After months of strenuous efforts to get the university to implement a Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) policy for the feral cats on campus, administration brought down the gavel on Audrey Maxwell.
TNR is a method of trapping feral cats, spaying or neutering them and returning them to the environment from which they were collected.
The final decision came from Vice President for Finance and Administration Mark Rozewski, but Maxwell was never told that he had the final say.
“I have the greatest respect for her. She’s worked very hard. She’s done substantial work,” Rozewski said. “We just have a different sense of what needs to be done.”
Rozewski doesn’t think TNR is a good option for the university because he doesn’t think, from a business standpoint, it’s a sustainable program.
Maxwell met with Rozewski and Associate Provost for Student Affairs Marcia Kiessling earlier in the semester. Rozewski said he would contact Maxwell after spring break with a decision. But when she returned, Rozewski was avoiding her, she said.
“I emailed him and he did not respond to me for over a week,” Maxwell said.
“Immediately it was ‘no,'” Maxwell said. “Once I leave, he doesn’t trust anyone else to take over. He said, ‘There’s no possible way that you can assure me that it will be sustainable after you leave.'”
But Audrey has received backing from the Student Government Association and local nonprofits, such as Another Chance for Animals (ACA).
A pouring in of support
“If that’s their concern, she’s shown she has community support,” said Audrey Julian, ACA administrative director. “She has the backing of a tried and true rescue. When she leaves, we will help continue it.”
Julian has been working closely with Maxwell, who regularly asks for her advice and bounces ideas off of her.
“If she’s willing to get it up and running, we’re willing to do whatever she needs us to do,” Julian said. “I don’t agree with (the university’s) decision. The problem is not just going to go away. They’re going to have to keep paying to trap these cats one way or another. This has been going on for decades. Why not try something new?”
She said the organization would help Maxwell write grants.
Feline Fix, another local nonprofit, offered Maxwell its resources as well.
“They told me they would transport cats to the Vanderburgh Humane Society for me, and they would come out and help me trap the cats,” Maxwell said. “So that was very good for me because I know I won’t be alone if I can get this OK’d, but obviously the university doesn’t see it as beneficial to them.”
Rozewski isn’t convinced.
“Yeah. … They’ll help her until they stop and the students will help her until they don’t want to anymore,” Rozewski said. “This year’s crop has an interest in it. Next year’s crop may not. I wouldn’t conflate her opinion with that of the entire student body.”
After Rozewski told her no, Maxwell turned the tables.
Where are the cats?
Maxwell had a running log of feral cats on USI’s campus. She had tracked 11 by early March. But when the junior psychology major returned after spring break, only one cat remained.
“I told him, I said, ‘OK, well I have a couple of questions for you,'” Maxwell said. “‘Do you know where these cats are? Do you know if (Stephen Helfrich) trapped them?’ He said, ‘I have no idea. He just does that when he wants to do it.'”
Helfrich, director of facilities, operations and planning, said it has been about a year since the Physical Plant trapped any cats.
He said if someone suggested the Physical Plant trap cats right now, he’s not sure he’d OK it.
“I’d probably say, ‘Eh, I’m not sure. We’re going to have to see,'” Helfrich said. “Since Audrey has brought this to our attention we haven’t done anything with (the cats).”
ACA pulls animals directly from animal control. Each cat that comes in has a card stating where it was picked up and under what circumstances.
“There are no USI cards,” Maxwell said. “There are not large numbers of USI cards at any point in time. Ever.”
During an earlier meeting, Helfrich told Maxwell he had turned over 29 cats to animal control at one point, but there’s no record of that.
“I do not remember seeing that many from USI,” Julian said.
They do what they want
There are no policies in place regarding feral cats on campus.
“There’s not a document about it,” Rozewski said. “It’s an element of management discretion.”
Maxwell asked Rozewski where the funds to trap the cats is coming from. He said it’s such a minor issue, there probably isn’t anything in the university’s budget.
When Maxwell told Rozewski she wasn’t going to stop pushing for a policy, he said, “I’m not telling you to stop. I’m just telling you this is the university’s answer.”
Rozewski said the university needs to get to the root of the problem, which is students bringing pets into their apartments and then releasing them.
“We need to make sure they take them home or to the Humane Society as opposed to just releasing them into the woods,” he said.
But Maxwell isn’t convinced that’s the problem.
“It’s untrue. The cats are breeding,” Maxwell said. “It’s a multifaceted issue – he needs to address the student part of the issue and the animal part of the issue. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. In my perfect world, I would give the (resident assistants) fliers to give to students when they find animals in their apartments so that the students know where they can put these animals.”
Rozewski loved that idea, Maxwell said. He even asked her to write something up by the middle of the summer.
Where is the solution?
As for the cats, or cat, that is on campus now, Rozewski expects them to just “go away eventually,” Maxwell said.
“Um, no. These cats are going to be there for a very long time. The students are feeding them. There are dumpsters. I don’t find it acceptable to just let the cats live out there without any medical care or attention,” Maxwell said. “I don’t think (the university) is thinking of it as beneficial to the students. I think they’re thinking of it as a problem that they don’t want to really address right now. But I just don’t find that answer acceptable.”
Maxwell plans to continue to move forward.
“I just feel like I’ve been really polite and I felt like that would get me somewhere, but obviously I need to be addressing the public,” she said. “The public is what’s going to change the administration’s mind. I’m going to be in the free speech zone. I’m going to be passing out fliers. I’m going to be on the news. They’re going to tell me yes because I’ve worked too hard on this for them to tell me no.”
The petition Maxwell started through change.org called “Trap, Neuter, Return USI Feral Cat Population” had 795 signatures Wednesday morning.