Most Ramapo students are familiar with the stray cats that roam the campus throughout the year, but not many know that Arthur Chill, the Bursar, has been rescuing the feral felines for years.
The cats usually spend their time outside of the Birch Tree Inn, Atrium and College Park Apartments. They have even gained popularity as a Facebook profile called Birch Cats. Over the years, Chill has captured 40 cats, and he said there is only one left on campus who goes by the nickname Peek-a-boo.
Chill is not new to rescuing animals; in fact, he has been actively involved in animal rights and ethics since he was young.
“As a child, I never had a dog, and my family eventually rescued an abandoned one, which started my interest in rescuing animals,” Chill said.
In addition to his family’s rescue dog, he read an article about the slaughtering of harp seals for their coats, thus sparking his interest in animal rights. Chill began a club called “Ethics and Animals” at Ramapo that was active from 1996-1999 and engaged students in animal rights in the community and on campus.
Students went to protests and rallies, but he remembers that they were not as interested in catching stray cats on campus. Catching the stray cats, he said, requires long hours, sometimes in the dead of winter, which is the best time to catch them because their resources and coats wear thin.
Chill says that the biggest problem leading to the stray cat epidemic on the Ramapo campus is that students illegally bring cats to their dormitories, and when they get in trouble for having them, they dump the cats somewhere on campus. Because cats are so curious, they also run away when doors are left open.
Stray female cats can then have up to five or six litters, multiplying the original size of the population. Chill says that over the years, the most feral of the cats have made their homes in the CPA area and the trees surrounding it. They often show up near the Birch Tree Inn looking for food, especially as the weather gets colder.
Chill catches the cats by feeding them for a period of a few weeks at a time to a few months and eventually sets a trap for them. He moves the food in the trap and eventually catches them this way. After trapping the cats, Chill and his wife take care of them, get them spayed or neutered and have them checked for diseases. He then finds homes for the cats or brings them to no-kill shelters, like Ramapo-Bergen Animal Refuge, Inc. in Oakland.
Chill has caught all of the stray cats on campus, except for Peek-a-boo, who he feeds twice a day, seven days a week. He puts an oral contraceptive in her food, which prevents her from expanding the population of cats on campus. Chill also said that Peek-a-boo is the type of feral cat that has a strong instinct to survive, which is why she is taking such a long time to catch.
Catching female cats is especially critical because living outside shortens their lives significantly. They are forced to find food on their own, sometimes in dumpsters, and oftentimes with a litter of kittens during the winter.
Chill said of the forty cats he has trapped and rescued, he has adopted a few of them and found homes or given the rest to no-kill shelters, where the cats’ life spans are significantly increased.
Chill said he feels that a pet gives a type of unconditional love that is not comparable to anything else. His experience of rescuing the strays is extremely rewarding, and he said that it shows “how important their lives truly are.” In many ways, Chill said that when owners rescue a pet, the pets are actually rescuing their owners through the unconditional love that they give.
Students who are interested in animal rights, no-kill shelters and other animal ethics should contact Chill at firstname.lastname@example.org.