Caitlin UltimoPet Parenting / Pet Stories

Working Cats Program Saves Feral Cat Communities

Considering recent litigations in Los Angeles that could be detrimental to feral cats, Marc Peralta, the executive director of Best Friends Animal Society, and his team soon discovered that the best way to save the cat community was to put them to work.

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In January 2010, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge prohibited any Trap-Neuter-Return programs that humanely trap feral cats, provide them with proper medical attention (including sterilization and vaccination), and return them back to their original locations. These programs (referred to as TNR) are highly regarded by animal shelters as a humane approach to address community cat populations. “The best ways to reduce, but save the population is to spay/neuter and send back,” Marc says. “We’re not able to do that in LA, at this time.” Animal advocates suggest that TNR programs improve the lives of cats and allow humans and feral cats to better co-exist in their shared environment.

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Without TNR programs, this meant a larger feral cat population, and more people looking to bring them to shelters. There are about seven shelters in LA, and each operate by putting down the cat that has been there the longest once they become full. “These cats don’t deserve to be killed in a shelter,” Marc says. “We wanted to find a way that wouldn’t be breaking the law, but would still save these guys.” And thus, L.A.’s Working Cats Program was born. “For the cats that won’t likely be able to be handled, we pull them with the objective of them being working cats.”

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The L.A. Working Cats Program is set up for adopters who are looking to eliminate rodents and other small pests from enclosed properties such as barns, warehouses, churches, factories and other facilities. Intended only for cats who are in the L.A. Animal Services shelter, this acts as an effective method to provide better and healthier lives for feral cats, as well as prevent euthanasia. “These [feral] cats can’t be handled by people, so it’s a creative, life-saving solution to have the cat serve as a pet in a different way,” Marc says.

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Once the cats are taken from the shelters, they are vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and microchipped and sent to their new home. The program will provide new owners with specific instructions on how to properly acclimate their new furry friends—such as keeping them in a small, enclosed space for at least two weeks, and not allowing them outdoors at any time. The program also requires that the cats be adopted in pairs so they can keep each other company. “There’s an inclination that cats won’t like other cats, but it’s a myth. Cats in communities like to be with other cats, and we encourage people to take pairs,” explains Marc.

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Marc says that the team behind the program has a “lifetime commitment” to the cats that they adopt out. “We always remind people we do sporadic check-ins.” And for businesses that close, the team makes sure that they get their cats back. “We’re always here for support, even ten years down the line.”

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Marc says that there are other “barn cat programs” that have sprung up in the last 15 years by “Like-minded people who think cats shouldn’t be euthanized because they’re not traditional pets. We are by far not the first.” In hopes that even more people will follow suit, the group is more than willing to teach people how to develop these programs and give them proper guidelines to follow so that all cats have a better chance at finding a safe place they can call home.

For more information on the working cat adoption program, please contact adoptLA@bestfriends.org.

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