By Dr. Becker
Some cats have a reputation for lounging in the sun, lazing the day away — but not cats that belong to the Animal Humane Society’s Working Cat program.
Animal Humane Society (AHS), a Minnesota-based organization with shelters in five locations, developed the program to provide hope for healthy cats that are not candidates for adoption.
Such cats may, for instance, not use a litter box consistently and need access to an indoor-outdoor environment. Other cats fit for the working cats program may dislike being handled by people, and are not fit for living in a typical home.
These cats deserve a chance at a happy life, but in a typical shelter environment may be euthanized because they’re considered “unadoptable.”
The working cats program provides a happy alternative by placing the cats in barns, police stations, construction companies and other places of business that may benefit from a working-cat resident.
Working Cat Program Benefits Everyone Involved
At one warehouse housing bags of grass seed, mice were a major problem for the owners — until he adopted two cats from AHS’ working cats program. The cats were on death row and now, Jim Trenter, the warehouse owner, says they’re the best employees he’s ever had.1
The warehouse, once losing $10,000 worth of seed annually, is now free of mice, and the cats receive food, water and a safe place to live. While one of the cats hides from humans, the other, workers say, is surprisingly friendly and has become the company’s new mascot.
AHS charges no adoption fee for working cats other than a $20 administrative fee, but suggests the cats work best when adopted in groups of two or three. Potential adopters must agree to provide:2
- A warm, safe shelter like a barn or shop so cats are protected from the elements
- Food and clean water every day
- Medical care when necessary
- A way to keep the cats contained for two to three weeks while they become acclimated to their new surroundings
The last requirement is important because allowing the cats to roam too soon may give them a chance to leave before they realize their new home provides shelter and regular food and water. After two to three weeks, the cats can be released to roam freely and will typically return to their new home.
New Adopters Coming Forward
Traditionally, animal shelters look to place animals as in-home family pets, and this is how it should be. However, for cats used to living outdoors who show no desire to become indoor cats, the working cats program is invaluable. It also opens doors for would-be adopters who would have otherwise been turned away.
The Star Tribune reported one example of a woman with a mouse-infested garage. She couldn’t adopt a cat to live in her home because of her three dogs, so she adopted Belle, a working cat, to take up residence in her garage.3
Belle enjoys patrolling for mice in the garage and has even turned into an ideal pet. She enjoys being held and even gets along with dogs, so now she spends time sleeping in the house.
It seems the program allows many of these “unadoptable” cats to heal and trust humans again. Once they’re given a stable environment and trust that they’re being cared for, many previously unfriendly cats may turn out to be loyal companions.
Working Cat Program ‘Fills a Niche’ in Cat Adoptions
Katie Lisnik, director of cat protection and policy for the Humane Society of the United States, noted that working cat programs are catching on nationwide and fill a niche in cat adoptions.
There are shelters for friendly cats and non-profit organizations that care for feral cats, but the cats in between — not feral but not adoptable — often face the hardest road. Working cat programs can now be found across the U.S. from Arizona to Missouri to Pennsylvania and beyond.
Since the AHS program started, nearly 70 working cats have been adopted, which is a great start but shows room for improvement. AHS hopes to expand the program beyond the typical “barn cat,” such that businesses from bookshops to fire stations to office buildings all have their own resident cats.4
If you’re interested in adopting a working cat for your business or residence, contact your local humane society and ask whether such cats are available. In addition to gaining a valuable new “employee,” you’ll also likely gain a priceless new friend.