Feline workforce helps tackle Chicago rat problem

National/World

Chicago’s Tree House Humane Society has found a way to solve two problems at once: they’re taking feral cats that are unable to thrive in a home or shelter and placing them into the care of local residents and businesses looking for a natural solution to rat infestations.

Property owners and businesses feed and care for the feline force who scare rats away just by their presence.

The program is called Cats at Work, and as part of it, the cats can sleep on the job and still be effective.

‘Venkman’ is undergoing his shift at the Empirical Brewery in Chicago.

Unlike the other employees, he’s not really expected to pull his weight.

“These cats actually don’t have to do a lot of work outside in order to make this program successful,” says Sarah Liss, from the Tree House Humane Society, which organises placement of the cats.

“The cat’s pheromones alone actually work to deter the rats from the property,” says Sarah.

The feline ‘workforce’ of two, Ray and Venkman, keep rats away just by releasing pheromones, which they do naturally, whether they’re awake or asleep.

Pheromones are a type of chemical communication that all cats use to interact with each other and the world around them.

When rats detect cat pheromones, they leave.

More than 1,000 feral cats who might otherwise have to be euthanized have participated in the Tree House program since 2012.

After trapping and neutering feral cats, Tree House Humane Society determines whether or not a feral cat can be safely reintegrated into their former colonies.

If they can’t be reintegrated, the cats are given a second chance at life by ‘going to work’ for community caregivers wishing to scare away rats.

The caregivers provide food, water and shelter.

The cats don’t just protect workplaces, they also conduct reconnaissance and patrol work in Chicago’s dark alleyways.

Rob Crowder from Cats At Work, explains how the cats have tackled the city’s rat problem.

“We’ve been able to at least take this whole city block, and we’ve seen a vast reduction in any sort of rat activity. And we no longer have rat droppings in our in our backyard,” he says.

But what exactly can cats do that a mousetrap or other rodent preventions measures cannot?

William Hurley from the Empirical Brewery believes the predatory nature of the relationship between cats and rodents has tackled his business’ rat problem more effectively.

“Grain is like a magnet for rats, it’s just literally like a huge block of cheese for them, and you need to store grain as a brewery, you need to be able to kind of bring it in and, you know, have it ready for the next batch. So we knew we had an issue,” he says.

“I don’t want to see rats killed with hermanthsides and trapped in traps. I would rather we keep the rat population under control by placing their natural predators in businesses like this,” he says.

Sarah Liss hopes that getting cats into the workplace will provide them with a lifelong home.

“We want them to live out the rest of their lives on this same property with the same caregiver,” she says.

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