American Univesity of Beirut

Campus collaboration helps AUB cats

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​February 28, 2021​​

A quiet revolution in cat care is unfolding on campus thanks to a burgeoning partnership between faculty, staff, and student volunteers, and the AUB office responsible for the wellbeing of the university’s famous furry inhabitants. 

As every AUBite knows, cats are taken seriously here—legislated by a university cat policy (“not pets” but must “be treated with respect”), supported by their own fund, and even the international media has taken an interest, with coverage in such august publications as the Guardian and German-speaking Switzerland’s premier cat-themed organ KatzenMagazin

The challenge of caring for several hundred semi-wild felis catus sitting at the top of the campus food chain—and on our beloved green benches—is not small. Feeding, veterinary care, neutering/spaying, and arranging adoptions are time-consuming and expensive. Cats also, it must be admitted, divide opinion. They have their supporters within our community, and their detractors, who often complain about hungry animals begging for food and piles of leftover cat food attracting insects.​

But when campus reopens, you may notice a change, thanks to a recent intervention by the Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (SETA) Club, with support from animal welfare group PAW Lebanon, and faculty and staff volunteers, working hand-in-hand with the AUB Environmental Health, Safety, and Risk Management (EHSRM) team. 

Volunteers have implemented a simple, but effective, system of feeding tubes placed around campus so cats can eat fresh dry food meals whenever they’re hungry, replacing mass feeding stations that used to be replenished daily by hand. Campus cats are certainly looking better fed and healthier since the new system was introduced last fall (although it does not mean one won’t try to partake of your next al-fresco tuna sandwich). 

SETA was founded in September 2019, and club president Lynn Wahab is keen to foster partnerships not only to transform the AUB cats feeding schedule, but to influence every aspect of their wellbeing. While students are studying online during the lockdown, a handful of faculty and staff volunteers patrol campus to monitor the feeding tubes; locate and get treatment for sick cats; collect litters of kittens for vaccination; and generally support the contracted veterinary service that struggles to cope with the sheer scale of cat-related tasks on campus.  

The secret of SETA’s success lies in the students’ collaborative spirit which belies any preconception of militant animal rights campaigners. “At first they [EHSRM] were worried that we are against them,” Wahab explains. “But we showed them that we cared about the same things, about the overpopulation and poor condition of the cats, the problems with feeding and the smells, and flies, etc. T​hey realized we can work together.”  

Their partnership with faculty and staff, who came forward to help last March out of concern for the cat population under the lockdown and the impact of the financial collapse, has developed over the last year. “We’ve made lifelong friendships,” Wahab says.   

Together they have found homes all over Lebanon for more than 150 campus cats—a remarkable achievement and vital for keeping the cat population under control. Homes are found not only for kittens but also mature house cats, often of pedigree breeding, which get abandoned on campus and are particularly vulnerable being left to fend for themselves. And the successful adoption campaign is about to go international. Wahab is currently arranging the transfer of the first globe-trotting AUB adoptee to Amsterdam, where a Lebanese-born resident has applied for a feline friend from her homeland. 

For adoption opportunities and animal stories, please visit SETA’s Instagram page. You can also adopt via this account, Cats of AUB, run by staff volunteers. Help AUB and the volunteers look after the campus cat population at this combined GoFundMe page: The Pledge for Bliss Street Cats. ​

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