A community of cat lovers takes care of NU's campus cats

By: Brenden Schwartz, Staff Writer

There’s been a recent debate about the nature of the cats here at Newman. Some say they are gangsters reminiscent of thugs from “West Side Story,” and others see them as sweet angelic cherubs. Here’s the truth about cat love on campus:

The cats are loved by many members of the Newman community, and a dedicated group of staff and faculty members have made caring for these feral cats their mission.

Larry Straub, a business professor at Newman, even went as far as to say, “All of this [cat love] to me adds up to a truly special culture and a very special university.”

Straub wanted it clearly stated for the record that he is a dog person but loves all animals and thinks it’s amazing how people have come together to look after these cats.

Many members of the Newman community play roles in these stray cats’ lives. The security office, including Security Director Morris Floyd, feeds the cats every morning and evening.

“Mo is always helpful even though he says he doesn’t like cats. You can tell he favors these cats,” said Dana Beitey, director of alumni relations.

Straub said that he buys a 40-pound bag of cat food every month and drops it off at the security office.

The cats tend to keep to themselves. Beitey said the cats won’t bother people unless they’re being offered treats. The Twins, the two white cats on campus, always accept pets from anyone who is willing to offer them.

Beitey said she loves having her work pets.

“I love all animals,” she said. “I’m not just a crazy cat lady.”

Beitey said that one weekend, she came to campus, got photos of the cats and made them into a calendar. Floyd asked for one of the calendars and even bought some for a few students. Now about 10 members of faculty have campus cat calendars in their offices.

“I also loved the picture calendar that Dana Beitey did recently,” Straub said. “It shows the beauty and grace of these animals.”

Once, Beitey said, she met a girl visiting campus who saw her reading to and petting one of the cats and got excited by the idea of her potential college having cats.

Rosemary Niedens, the former associate vice president for academic affairs at Newman, once started a kitten fundraiser to get all the cats spayed and neutered. During the summer of 2016, litters of kittens started to pop up all over. The kittens that survived were rehomed to keep the cat population down. Students of Newman like Alicia Camacho, Amy Emerson, and some of her friends adopted most of these kittens, Beitey said. The Twins were part of that litter.

Beitey has a cat of her own, Stormy, that used to be a campus cat. It was a kitten that a student found in the rain and reported to Floyd.

After facing the wave of litters, Niedens and company started the initiative to get the cats fixed because they knew they couldn’t just keep giving out kittens to people.

“We really enjoy and love having the cats around, but we know that if they continue to mate and become pregnant, we may not be able to have the cats on campus any longer,” Camacho said.

Camacho has a friend, Deb Shelvin, who is a volunteer for Friends with Felines and recommended Newman do the spay and neuter program. The fundraiser to pay for this initiative was all through word of mouth and was funded by the lovers of cats in the Newman community.

Friends with Felines, with the help of Camacho and Beitey, trapped the cats and took them to have surgery. Friends with Felines kept the cats for a few days to make sure they healed up properly. While also in their care, the cats got their rabies shots, and the ears of the cats were clipped to signify that they were neutered.

Beitey said she got to help with the spay and neuter process. It was a really cool experience, she said, and she got to carry the cats to and from the surgery room and got to watch the procedures as they happened. All the campus cats were able to get spayed or neutered.

This group of cat lovers said it mostly considers campus cats to be the ones who live around Mabee Dining Center. The cats by Fugate haven’t been considered campus cats because that property wasn’t always Newman’s, but Shelvin comes and feeds those cats every day, she said.

Shelvin has a cat shelter at her home, and during the coldest weeks of the winter last year, she took in The Twins.

The Fugate and Maybee cats socialize, and the male cats have primarily taken up residence over at the Fugate “bachelor pad” while the females have stayed over by the dining center, said Beitey.

Overall, the cats bring joy to the Newman community and taking care of them is something that everyone can bond over, Camacho said.

“So many people enjoy and love seeing the cats on campus,” she said.

PHOTO: Courtesy Photo, Dana Beity