Posted by Heidi Schwartz
Is it possible that one of Chicago’s peskiest problems could be solved with a very simple solution? That’s the theory behind the work of Dr. Anne Beall, author of Community Cats: A Journey into the World of Feral Cats.
Faced with her own personal dilemma, Beall had to find a solution to the rat infestation that plagued her community…or else sell her Chicago Lakeview property. Research on her options led her to the Cats at Work Program, part of Treehouseanimals.org.
“I started this due to a health and safety issue in my neighborhood and expanded my work to research this at a national level,” said Beall. “I expected my cat colony, lovingly dubbed the Rat Pack, would solve my rat problem, but I never expected the bond our family now shares with our wonderfully clever and hard-working outdoor cat colony.”
Common methods used to control rats, such as poison and traps, can be ineffective short-term solutions. Rat poison is also dangerous to children, pets, and the environment. Working cats are natural predators, which provide a reliable, ongoing solution and a win-win for both humans and cats!
The Tree House Cats at Work Project is a humane program that removes sterilized and vaccinated feral cats from life-threatening situations and relocates them to new territories where their presence will help control the rodent population. There are 8,000 working cats in Chicago, without which the Chicago rat population would explode. Beall’s cat colony was adopted through this program under the guidance of Program Manager Liz Houtz.
Jay Shefsky of WTTW writes, “More than 250 managed cat colonies, featuring more than 2,000 free-roaming cats in Cook County, IL are sponsored by Trap-Neuter-Return/Cats at Work. Since its inception, nearly 75 Tree House ‘working cats’ have been successfully placed in several private city and suburban backyards, dozens of barns, and even a factory.”
In a testimonial on the Tree House Cats at Work Project website, Howard Z. Skolnik, President/CEO – Skolnik Industries, Inc. states: “Killing two birds with one stone is usually an unpleasant phrase, but in our case, the end result speaks to a creative and sustainable solution to an age-old urban problem. Choosing not to use chemicals to combat a rodent problem at our manufacturing facility, we embraced the concept of giving the job to two rescue cats who were homeless. We built them a home within our factory, trained them to feel safe in and protective of their new home, and in about six weeks, they were productive members of the Skolnik team—doing their job effectively. The result is that we are rodent free, and we have the benefit of having two ‘anti-tension’ felines on staff, in their new home.”
Other cities are toying with the idea of managing rat infestations through the use of trap-neuter-release (TNR) feral cat colonies. The TNR component is key to the program, since it controls the feral cat population while addressing the issue of unwanted mice and rats. Cities like New York and Cleveland are considering their options, although bird enthusiasts do not support the effort. The rats probably aren’t too keen on it either.