You can find a cat in almost every building on Pratt campus. If you head to the Writing Center, you’ll see a gigantic cat named Thomas napping on the couch. The 18 year-old cat, Mustachio, can be found in the hallway entrance to the Cafeteria, scowling at passerby if they fail to provide treats. The cats even find their way into the student body’s art, the planners given out to students this academic year have an illustration of Mustachio on the cover. Even our mascot, the Cannoneer, is depicted as a cat. In more ways than one, Pratt Institute is a cat-centric school. However, is this affection reflected in our schools management?
Around a year ago, the cats caretaker Conrad Milsner retired. Conrad has worked as an engineer at Pratt Institute for nearly 60 years, taking care of the steam plant in East Hall. He is the person who started taking care of the stray cats around Pratt campus, getting them properly vaccinated while also providing food and water. In more ways than one, Conrad has been a big part of Pratt’s community. However, despite his legacy, Conrad has had conflict with Pratt management. In 2016, Conrad was removed from his post as head engineer and assigned head of maintenance in Higgins Hall. Conrad faced many complaints about the cats he had lounging around the steam plant, and after having his position at Pratt changed, he eventually retired.
I first encountered the tension between management and the Pratt Cats when I moved into the Pantas dorm. At the entrance, a tuxedo cat named Shadow (or Karen) is often seen huddled up against the heater.
“Shadow is the darling of Pantas, even those of us that don’t really like cats like having her around. She’s like our mascot.” says Pantas resident Avi Follet, a Pratt Cat enthusiast. He’s among the many students that started leaving blankets and food for her, only to come back the next day and find it all confiscated by maintenance. This lead to students leaving notes, upset and begging for staff to return items. This also occurred with Pratt Cat Thomas in North Hall. Blankets and scarves left for him to cuddle in were confiscated, never to be seen again. But why are the cats attempting to come inside in the first place? Why is Shadow, a usually standoffish cat, trying so desperately to stay inside? In late September 2018, the Pratt cat houses were moved from their original spot near East Hall. The cat houses are small, insulated wood structures, that used to be connected to central heating. At first when they were removed from central heating it wasn’t a problem, but the colder it got in New York, the more the cats tried sneaking into the campus buildings. The blankets left for the cats were students attempting to keep the cats warm.
Pratt cares about the cats that live on campus. There are countless faculty members that I see leaving food for the cats, and ensuring that they stay warm. The Writing Center faculty in particular have put a lot effort towards caring for Pratt Cat Thomas. Fresh bowls of food, milk, and water are set out for Thomas almost every day. Faculty have even gone as far as donating their own coats to provide the sleepy cat a bed. The problem here seems to be a lack of communication. Because Conrad is no longer around to care for the cats, more people are getting involved than there should be.
The Pratt cats are important. It was the cats that convinced me to go to Pratt Institute. In April 2018, I was touring the campus with my Grandma, huddled under a tiny umbrella as rain poured down on us. I was trying to find something that would make me fall in love, the decision deadline was coming up and I needed something that would get rid of any doubt I had about Pratt. Then I met Benches, a gray cat lounging around in one of the drawing studios. My tour guide smiled at me as I pet the cat, and started talking about the several cats living on campus. I was awe-inspired at the time, and took the cats as a sign that Pratt is a nurturing place. The cats make Pratt feel “like a family,” in the words of Conrad Milsner, from an article written about him in the New York Times. There is no simple way to resolve the tension surrounding the Pratt Cats. However, as a community, we can start a conversation, and that’s what enables us to promote change.
Photography by Samuel Herrera