Working Cats Program – Putting Feral Cats to Work

April 15, 2014

By Linda Cole

Feral cat colonies are made up of cats that were born in the wild as well as lost or stray felines who find their way into a colony. Some of the cats are friendly, some are semi-feral, and some are feral with a distrust of humans. These kitties are accustomed to life on the streets, but it’s a challenge for them to find adequate food, water and shelter. Kindhearted humans who tend to colonies try to provide the necessities of life to a population of cats that lives in the shadows. An animal rescue and advocacy group has found a way to help feral cats and give them a chance for a home with The Working Cats Program.

The Voice for the Animals Foundation (VFTA) is a non-profit 501c3 organization in the San Francisco, California area. Their mission is to “create respect and empathy for animals through education, rescue, legislation and advocacy.” Melya Kaplan founded the VFTA in 1999 after witnessing far too many homeless cats and dogs wandering the streets of Venice. It motivated her to create a different kind of animal protection organization, one that helps feral cats find safe surroundings while also providing an important service to the community.

The Working Cats Program is a simple and green concept: relocate feral cats to suitable areas where they can work with humans who in return provide them with a place to live. It’s a different kind of forever home where the cats can do what’s natural – control rat and mice populations. Cats living in feral colonies that have been vaccinated and spayed/neutered are placed with businesses that need help controlling vermin. With cats roaming around a property and leaving their scent everywhere, rats leave the area on their own. Felines have been placed successfully with construction companies, in barns, flower shops, police stations and other businesses looking for inexpensive and effective rodent control.

Not all cats are successful hunters. If their mom never taught them how to hunt, they don’t necessarily know that the mouse they captured and killed is a food source. The Working Cats Program makes it clear to prospective clients there’s no guarantee a cat will actually catch rodents, but their presence will make a difference. Rodents would rather move to a cat-free area where they don’t have to worry about a prowling cat. After all, they have other predators to be concerned about.

People and businesses who participate in the program accept responsibility to make sure their cats are properly fed, have clean water available at all times and vet care when needed. A homeless cat gets a home, and a business gets a natural, safe and effective means to rid their property of rats and mice. Toxic chemicals used for pest control are not allowed on properties where the cats are relocated.

The cats are carefully introduced into their new environment, with instructions to keep them confined for 3 to 4 weeks to give them time to adjust to the new sounds, sights and smells in the surroundings. Felines are effective mousers only if they stay on the property. If the business decides to close or relocate, the VFTA foundation will work with them to move the cats to a new location or take them back if the business owner decides he doesn’t want to keep the cats.

Before going to their new home, each feline is implanted with a microchip, and spayed, neutered and vaccinated. They are healthy cats and free of diseases that can be transmitted to other felines. The people who take these cats in are responsible for staying current with vaccines, providing safe and dry shelter, protection from predators, and enlisting someone to care for them daily when the regular caregiver is on vacation or away from the business.

The Working Cats Program gives cats who would otherwise have no chance of being adopted into a normal home a more secure and better life simply by doing what comes natural to them – keeping rats and mice away from businesses. The feral cats may even have a chance to prove just how loving and sociable they are when they’re given an opportunity to feel safe around people and interact with them in a positive way.

Top photo by lovecatz
Middle photo by Lucie Provencher
Bottom photo by Linda Tanner

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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  1. I also think thatsa great idea & would like to know were else thay are located. We live around the N/W side of Chicago & have a fair size coloeny of pore feral cats that need help. Thank You

  2. Cindy Myers says:

    I am tring to find a proram in the San Antonio texas area. Can someone please respond. Thank you.

  3. Julie Esser says:

    Hi Linda,

    I am involved in a wonderful no kill rescue “”, here in Pasadena, CA. I have about 10 feral kitties that we TNR’d and remain at my work property. Overall 8 months ago discovering all the litters of kittens, we did take in another 8 or 9, and found homes for all. Since we had no more space or fosters, 10 cats did come back to the property and we have been caring for them secretly.
    The enclosed safe property with hedges all around where they live, is becoming a hostile environment because the Landlord does not want the cats here. Nobody else on our block seems to tolerate or care enough to feed every day and keep water out like I’ve been doing. The landlord is becoming hostile, and trying to care for them secretly is becoming almost impossible. We are attempting to rescue the young semi feral ones that like people and come out for food and attention, one of them I can actually pet, keep at our small rescue. There are a few more slightly less socilized and would like to find a sanctuary for them. I called probably 8 santuaries and unfortunately nobody has any room. I was hoping maybe you had some good resourses to see if a no kill sanctuary has room for maybe 5 or 6 healthy TNR semi feral pretty kitties. If you could offer a little help of more resources I’d be very appreciative. I feel like I have tried all my resources. Thank you kindly

  4. Stephanie says:

    Thank you so much for writing an article on VFTA’s working cats program! I work for VFTA and we appreciate it so much that people take notice of our work. But I would like to add one correction, we are located in Los Angeles, CA, not San Francisco! Thanks again for the lovely article, and your help in getting the word out.

  5. Brian Frum says:

    That is such a wonderful program. We love seeing the ferals get the help and attention they so deserve.

  6. LOVE this idea. There was a new article here a while back that one community was having a rat problem – we posted to facebook that we bet a good feral colony would fix that. 🙂