Scarlet Paws rescues and protects stray animals in the Rutgers and New Brunswick area

By: Megan Dougherty


Mary Ann Cancio sat in her office on the Douglass College Campus and recalled the times she rescued a duck, a rooster and a turtle. Her efforts are all part of Scarlet Paws Animal Welfare Network, an organization she is president of.

Scarlet Paws strives to rescue and protect all animals who are “…sick, injured, or displaced from their natural habitat” in the New Brunswick campuses of Rutgers University. The organization rescues a variety of animals, however a majority of the animals are cats. Many students at Rutgers take care of cats on their own since they are not high maintenance, but when the semester is over the cats are left on campus, Cancio said.

“Scarlet Paws has made a long-term commitment to the welfare and well-being of these animals,” according to their mission statement.

Cancio said Scarlet Paws is a non-profit organization, and is not officially sanctioned by Rutgers University. Scarlet Paws are always looking for volunteers to foster and adopt cats, and those who are interested in doing grant writing, fundraising and administrative work.

“We are a compilation of staff, faculty and students at Rutgers who have come together to rescue and place stray, abandoned animals on campus and in the nearby community,” she said.
Although the organization gained its non-profit status almost four years ago, Scarlet Paws was actively rescuing animals before that, Cancio said.

Up to 70 million stray cats roam the United States, and the amount of homeless animals outnumber humans five to one, according to

Star, a stray cat Scarlet Paws rescued.

Star, a stray cat rescued by Scarlet Paws.

A majority of the reports the organization receives stem from sightings of stray animals on the side streets near College Avenue, like Mine Street, Hamilton Street and Richardson Street, Cancio said. Stray animals, especially cats, tend to migrate toward the residential areas rather than the congested places, like College Avenue itself, she said.

Scarlet Paws attends various adoption events throughout the year, including Scarlet Day, and the North Brunswick Humane Association’s adoption event in June. One of the biggest events is the Garden State Cat Club Expo at the Garden State Exhibit Center in Somerset, which will be held on July 18 and 19 this year. In addition, the organization has an ongoing partnership with PetSmart, where it holds weekend adoption events for the animals Scarlet Paws have helped rescue.

Cancio has worked at Rutgers since 1996 as director of Operations and Direct Academic Support, and prior to that at The College of New Jersey. While working at both schools, she noticed stray animals often roaming the campus areas and would take them in. She would take feed the animals and take them to a veterinarian. Chance would then place the stray animals on her own.

While helping these stray animals Cancio said she would often come across others in the area doing the same thing, rescuing strays and finding a home for the animals- that is when Scarlet Paws was created. Now, people can volunteer time and home, and report an animal sighting on the Scarlet Paws website.

In addition to being president of Scarlet Paws, Cancio is also the advisor for Rutgers United for the Welfare of Animals, a student organization whose mission is similar to that of Scarlet Paws.

“We strive to identify animal rights and create a peaceful environment for people and animals,” according to their website.

Her endeavors with this organization led her to adopting a stray cat known as Scarlet, who was named by a Scarlet Paws volunteer. In the summer of 2004, Cancio helped rescue a Scarlet’s litter of kittens on College Avenue but Scarlet was hesitant to follow. Although she tried very hard, Scarlet was unwilling to come out of hiding and eventually disappeared from the area.

A year later, however, a dean reported to Cancio that he had found another litter of kittens hiding in the bushes near Milledoler Hall.

“I’m outside those bushes a year later talking to the dean about the cat that she is now telling me is down there with kittens, and so I say ‘That sounds like Scarlet.’ All of a sudden she came out of the bushes because she heard her name,” Cancio said.

After being unable to place Scarlet, Cancio decided to take her in. She continues to advocate for the rescue and protection of stray animals through Scarlet Paws, and encourages those in the area to take action as well.

“It is very important to report it [stray animals] because kitten season is approaching. In the beginning of March, the female cats start to have their litter of kittens. If you can get the kittens early enough they’re easily socialized and placed because people really like to adopt kittens,” she said.