It is often the case that cats do not get the credit they deserve. But that may be changing if a couple of California rescue groups have their way.
It is an unfortunate fact of life for street cats that they will very likely suffer a short, hardscrabble life, at best. They are often rounded up for euthanization, and just as often poisoned outright by people grown weary of their wild late night fighting and growing kindles of kittens. Still, there is no denying that they serve a useful purpose: rodent control. And history has shown that when we do not utilize this natural talent, things can go from very bad to very worse. Witness the Black Plague of the 14th Century, when the unreasoned killing of cats allowed rodent populations to grow, increasing spread of the disease.
While dogs may be the more visible work companions, there is nothing new to keeping cats as workmates. As long as humans have traveled over water, they have kept cats on board to eliminate rats and protect supplies of food and sundries. Even on land, as the lowly mouse terrorized the homes of early settlers and farmers, it was the cat and its prodigious ability to hunt down these grain predators that made it indispensable.
With the invention of rat poisons and traps, the humble cat may have been outsourced, but now, two groups in California are hoping to parlay this feline talent into a beneficial human-cat alliance. With the creation of the Working Cats programs, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of San Francisco (SF/SPCA), and the Voice for the Animals Foundation (VFTA) of Santa Monica are encouraging their neighbors to adopt these undomesticated and homeless cats as work mates -- specifically as efficient and low cost, low impact, “green” rodent control. The programs are gaining in popularity and participating businesses have found not only a reduction in rodent populations, but, as customers respond with delight to their presence, a pleasanter atmosphere.
As part of the program, the cats are neutered and vaccinated, and upon being matched with a participating business, are given a full health check and outfitted with microchips. Members of the participating business agree to care for the cats for their natural lives, with feeding stations and shelters for inclement weather. Cats are only placed once the safety of the location has been proven, they are placed always in groups of at least two, and their continued well-being is monitored regularly by the organization that placed them.
Among the success stories are the SF/SPCA’s placement of Betty and Mr. Kitty, who keep the Flowercraft Garden Center free of plant eating rodents, and Mr. Pickles and Monster, who reside at and protect the Pet Food Express, a San Francisco pet supply store.
Similarly, the VFTA has had success with their placement of feral cats at the Los Angeles Flower Market, where flower vendors saw their longtime rat infestation become a thing of the past, and at the Los Angeles Police Department (as well as other police departments), where the cats offered immediate relief from an affliction of rats and mice that had been plaguing the departments.
Given the successes of the Working Cats programs in California, they may yet grow in popularity as Americans lean toward greener solutions in all aspects of daily life.
To find out more the Working Cats programs, visit the Voice for the Animals online. The San Francisco SPCA no longer has a functioning page for working cats, though they may still be involved peripherally. There are also working cat groups scattered across the U.S., many of which can be found by looking for "working cat programs" within your favorite Internet search engine.