feral cats, with exception to cases where willful or extreme misconduct is exercised. Many of the reasons the recent policy was in effect is due to liability issues. This bill would remove these issues on any campus that had a TNVR program. Harris said that, due to its unanimous support so far, the bill would most likely pass both houses of Congress and end up on the Governor’s desk by the end of session on May 31.

Although little information has been publicized in recent months, the debates surrounding the feral cat population on campus have not stopped. Developments are happening daily and the current policies are being temporarily rescinded while alternatives are studied. Although there is movement with regards to the cat population, the issue is far from settled.