Rutgers instructor rescues stray cats around New Brunswick
Albert Nigrin was walking around Rutgers campus in the winter of 2001 when he spotted a stray cat shivering against a steam pipe for warmth. This moment changed his life, and the lives of countless feral cats in New Brunswick, immeasurably.
Nigrin has been rescuing abandoned cats on campus for the past 15 years, in which time he has found homes for more than 200 strays. He traps, neuters and releases cats that are too wild for adoption.
The cost of giving stray cats medical care can range anywhere from $50 to $80, which includes neutering, blood testing, shots and worm and flea medicine, said Nigrin, a part-time lecturer in the Department of Cinema Studies.
“I absolutely neuter every cat I capture in order to keep the population down,” Nigrin said.
Nigrin co-founded Scarlet Paws Animal Welfare Network, a non-profit organization composed of faculty, staff and students working together to promote the humane treatment of animals found on Rutgers campuses as a result of abandonment or having become lost.
Eddie Konczal, a Scarlet Paws volunteer, said cat overpopulation is not unique to Rutgers campuses. There are large quantities of stray cats in most large cities, urban areas and college campuses.
A female cat can average up to 3 or 4 litters per year, Konczal said. Each litter usually consists of two to five kittens.
Nigrin believes the large stray cat population at Rutgers may be the result of irresponsible owners. It’s no accident that there is an influx of strays on campus every May, he said.
Many college students take in stray cats during the school year that they cannot afford to care for, he said. The students then move back home in the spring, leaving the cat behind.
“My first college roommate adopted two cats. Then he graduated and was going to school in Indiana, so there was no way he could take the cats,” Nigrin said. “He was going to just dump them on a farm, but we convinced him not to do that.”
In addition to TNR, Nigrin explained how forming “cat colonies” can control the population of stray cats on campus.
A “cat colony” is formed when a member of the community provides regular feeding, proper shelter and spay/neuter services to a group of feral cats that congregate in a specific location.
Eventually, the caretaker captures the cats, neuters them and releases them back to the colony’s location, Nigrin said. After being spayed or neutered, cats living in colonies tend to gain weight, live healthier lives and will not reproduce.
The number of stray cats in the U.S. is estimated to be in the tens of millions, according to the ASPCA website. The average life of a feral cat is two years, but if a colony caretaker provides the cat with food, shelter and medical treatment, their life can reach 10 years.
Julie Fagan, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Studies, has been teaching students about cat colonies and TNR in her classes.
“I worked with some students in my Colloquium class and they did a project on TNR,” she said. “They built a little shelter with materials from Home Depot [for stray cats].”
Home Depot donated supplies to three students, who found a way to build an inexpensive and easy-to-assemble cat shelter out of one 35-gallon Rubbermaid storage box and one 18-gallon Rubbermaid storage box.
The Scarlet Paws adoption page currently features nine cats captured in 2015 and as well as the faces of more than 75 strays who found loving families in the last 5 years.
Nigrin said 60 to 70 percent of the cats featured on the adoption page were saved by him.
“The old modus operandi for stray cats was if they were too wild, you put them to sleep,” he said. “That’s something I never did. Unless the animal is sick, I try to find a home for them.”