Austin Peay State University (APSU)
Clarksville, TN – Scott Shumate thought he was going to get a cat. The IT analyst for Digital Services at Austin Peay State University’s Felix G. Woodward Library had a cat lined up last summer – his friends had a stray but weren’t allowed to have pets.
“I said I’d be back to get her on Tuesday, and by Tuesday, they had talked to their landlord and decided they were going to keep the cat,” Shumate said. “I was thoroughly heartbroken.
“I had picked a name and everything. I had ordered a bunch of stuff from Amazon. I had been to PetSmart. I had all of this stuff to get ready for a cat that I wasn’t going to have.”
Shumate took about a week to catch his breath then reached out to Paws to Care, an APSU nonprofit group that cares for the feral cat colony on campus.
A few weeks before Christmas, Shumate introduced his new cat – a skinny, gray feline named Newt who showed up on campus malnourished – to his new home. Shumate renamed him Wilf in honor of “Doctor Who” character Wilfred Mott.
“He’s just a big ol’ sweetheart,” Shumate said. “I immediately knew he was going to be a good fit. He’s been my early Christmas present.”
What Is Paws To Care?
Austin Peay has about 20 feral cats and kittens – cat colonies are common on college campuses. The cats are all over campus, but you might see them mostly at the center of campus, near Harned Hall, Browning Administrative Building and the library.
The Paws to Care mission is to keep APSU’s colony stable by providing spaying, neutering and vaccination, and treating them for common feline illnesses. Volunteers also maintain feeding stations around campus and catch, socialize and adopt out kittens.
Nearly all the adult cats are too wild to tame, but if their population is stable, the cats provide a valuable service to campus.
“The cats are territorial, that’s the thing about a feral cat colony is that if they’re secure in their area, they’re territorial, so they usually do a pretty good job keeping other cats from coming in,” Ravenscraft said. “If we were to create a vacuum, then all the neighborhood cats would come in, and they wouldn’t have been fixed, and we’d have kittens to deal with all over again.”
The Campus Cats Have Been Here A While
The cat colony has been on campus for decades, Debbie Suiter, operations manager for the Physical Plant, said. Before she and Dr. Sherryl Byrd, former vice president for Student Affairs, founded Paws to Care in 2012, Suiter took care of the cats herself.
By herself. For more than 25 years.
Suiter first learned about the cats in the late 1980s, about five years after she started at Austin Peay. Cats dotted campus much like they do today, but there were up to 40 cats at the football stadium.
The cats weren’t always popular.
In 2007 “they wanted me to get them off campus,” Suiter said. “We actually built a building at my house.”
Suiter at first housed three adult cats and 19 kittens relocated from Harned Hall. She still has cats from that relocation, and the oldest mother cat still won’t let her touch her.
In 2012, Byrd advanced the cause of caring for and stabilizing the colony on campus to then-President Tim Hall. She showed how other universities, including Auburn University, supported cat colonies.
“He gave us the approval to spay or neuter them and put them back on campus,” Suiter said about the formative days of Paws to Care.
APSU President Alisa White has continued to support the program, and the colony population has kept around 20 since.
Role Of Donations, Volunteers
Paws to Care is a success story. Volunteers and donations are at the heart of the story.
About a dozen people – faculty, staff, community members and students – now work directly with the group, and more than 50 help indirectly, whether by helping adopt kittens through social media or by donating through University Advancement.
The Humane Society spays and neuters for $65.00. Then there are veterinarian exams and treatment. And the group buys and maintains shelters and feeding stations (Ravenscraft and Reid, who both work in the library’s Access Services, have winterized shelters in their office ready to place on campus).
“We rely strictly on donations,” Ravenscraft said. “It isn’t cheap either, to feed the animals. Tina has some feeding stations. We’re starting to build up a pretty big base of students who help.”
One important volunteer doesn’t want attention.
And students in the residence halls recently had penny wars and raised $100 in change for the program.
“The support is definitely growing,” Reid said.
Let’s Get Back To Wilfred
Shumate’s new cat, Wilf, has transitioned from being feral to being a pet well, but signs still show up of his wild past.
“He has a bit of an issue with jealousy, he wants to be king of the roost,” Shumate said.
“He goes up and over the bowl to cover it and to protect it and to look around,” Shumate said. “You can tell he’s had to scrap for food.”
A feral cat like Wilf doesn’t come along a lot.
“We felt that Wilf was friendly enough that he could be socialized and there was a good home for him,” Ravenscraft said.
How To Help
- If you want to donate to Paws to Care, go to www.apsu.edu/paws-to-care/index.php and follow the instructions in the “How You Can Help” section.
- If you’d like to help in other ways, contact Reid or Ravenscraft at or or by phone 931.221.7285 and 931.221.7193.
- You also can find Paws to Care at www.facebook.com/APSUPawstoCare/ or www.instagram.com/apsu4paws/.