Cats at Work: Tree House Humane Putting Cats to Work


Oh Rats! From Chicago, IL to West Palm Beach, FL, here’s a list of the rattiest cities in the U.S. Clearly, traditional means of rats control has not worked in these places or others for generations. People have tried everything from shotguns to poison to eradicate rats. Obviously, if these and other methods worked, the rat population wouldn’t be on the rise; there would be no reason to even write this story.

Buffet for rats

There are commonsense solutions communities could implement. For example, in Chicago I’ve advocated for more trash cans that don’t allow easy access for rats. Instead, public officials have blamed dog owners for not picking up after their pups. I then needed to prove to city aldermen that rats (despite a uniquely Chicago claim) don’t eat dog feces. In fact, if rats are starving, they will eat their babies before dining on dog feces.

Over a decade ago Tree House Humane Society in Chicago had an idea.

At that time, Tree House Humane Society (and many other shelters) began to deal with another community concern – feral cats – in a new way. Instead of capturing the cats, and then euthanizing all but the youngest of kittens and obviously friendly cats, the outdoor cats began to be returned to the locations they came from. However, before being returned, the cats were spay/neutered, vaccinated for rabies and received an ear notch to demonstrate they had already undergone this procedure. The notion of trap-neuter-return-vaccinate (TNRV) began in South Africa with success. Obviously, cats can’t reproduce if they are “fixed.”

TNRV is clearly a humane approach and works to diminish outdoor cat colony numbers gradually but effectively.  Across the nation, there are thousands of volunteer caretakers of community cats.

Cats at Work

Tree House had an idea to simultaneously reduce rat numbers, and at the same time improve quality of life of returned outdoor cats, called Cats at Work.

Who better to control city rats than city cats? The cats appear and the rats disappear.

It’s a topic which Dr. Anne Beall addresses in her book,  Community Cats: A Journey into the World of Feral Cats

Her book is based on personal experience, but it’s also filled with data on cats returned after spay/neuter, and they go to work eradicating rats with more efficiency than other rat control methods. What’s more, unlike poisons or dry ice, working cats are environmentally friendly.

The cats are given food and shelter – to ensure their quality of life.  Generally, these cats don’t actually hunt rats; their mere presence is enough to disperse the rodents.

Concerns about these cats hunting songbirds isn’t founded in fact. Urban cats are typically crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) while songbirds are not active at this time.  When hunting during the day, depending on geography, urban cats are more likely to take easier to take and more available pigeons or sea gulls, or other animals – aside from birds all together – such as rabbits or lizards or other rodents (gophers, mice, etc). No matter, these cats are so well-fed that their inclination to hunt anything is greatly minimized.

Also, often in the Cats at Work program the once outdoor cats are sometimes relocated to warehouses or factories with persistent rat problems. Here, the cats protected from the elements, and obviously can’t harm wildlife.

The Cats at Work program is beneficial to the community to over-time reduce feral cat numbers and simultaneously is the only known means to eradicate rats, and therefore the diseases they may carry, in an environmentally friendly manner.