Working Cat Program Helps to Banish Rats

Working Cat Program Helps to Banish Rats

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


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  • fb_avatar

    I agree with the author. People who get upset that we're "allowing" one animal to eat another seem to forget that the bag of kibble or can of "mixed grill pate" is ... surprise! Animals! Cats are obligate carnivores, and there's no getting around that. I'd rather be a rat living a rat life until a death by cat than be either a factory-farmed animal or a poisoned rat. In my city, our Animal Control wasted tons of taxpayer money and lives trapping and killing feral cats. Now they are busy trying to entice predatory birds to noisy, busy city areas that are overrun with rats.

  • In reply to Lisa Peters:

    @yes, LIsa - and I think the predatory bird idea is brilliant...only thing is a good one - the pigeons and rats don't

  • I thought feral cats who live in colonies are best left in their locations? Also, what types of diseases do these cats catch while killing and /or eating any of the rats? I'm not sure about using these cats as rat hunters, what type of life do they live in these programs? Do they have proper shelter and food/water given? Like the Barn Cat Programs, many cat people and cat rescues warn AGAINST placing cats there, many run away, trying to get back to their original location and are killed by cars or coyotes. Maybe more research needs to be done before promoting or encouraging this type of atmosphere for cats?

  • Lynnie59 - I was a sceptic when I first heard about the idea too. Turns out the cats (maybe because they're supplemented with lots of food) don't go back....As far as diseases - that isn't likely. However, these rats are big and may be no match for some cats....still the rats tend to scatter rather than fight back. It's mostly young rats the cats take. Bottom line, your concerns valid, and understood....but so far, the program is working in Chicago, and I believe LA too.

  • fb_avatar

    Most folks reading this, not being Southern California residents, are probably not aware that a similar program has been in use for decades at The Happiest Place on Earth. Disneyland puts out treats for its TNR feral cat population to encourage them to stick around, and they keep the rodent population at a minimum level.

    And yes, Mickey and Minnie get a pass. :)

  • fb_avatar

    What most do not understand is that most cats do not kill for food, they will kill for food but due to their predatory nature they kill for the thrill of killing. They can wipe out rats and mice faster than any trap can. Also when you use poison to kill rats and mice you run the risk of other animals eating the rodent that has eaten the poison and they might as well have eaten it themselves. Hawks and owls feed it to their young, and a entire generation is wiped out. Feral cats can be so useful it is always a shame to put them in shelters because they do not do well at all.

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