There are house cats, stray cats, cartoon cats, historic cats, film cats and famous cats, but we don’t hear much about working cats, at least since ancient days when they were employed to prevent grain from being eaten by rodents. According to the research journal Science, those days were, give or take, 12,000 years ago.

The Science study authors called the development which led to the domestication of wild cats, “one of the more successful ‘biological experiments’ ever undertaken.” The cats loved the steady diet of rodents; the humans loved the cost-free pest control; and the rodents didn’t like anything about the arrangement.

Cats are brilliant killing machines, with an exceptionally wide range of prey – in the thousands – and distinct characteristics. The latter includes hearing of 64000 Hz (dogs: 45000 Hz; humans: 20 Hz to 20 kHz); an acute sense of smell, 14 times greater than human; extraordinary flexibility; short muzzles with a very strong bite; teeth that can crunch bones; and detached collar bones (which is one way cats get into tiny spaces). In short, domestic cats are some of the deadliest predators on earth. It moves; they pounce. You think your kitten chasing the laser dot is cute, but that fuzz ball thinks he’s killing something.

In juxtaposition to the millions of pampered house cats today, are the millions of homeless feral cats who have not been exposed to human interaction. With a harsh existence and short life span, they do not live the lush life. But, at least for some, we may be circling right back to the earliest of times.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal’s Keiko Morris wrote an eye-opening piece about The Javits Center pest-control team, that being feral cats. A sustainability report, “Greening America’s Busiest Convention Center”, cited the cats as a safer, healthier, “greener” way to deal with rodents than the noxious effects of chemicals and their cost. Even better, with cats present, mice and rats pick up their scent and don’t even bother to drop in. In short, feral cats are the new green.

There currently are no groups we found (correct us if we’re wrong) that are rescuing ferals with the specific purpose of having them serve as working cats in New York City. (The NYC Feral Cat Initiative of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals does not provide cats for the purpose of rodent control.) Then again, feed a feral cat, and you’ve found a new friend who will bring its friends.

Deli and bodega cats have long been around in New York City. The cats are illegal and store owners can be cited for health violations. And yet they can also be cited for signs of mice and rats. Who would you rather see at the bodega? If you remember the sensational video of rats gone wild at a downtown Sixth Avenue KFC/Taco Bell, my guess is you’d also prefer to see a furball who purrs.

New York City is not the leader in commercial homes for feral cats. That honor goes to Chicago where the “Tree House Cats at Work Project” has set the bar for removing at-risk feral cats from dangerous situations and, after vetting and sterilization, relocating them to places where they can control the rodent population. The cost for three feral cats from Tree House is $600 with a waiting list.

CNN called the Chicago program the “Ultimate Weapon in Public Health” and The Wall Street Journal called working cats the “new must-have accessory”.

With the City’s war on rats an extraordinary failure through the reign of 108 mayors and counting, perhaps the world’s greatest and most adorable predator will be our long-awaited answer.

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Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services