CHICAGO — Out of all things Chicago is known for, its rat problem is not exactly a source of pride for the city's residents and businesses.
For eight years in a row, the pest control company Orkin has ranked Chicago as the number one rattiest city in the U.S., prompting a series of efforts to exterminate that title.
One of the most popular is the Tree House Humane Society's "Cats at Work" program, whose applications were flooded upon opening.
Since 2012, the Tree House Humane Society has been relocating cats to small outdoor colonies around the city.
"The premise is that the cats are natural predators, and rats are some of their main prey," said Jamie Gay, director of operations for the Tree House Humane Society. "So, the cats essentially living in this area keeps rats from coming to a home or a business. We've placed about probably over a thousand cats, maybe around like 1,100, 1,200 now."
But these aren't just any typical cats.
"The cats that we work on relocating are... coming from high-kill shelters, the ones that are open admission, and the cats are typically under-socialized," Gay said. "They may not be feral, but they maybe don't want to be house cats."
The idea is that these outdoor cats are trapped, neutered and returned — also known as TNR — to their outdoor environments, giving them a chance to avoid being euthanized. In exchange, neighborhoods get some much-needed rodent control, as a cat will start to emit pheromones once out, which in turn tells any rats in the area to stay away.
"The rat population essentially shifts from that area and is no longer as prevalent in their, either backyard or behind their business," Gay said.
The cats aren't just released anywhere, though. Folks interested in adopting these rodent-deterring cats have to apply, with the humane society taking into account a number of factors.
"Where their house is, where their business is, what their outdoor setup is like, is it a high traffic area, or a low traffic area? Do they have neighbors that also want to be involved? Because cats don't just stay in your yard. They travel, they go into your neighbor's yard, they go to other businesses, and so you have to make sure it's really a community effort," Gay said.
While the cats are outside, they do require a level of care.
"Caring for outdoor cats is kind of similar to caring for indoor cats," Gay said. "They need food, they need water, they need shelter. We have the plastic Tupperware containers that are insulated with Styrofoam and straw, and that help keeps the cats protected from winter snow, wind, all of the elements."
As for anyone looking for a program like this in their city, Gay recommends talking to local shelters.
"See what TNR programs are currently available and see what live outcome options there are to do a relocation program," Gay said.
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