Captured stray cats being sent for treatment and neutering.

CATS are cute and their antics can be great stress-busters, especially when you are a student.

But, overpopulation of strays can be detrimental to the well-being of students, staff and the campus environment. Besides hygiene concerns, there is also the risk of diseases spreading if cats are malnourished or sick.

While the easy option is to abandon stray cats at food markets, the more humane thing to do is to trap, neuter, release or re-home and manage (TNRM) them, as a group of individuals at Universiti of Malaya (UM) have done since 2010.

Starting from the 2013/2014 academic year, with funding from UMCares, the university’s Community and Sustainability Centre, the group’s effort have formalised into a project called “The Humane and Compassionate Management of Strays”.

The project is led by Professor Dr. Chin-Che Tin, from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and supported by Associate Professor Dr. Veeranoot Nissapatorn, from the Department of Parasitology, and Undergraduate Studies and Development deputy director Dr Rizal Mohd Razman at UM’s Sports Centre.

It aims to bring awareness to the plight of stray animals on campus and to limit their population in a humane and compassionate manner.

“These strays deserve better treatment, especially in an institution of higher learning where people should be more enlightened and compassionate.

“In 2014, we received RM20,000 to run the project for six months. In 2015, we received RM36,000 for nine months. Altogether, 129 cats and three dogs have benefited from the TNRM project.

“We trap the strays, neuter them, and re-home them by putting them up for adoption. Those that were not adopted were returned to their original location and their welfare managed by volunteers monitoring them,” Rizal said.

Although, UMCares funding was discontinued last year, students, staff and lecturers used their own money and donations to continue the programme.

Sports psychology lecturer Yuhanis Adnan, who is wheelchair-bound, took care of more than 25 cats. Sports science lecturer Dr. Jadeera Cheong also jumped onto the bandwagon. Between Yuhanis, Jadeera and Rizal, they managed to treat and neuter 300 cats and 20 dogs.

Postgraduate student Payam Ansari, an Iranian, said the programme captured his imagination, and he had continued the TRNM project by helping feed the strays at UM’s 8th Residential College.

He said his friends in Iran were amazed with what was being done in UM, as they did not have such programmes there.

However, Rizal said there was still a stray-animal problem at most residential colleges in UM, adding that if the project was discontinued, the results from their work done in 2014 and 2015 will go to waste as the number of strays would rise again.

He said there was a lack of knowledge and compassion at the campus in how to manage strays.

He said the stray-animal problem required a sustainable long-term solution that involved the entire UM community.

“We believe that we have neutered more than half of the strays in UM at the end of 2015.

“If we had continuous funding since then, we would have neutered around 80 to 90 per cent of the population. We know that at certain residential colleges the population has again grown.”

He said the budget for the TRNM project would get cheaper by the year as they would have lesser strays to neuter.

“If we humanely manage these strays, we believe students, staff and animals can coexist peacefully. We can have natural rat or pest deterrents, adorable companions for the UM community and lead the way in showing the world how to humanely treat animals.”

The team applied for a RM30,000 grant from UMCares this year, whereby 80 per cent of the sum was to be used for neutering, medical bills and food. Unfortunately, it was rejected.

“With or without the funding, we will continue with what we have been doing as we believe we can make a difference. We have been doing it on our own anyway. We will continue to feed and take care of the sick strays.

“But, we will probably do a lot less neutering as that costs the most. It costs between RM200 to RM300 to neuter and vaccinate a cat, and double that for a dog. Since the grant was rejected, we have not yet sat down to discuss our next course of action in terms of funds,” Rizal said.

“We believe that this is the only known project of its kind among institutions in Malaysia. We are thankful that such a community-engagement programme exists at UM. The experiences we have gained and the operating model that we have formulated can be used by or replicated in other institutions.”

Even so, there is good news.

“Recently, as an extension from this project, the university has given preliminary approval and allocated space to have a mini animal-awareness park.

“This park will house not only cats and dogs, but also rabbits, goats, ducks and chickens. The goal is to have a place where the UM community can interact with these animals and learn how to appreciate them.

“It will also open its doors to schools and kindergartens, so that city folk can appreciate them. We are in the midst of drawing up the plans, and sourcing the sponsors and funds,” Rizal said.

Yuhanis Adnan with some of the cats under her care.

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