Cats for hire

A program at Best Friends in Los Angeles is putting cats who might not otherwise be adopted to work providing rodent (mouse and rat) control.
By Nicole Hamilton

Everyone knows cats can nap like nobody’s business. But as it turns out, they’re also some of the hardest workers around.

That’s what Karen Orawa learned one day when she visited her friend’s winery near Los Angeles. When Karen told her friend she was looking for a way to keep rodents out of her barn and garage, she learned about the winery’s newest and most dedicated employees: cats.

At first Karen was skeptical about her friend’s hires. Were cats really the perfect employees for her enclosed property, or was it too good to be true?

The enclosed working cat area at the Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles
The enclosed working cat area at the Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles.

Natural rodent deterrent

She decided to research working cat programs, and while what she learned made her interest grow, it wasn’t until she found Best Friends’ working cats program in Los Angeles that she was convinced to give it a try.

As a longtime supporter of Best Friends, Karen began to understand that working cat programs do more than deter rodents and protect enclosed property. They also save cats with few placement options once they end up in shelters. And a particularly successful working cat program in L.A. is helping the city to achieve no-kill status.

Learn about No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA)

A solution that benefits cats and humans

“There’s a great need for placement of these cats,” says Elizabeth Anderson, lead cat caregiver who helps with the placement of working cats from the Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles. Liz is talking specifically about cats living outdoors on the streets and cared for by citizens, who bring them to a shelter with the hope that they will be adopted.

If the cats are friendly, adoption is possible, but if they’ve never lived in a home, they might be terrified of people and want nothing to do with them. Many cats without any human bonding cannot be socialized enough to live happily in people’s homes.

The working cat program solves this problem by placing these cats into new homes where they can put their natural rodent-deterring talents to good use and thereby save property from serious rodent damage. Today, places like wineries, auto shops and urban farms that have safe, enclosed areas for the cats benefit from working cat programs.

“Everyone benefits from our working cat program,” says Liz. “Shelters benefit because it makes more room for friendly cats who need homes, and adopters benefit because they can save their property from rodent damage without spending a lot of money.” But it’s the cats who benefit the most, she says. The program not only lets them live in an environment where they can thrive, but it’s what allows to live in the first place.

Learn more about the working cat adoption program

“That’s why this program is so important,” says Samantha Bell, cat behavior and enrichment lead for Best Friends–Los Angeles. “There are a lot of cats at the shelters who aren’t necessarily bonded to humans at all. Every time we find appropriate placement for one of those cats, we can go right back to the shelter and save another cat in need.”

Cats in the enclosed working cat area at the Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles
Cats in the enclosed working cat area at the Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles.

Give cats a job and save their lives

Pumpkin, a working cat from the Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles, takes a break from patrolling the ranch When Karen decided it was time to hire two working cats to keep rodents away from her barn, a multicar garage with vintage automobiles, and the feed for her chickens, she filled out an online application. The city of Los Angeles requires working cats to be housed indoors, so staff had to make sure Karen’s ranch had the right setup for cats.

Soon, Karen was able to come to the center and meet two cats who needed her just as much as she needed them. She went home with Pumpkin and Ash, and carefully followed the instructions for getting them set up in her barn so they’d be comfortable.

Since then, the two cats have adjusted well to their new living space. They’ll readily eat the food that Karen leaves for them, and they sleep soundly in a quiet and warm area set up for them.

Karen sees Pumpkin more often than the shy and aloof Ash, but when she spots him, he’s patrolling the barn like a confident little lion. “He looks pretty happy,” she says.

Of course, the true test came a few weeks after adopting Pumpkin and As. Karen lifted the hood of a car to check for signs of rodents but there was nary a mouse dropping in sight. The cats were doing a great job.

In fact, Karen was so impressed that she recently adopted two more working cats for another building on her ranch.

“I really believe in this program and it’s potential to save lives,” says Karen. “The cats are often scared of people and hide. But when I do see them, they seem happy. And it’s a good feeling to know that I’m giving them a chance to live the life they deserve.”

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Cats enjoy some down time the enclosed working cat area at the Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles
Cat enjoying some down time in the enclosed working cat area at the Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles.

Photos by Lori Fusaro and Karen Orawa