The feral cat is in the news. A Roman politician had the idea of using feral cats to get rid of rats in Rome. I thought this was unworkable for various reasons – his idea was a bit scatty if we are honest. Now Chicago is said to be deploying feral cats to keep rats away.
In the past I have proposed that feral cats could be put to use rather than exterminated – a lot of people want to kill them. They are wrong.
It is good to see the feral cat being discussed as a possible rat deterrent. There appears to be more discussions of this nature currently. Perhaps it is because people in authority are warming to the possibility that cats can be used productively.
The truth is that it is impossible to kill all feral cats. It would take a massive, government sponsored nationwide TNR program to have a nationwide, long term impact on depressing feral cat numbers. This is unlikely to happen in the near future. It makes sense therefore to put feral cats to use. Rats are a problem.
A CBS article reads: “Chicago — Got rats? Meet the exterminators. Hundreds of cats are being hired…”
The truth is that the cats won’t exterminate rats. Not in my opinion1. However, their presence deters rats. It gets rid of them which is the goal anyway as long the place that the rats go to is acceptable!
The scent of the cat is a natural deterrent. There are signs that people who have used commercial extermination processes are now turning to nature’s way: cats. Where poisons etc. have failed (and they are dangerous to other animals) feral cats have succeeded.
For instance Victoria Thomas says that when she had a barbecue the rats would turn up and walk over her feet! She’d sit on her decking and hear the patter pat of rats scurrying below her.
As soon as she acquired three working cats she says:
“Within days we didn’t see any more rats…It’s nature taking care of nature”.
There is one obvious point to make: you have to take care of the “employees”. Feral cats are by definition not domesticated. Therefore there is no certainty that they will hang around at a place where they are meant to control rats.
However, if the cats are fed and generally looked after they should stay. Obviously the strongest reason for a cat staying in an area is access to food.
Playing devils advocate, might that attract more cats? Might that be an issue with neighbours? There will certainly be conflicting points of view about how to deal with rats and whether cats are the best method.
A lot of people don’t like feral cats. And feeding them as a colony of ratters is likely to cause hackles to rise amongst some people living in the area.
That said to simply be discussing feral cats as ratters is nice to see. It may presage a change in attitude towards the feral cat amongst those who dislike them.
Note: 1 – what I am saying is that not all feral cats will successfully hunt rats. Some rats are huge. Some cats are less motivated. The deterrent factor is more useful than the extermination factor.