In this June 16, 2018, file photo, a Maine coon cat looks up during an international dog and cat exhibition in Erfurt, Germany. Credit: Jens Meyer / AP

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida – The stray cats that prowl Nova Southern University in Broward County, Florida, are becoming more than a nuisance. They’re now grounds for firing.

The university, in an attempt to control troublesome wildlife, is threatening to fire anyone who feeds the cats, according to a directive issued by Vice President Daniel Alfonso with approval from President George Hanbury.

The warning has drawn the ire of both students and staff, says one student who says she found out about the ban from two relatives who work at the university.

She and others fear the cats will starve.

“These cats have never provided for themselves,” said the student, who requested anonymity to protect her relatives. “You can watch them currently losing weight and crying for food due to the lack of nutrition. The feedings are what they have relied upon for years.”

University officials say they have nothing against cats but are worried about food attracting wildlife, according to the July 19 email sent out to staff by Alfonso, the university’s vice president of Facilities Management and Public Safety.

“The cat food attracts rats, raccoons, possums, the lovely Canadian geese and other wildlife,” he wrote. “These animals carry diseases and may become aggressive when they encounter humans. Additionally, these critters use our doorsteps, staircases, and other common areas as their toilets. That is unsanitary!”

The email ends with a warning: “Please, if you are feeding cats on our campus, STOP doing so. Failure to abide by this request, may result in disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal (loss of employment) from Nova Southeastern University.”

The ban applies to the entire Davie campus, though no signs have been posted warning people not to feed the dozens of cats that live on campus, university spokesperson Joe Donzelli said.

NSU, a private university with an estimated 21,000 students, also has campuses in Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach, Tampa and Puerto Rico.

The feeding ban applies only to the Davie campus.

“Unfortunately, when someone leaves food out for the cats, there is no sign that says ‘Cats Only,'” Donzelli said. “The food attracts other animals — from squirrels to opossums to raccoons — many of which do not interact well with humans. When someone consistently leaves food in an area, animals become accustomed to it being there and it becomes a gathering point for many different animals.”

The email that went out to staff mentioned a student who was scratched by a raccoon.

“We must do everything we can to provide a safe and secure learning and working environment,” Donzelli said. “Feral cats are well adept at providing for themselves — and while the intentions of people trying to feed them are good, it is the unintended consequences that has caused serious problems.”

Some employees are still feeding the cats on the sly, according to the student who spoke to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

She estimated there are at least 50 cats living on campus, split into three colonies.

“Many of them have been dumped by students,” she said. “They’ve been there for years and years. It’s sickening that a prominent university like this is threatening people for feeding cats.”

Becky Robinson, president and founder of the national nonprofit group Alley Cat Allies, says the ban is a bad idea.

“Feeding bans have been scientifically proven not to work after having been tried in many places,” she said. “Cats in locations with feeding bans will roam for food, making them more visible and prompting calls to animal control. These punitive policies are impossible to enforce, cruel to cats, and punish the good Samaritans who are trying to make a difference.”

Ana Campos, a Fort Lauderdale animal activist, knows one university employee who feeds the cats and makes sure no food is left behind.

“Why would anyone get fired for being kind to an animal?” Campos said. “What kind of employer would do that during a pandemic? It’s ridiculous.”

Dr. Kristy Lund, a vet with Lund Animal Hospital in Boca Raton, saif cutting off the cats’ food supply won’t make them leave. And there’s one benefit to that: “Cats kill rats, not bring them in,” she said.

Not everyone was appalled by the new directive.

“I totally agree with everything in that email and you can quote me on that,” said Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova familiar with raccoons on campus hunting down food meant for felines.

He remembers one person intent on feeding cats on campus years ago, before the law school moved into its current building.

“We had all of the problems described in that email,” Jarvis said. “We had racoons going through our garbage cans. And they are fearless. They are scavengers.”

Another employee did not agree.

“I’ve been feeding these cats for 10 years,” said the employee, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his job. “I came back to work on July 28. These cats came swarming to me and I fed them. …

“I was just so upset. I was told I better stop feeding the cats or I would be terminated. I told them I am going to keep feeding the cats. You do what you have to do, and I do what I have to do.”

Story by Susannah Bryan, South Florida Sun Sentinel.