We hear a lot about working dogs, but in Chicago it’s the Cats at Work program that is having a major impact on the city’s rat population. I’ve been a fan of the program for years and have blogged about it in the past, but I’ve not read such a great story – or series of stories – about the program in action until i read Dr. Anne Beall’s Community Cats – A Journey into the World of Feral Cats.
Dr. Beall’s story begins when a rat ran over her husband’s foot in the backyard of their Chicago home. All past efforts to quell the problem with traps, poison and other methods had not worked. They turned to Tree House Humane Society and their Community Cats program to tackle the rats with feral cat colony.
Dr. Beall, a researcher by profession, tells the story about how three feral cats transformed her neighborhood. But, she doesn’t stop there. She weaves in many other wonderful stories of how these small colonies of working cats – or Cats at Work as Tree House lovingly calls their program – have transformed communities while helping stabilize the feral cat population in certain areas of the city.
When Dr. Beall’s publicist reached out to me to read the book, I was intrigued (and buried, so it took some time to get to it) to read a new take on Chicago’s Community Cats. Not only did I love the stories, and the strong data to support how TNR does work, I enjoyed reading about so many of my own friends like Tree House’s Jenny Schlueter and my other rescue connections who have helped make TNR a game changer for Chicago cats.
If you’re unfamiliar, TNR – or Trap Neuter Return – is when local groups trap the homeless cats in their community, spay or neuter them and return the feral cats to their colony. In Chicago, the feral – or cats that haven’t been pets and are fearful of people – are returned to their colony and the strays – friendlies that are strays or pets that were dumped by families – go to rescues for adoption.
Schlueter and Tree House were instrumental in changing the law in Cook County in 2007 that has opened the door for 1,055 managed colonies in the county. Tree House oversees 460 of these colonies, comprised of nearly 3,000 cats.
Dr. Beall not only does a great job of walking us through the process, but also illustrates the great care taken in setting up colonies in new places. That includes prepping caretakers and the colony for Chicago’s extreme weather, including the polar vortex in this case.
The personalities of her three female cats (spoiler alert, Duke is a girl) come out as they settle in. We also learn about several personalities of cats in other colonies, including a few that became friendly and found forever homes with their caretakers.
Because Dr. Beall does market research by trade, there is another aspect of her book that tells a compelling story as well – the data backing up TNR. In the neighborhoods throughout the city, the number of community cats have dropped significantly as communities have been colonized through TNR.
That means, fewer cats in Chicago Animal Care and Control (where they were caught, house and euthanzed to the tune of $145 per cat for years). That translates into fewer euthansias and more room for homeless cats that need rescue. Tree House and other groups that work with them in Chicago raise their own funds, saving Chicago millions at CACC.
It also saves a fortune in rat abatement. The city is no longer poisoning and having to dispose of rats in communities with colonies. In Dr. Beall’s case, her Cats at Work were shipped in from a larger colony. She also uses raw data to show that TNR and the community cats are not the ones wiping out the bird population.
Dr. Beall did run into a few issues when working on her book. She is one of the volunteers as a Chicago Bird Collision Monitor. They are the group that saves birds that have flown into Chicago high rises and are injured. She sets the record straight on the whole cat versus bird issue (hallelujah) and uses strong data to back that position as well.
Dr. Beall does a great job of showing not only how the cats have tackled the rat problem throughout the city, but how TNR impacts the cat population. It drives down the number of cats in shelters and dramatically cuts the number of cats euthanized. And, it saves Chicago money since private groups fund TNR.
Read more about cats in Chicago –
- TNR in Chicago
- National Spay Day
- Kittens on Deck
- The Cat Transfer Team
- Letting the Right Cat Pick You (In loving memory of my own Tree House kitty, Scarlett whose face graces this column every day. Her family came in as a litter of stray kittens over 24 years ago).
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