Q: If you're such an animal lover, why do you endorse feral cat colonies being placed where rats are for rat control? -- B.C.D., Chicago, IL
A: So, you like rats, do you? Domestic pet rats are, in fact, great pets; they're very interactive and surprisingly intelligent. Sadly, pet rats don't live very long.
City rats are also intelligent, and short-lived - but while they're around they carry disease. Clearly the city rat, the Norway rat (though not actually from Norway), is a survivor, co-habitating with people around the world for centuries. In New York City alone, it's estimated there are about 70 million rats, and few - in any - major us cities don't have a rat problem.
The rat's place in the ecosystem is unclear. In other words, without Norway rats, the world could be a better place. There's aren't many species on the planet that would not be missed.
Millions of feral cats roam freely in America. Placing them in shelters is actually not in the best interest of these unsocialized felines (and there's no way to catch them all anyway). Because they are so fearful of people, these cats do not do well in shelters. It often possible to socialize these cats some, but that's process is labor-intensive . In the meantime, they take up space better used for more adoptable cats.
Years ago, TNR or trap/neuter/return programs were launched, whereby volunteers trap feral cats and have them spayed/neutered, vaccinated for rabies and ear notched (to identify them as TNR animals). The cats are then returned to the outdoors, and caretakers oversee their care, offering extra food and warm shelter in cold climates.
Over time, because TNR cats can no longer reproduce, their numbers diminish.
Due to budget constraints, many American cities have cut back, or even eliminated, their rat abatement programs. In Chicago, Tree House Humane Society began a green program to put TNR cats to work eliminating rats. Community leaders love it, and so do the cats.
TNR cats are relocated to where there are rat infestations. Sometimes the cats catch the vermin, but mostly - realizing there's a new sheriff in town, the rats move elsewhere.
I am an animal lover, which why I support TNR. The working cat program eliminates a need for rat poisons, which potentially other animals - even dogs - could get into, and which may damage the environment. Also, this method of rat-control is cost-effective. About the demise of city rats - I feel no guilt.
Learn more about the Tree House Cats at Work program.
©Steve Dale PetWorld, LLC; Tribune Content Agency