Husker Cats assist UNL’s feral felines

Oct 16th, 2008 | By | Category: Campus News, October 16, 2008

‘Rogue feeders’ asked to stop as group begins work

Marilyn Fenton was a rogue feeder.

She was hooked two years ago. While venturing to a Lied Center Performance, she spotted three pathetic little kittens huddled under a rose bush; a fourth was dead nearby.

“That’s when I decided to start feeding our Husker Cats,” said Fenton, a business systems analyst at UNL. “I’m such a sucker.”

She has fed the feral cats around Love Library and CBA daily (Monday to Friday) for the last two years. When she comes calling in the afternoon, the cats – including Peanut, Pipsqueak, Mama Kitty, Ba-Bay, Paulie, Calico Kitty – come running.

FEEDING TIME – Eight of UNL’s feral cats dine on food provided by Marilyn Fenton on Oct. 10. Fenton is part of Husker Cats, a new group that hopes to feed and control the feral cat population. The program is starting on City Campus and hopes to spread to East Campus.

“They are like a gang,” Fenton said. “They make it so I can hardly walk before I feed them.”

Her actions – along with those of other rogue feeders – have been frowned on by campus administrators for years. However, Fenton is on the road to redemption because a new group, Husker Cats, has permission to feed and help control UNL’s feral cat population.

Husker Cats is operating in agreement with, but not funded by, the university.

About 10 members of the UNL community – including Fenton – have helped organize Husker Cats. The driving force behind the group is Richie Graham, an assistant professor with the University Libraries.

Working with Landscape Services, Husker Cats ( will feed feral cats and help vaccinate and control the population through regular trap, neuter/spay efforts. Graham said the trapping efforts will be aimed at catching kittens that will – if possible – be put up for adoption through Lincoln’s Cat House. He said the group plans to catch adult cats and have them spayed or neutered to help control populations.

Feeding efforts – done through a specially designed shelter – are expected to begin this week near CBA.

Overall, the effort is designed to ensure a better quality of life for the feral cats. The group also aims to educate campus about the cat colonies.

“This type of program is something I was interested in when I came back to campus five years ago,” said Graham. “When I was a grad student here, I remember seeing one or two cats on campus. But, when I came back, I couldn’t believe how the population had grown.”

Husker Cats has determined that UNL has 10 separate cat colonies on City Campus (East Campus populations will be addressed in the future). Graham said the colony numbers fluctuate, but average about 100 cats.

Five years ago, Graham contacted UNL Police for permission and started to trap kittens for possible adoption. He managed to capture one – which went to a good home – before getting a call.

“Landscape Services found out what I was doing and asked me not to do it anymore,” Graham said. “They wanted the cats to remain on campus because they are effective at controlling mice, rabbit and squirrel populations.”

He proposed a program similar to Husker Cats (which is based on programs at other major universities), but the idea was turned down.

Graham turned to his regular work, but the cat rescue concept continued to bubble up – especially when he saw the cats struggle during winter months. He started talking to people who fed the cats and the grassroots effort slowly morphed into Husker Cats.

Fenton was one of the feeders Graham got in touch with.

“Before I started working with this group, I never named the cats,” Fenton said. “I just didn’t want to get attached to a cat that could be a goner tomorrow. But, I found out we need to name and take pictures of the cats to catalog them. So, I started to name them.”

With facts – including names and numbers – in hand, the group approached Christine Jackson, vice chancellor for Business and Finance, about the concept earlier in the summer. And, after a few meetings, the project was green lighted.

“We’ve had a growing problem with people leaving whole bags of food just dumped on the ground,” said Eileen Bergt, director of Landscape Services. “Then it rains. It gets moldy and stinky. And, we have to clean it up.”

Bergt said rogue feeders leave food for cats at 18 points across City Campus. And, along with leaving food, the feeders also discard cans, plates and other trash items that get swept into area bushes, flowers and trees.

cat feeder
FEEDING STATION – Pictured is the first cat feeding station that is expected to be used near CBA. Other proposed feeding zones are near the Nebraska Union, Alexander Building and University Health Center.

“We appreciate the work the cats do on campus,” Bergt said. “We just really need people to stop dumping food and let this new group control the feeding.”

Helping to control the rogue feeders is the first goal of Husker Cats. The group will place feeding stations near four of the 10 identified cat colonies on campus. And, to better direct rogue feeders, Husker Cats is seeking volunteers and donations to help with the feeding stations.

“We are going to need help building and maintaining those feeders,” Graham said. “That means we need volunteers and donations. We are working with the Cat House and we’ll also be looking to get some veterinary services pro bono or at reduced costs.

“Anybody that wants to help out should get in touch with us.”

Under the terms of the agreement with the university, the Husker Cats program will be evaluated in December and again in March.

For more information, go to or contact Graham at or 472-5410.

— Story and photos by Troy Fedderson, University Communications

National Feral Cat Day is Oct. 16. Learn more at

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  1. Many congratulations to Richie and others for the successful launch of Husker Cats. This is a wonderful program, based on projects that have been highly successful at Stanford, Texas A&M and other schools, designed to improve the quality of life of campus cats. I think a group like this also presents a number of great opportunities for student involvement and volunteering on campus. Thanks to the Scarlet for such a good news story.

  2. What an interesting article. I had no idea that there were so many feral cats. Thanks for publishing this!

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