Feral cats weapon of choice for some residents facing influx of rats

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Apr 8, 2016 in Rat News | Subscribe

A year ago, it wasn’t unusual for Andrea Swank to look outside her Lincoln Park home and see hundreds of little rat footprints in the snow. This year she hasn’t seen a single track in her yard.

The difference? Swank took in three feral cats, and the results are indisputable.

“If I put a loaf of bread in my backyard, it would be untouched,” she said.

Tree House Humane Society created the Cats at Work program several years ago after the organization’s feral cats cleared out a Cicero business’s rat problem. Now there are 500 feral cats in the program, and there is a wait list of two to four weeks.

Chicago is a rat's kind of town

Chicago is a rat’s kind of town

Congratulations, Chicago. You are the vermin Triple Crown winner.

Orkin, the Atlanta-based pest control company, released a list earlier this week with the Chicago area as the No. 1 U.S. location for rats.

The exciting news comes on the heels of another Orkin report earlier this year that listed…

Congratulations, Chicago. You are the vermin Triple Crown winner.

Orkin, the Atlanta-based pest control company, released a list earlier this week with the Chicago area as the No. 1 U.S. location for rats.

The exciting news comes on the heels of another Orkin report earlier this year that listed…

(William Hageman)

Rats are to be expected in an urban area, but planned demolition projects like the former Children’s Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park and the Edgewater Medical Center, plus a warm winter, have residents concerned about an explosion in the rodent population.

According to the city of Chicago, 30,000 rat complaints were filed in 2015. As of April 7, 2015, 4,702 rat complaints were filed. By that same date this year, 7,618 rat complaints were filed.

Some residents are hoping the feral cats may be the answer to the rising number of rat complaints.

“The cats have proven to be 100 percent effective,” said Paul Nickerson, the manager of the Cats at Work program. “They scare the rats away with their pheromones and natural predator-like instincts.”

Before any cats are sent to requested sites they are sterilized and  vaccinated. All of the feral cats are microchipped and have a clipped ear to indicate they belong to someone and are not a threat to the community.

Last year 150 feral cats were adopted through the work program. Nickerson said he placed over 50 cats on the North Side last month, and more than 50 cats are patrolling Lincoln Park.

Chicagoan uses feral cats to keep rats away

Chicagoan uses feral cats to keep rats away

Victoria Thomas speaks about her experience using feral cats to solve her rat problem. April 6, 2016 (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

Victoria Thomas speaks about her experience using feral cats to solve her rat problem. April 6, 2016 (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

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Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, has focused on reducing the rodent problem in her Lincoln Park neighborhood, especially in anticipation of the redevelopment of the hospital site, as well as other ongoing construction projects, such as the DePaul University music hall and the Lincoln Centre apartment building.

Smith said it will take the entire community doing its part to keep the rat problem at bay.

“This is an issue that is everybody’s responsibility,” Smith said. “The most effective thing on a systemic basis is to pick up after our pets, keep our dumpsters closed, have our trash and waste picked up frequently enough and to kill them.”

The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation has been baiting areas within two blocks of the former children’s hospital site.

But some residents don’t like the idea of rat baits and poison.

Swank said the last straw was when she tried to shoot a stick of poisonous gas that looked like a firecracker into a rat hole — she thought it was revolting and couldn’t do it.

“As a kid I had pet rats, I have huge respect for them,” she said. “They are doing what they are supposed to be doing. If we weren’t so filthy, there wouldn’t be so many.”

Swank said she is also concerned about rat poison leaking into the streets when it rains and how it might affect children and pets. She said she prefers a more organic approach.

The Cats at Work program began in 2011 when businessman Howard Skolnik noticed rats running around his metal drum factory, Skolnik Industries. He reached out to Tree House about feral cats. Since then, he said he hasn’t seen a single rodent, and the program has taken off.

“The outcome is excellent, we look at Max and King as employees at Skolnik; they have a job to do and as a result we take care of them,” Skolnik said. “It makes me happy to see Tree House’s mission being understood and implemented all across Chicago.”

“There’s been a lot of efforts put toward refocusing how people think about these cats,” Schlueter said. “They used to be considered just as much of a nuisance animal as the rats, and it didn’t occur to people that they can provide a service and have a role in the urban ecosystem. The more we have been able to emphasize that, the more it has been catching on.”

Although more people are open to the idea of using feral cats, not everyone approves of the program.

Nathaniel Miller, director of conservation at Audubon Chicago Region, said next to habitat loss, feral cats are a main contributor to bird mortality.

“It would be bad for birds in Chicago,” Miller said. “Starting now in the spring, we have hundreds of different species of birds migrating through. So places like Chicago are actually really important for birds in general, especially for migratory birds.”

Keri Lynch, of Ravenswood, lived in Uptown for 17 years and volunteered at the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary every month. She has been a bird enthusiast for more than 20 years.

“I’m concerned about feral cats patrolling the streets,” Lynch said. “There’s so many birds to be seen in the city, I would hate to see them disappear.”

But Schlueter said there are a lot of misconceptions about feral cats.

“It’s important to realize these cats would prefer to hunt rodents rather than birds because they are easier to catch.”

And part of Tree House’s mission is to give cats that would otherwise be euthanized a purpose. The group collects cats from Animal Control after other organizations select the more adoptable animals.

Nickerson said acclimating the cats is the most important part of the resettlement process. When the cats realize where their main food source comes from and form bonds with the other cats, they want to stick around.

Feral cats are typically brought in pairs or in groups of three, said Nickerson, and are acclimated in oversized dog crates for three to four weeks. “Cats don’t usually like to share, so each cat gets his or her food and water dish, litter box and heated bed,” he said.

“Sometimes owners find dead rats outside of the cages before the cats are even released,” he said. “That’s how efficient these animals are.”

“We have expectations for the caretakers, they are adopting these cats from us, so we expect them to provide ongoing care, food shelter and medical care as needed, we don’t want to give people the wrong impression that these are second-class kitties,” Schlueter said.

“Even when people are skeptical, we found that a lot of people are actually surprised of the bond that they form with these cats,” she said.

Article source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-feral-cats-rats-abatement-met-20160407-story.html

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