A Chicago animal shelter has released over 1,000 feral cats into the streets in an attempt to combat the city’s rat problem.
Chicago topped pest control company Orkin’s 2020 Top 50 Rattiest Cities List for the sixth time last year.
The Community Cats Program Manager at Tree House Human Society, Sarah Liss, told Fox News that the organization had noticed the cats making a positive difference on Chicago streets even before the Cats at Work program.
She said that the rat population was “significantly decreasing and even going away for a lot of folks who [were] taking care of [the] cats. That is when Tree House “put two-and-two together.”
Cats at Work began in 2012 to help combat the issue using an “environmentally friendly” control method and help the cats.
The feral cats – which have been rescued, neutered and vaccinated – are placed two or three at a time into residential or commercial settings under the care of a registered caretaker.
The cats then get used to their environment in confinement for three weeks before their release.
According to the Tree House website, the feral cats in Cats at Work colonies would not be able to thrive in a shelter or home environment. They also needed to be relocated for various reasons.
“Feral cats can’t come inside and live the life of an indoor cat. They tend to be either extremely destructive because they’re trying to escape the indoor environment or they hide constantly. They just don’t do well indoors,” Liss said. “So, when a feral cat has to be removed from the environment that they’re used to living in, there really aren’t any positive options for that. It’s either that they get moved to a new place or – unfortunately – they would need to be euthanized because there isn’t an indoor option for them.”
She also said that trying to force the feral cats to live inside would be “extremely inhumane.”
“Having this second chance to get moved to a new location, having a caregiver that cares about them and wants to take care of them for the rest of their lives – it’s essentially a second chance at life for these cats,” Liss said.
As mandated by Cook County’s 2007 Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance, cats in the program are managed for the rest of their lives with support from Tree House.
Their presence on the streets alone repels rats, but cats have also been known to hunt and catch rats as well.
Tree House says other methods to catch the rodents, such as poison and traps, are short-term solutions and mostly ineffective because there is a continuous food supply for the rodents and burrows are quickly repopulated.
Poison and baiting tactics – that Liss said the city still uses – are also dangerous to more than just rats, especially when used around homes and businesses.
To fight rodent infestations, community members can request the assistance of colonies for a fee of $600 to $800. However, there is currently a “long waitlist.”
According to Liss, the money gives the cats crate rentals, heating pads, litter boxes and heated water bowls.
New York City has also turned to feral cats to fight its rat problem, with the 2016 introduction of the Feral Cat Initiative.