Working Cats Program Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a working cat?

You may have heard them called barn cats or outdoor cats, but they're all the same: working cats are cats not suited for traditional adoption who instead live in barns, workshops, gardens, breweries, and other settings that need a natural, effective means of keeping the mouse population under control.

Where do working cats come from?

These are feral or semi-feral cats turned in at public shelters who don't have the right temperament to be adopted into a regular home, and who would face immediate and tangible danger if returned to their original outdoor territories after spay/neuter surgery. Before programs ours were common practice in the animal world, these cats were usually killed immediately upon being dropped off at a public shelter.

Are they healthy?

Yes! All working cats come to you spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and ready to live out the rest of their lives in their new territory.

What do I do with them when I bring them home?

When you bring your working cats to their new home, they will need to be confined to an escape-proof room or enclosure like a tack room, garage, coop, or large dog crate for 2-4 weeks while they acclimate to their new surroundings. You will feed/water and clean the litter pan daily during this acclimation period. At the end of this period, the cats will usually accept their new home and may be released. You will continue to provide daily food and water and allow them access to shelter such as your barn or garage.

How will these cats know that my barn (or similar) is their new home?

Cats, especially feral ones, are motivated by food and security. While they're confined to a small area for 2-4 weeks, they feel safe and come to understand that you will always provide them with delicious food and a warm place to take shelter. Every time the cats see you feed them and hear you speaking to them, they are making positive associations with you and their new home.

Please be aware that even if you carry out the relocation process perfectly for 4 full weeks, some cats will still run away permanently upon opening the door to their enclosure. Statistics show that 90% will stay if confined for 4 weeks, while 75% will stay if confined for just 2 weeks. Do your best and understand that even then, relocation may not stick--which is why we only barn relocate if there are no other options for these cats.

Will they let me pet or hold them?

Usually, no. There have been many instances of feral cats warming up to their caretakers and allowing some handling, but you should not expect this. And you should never try to handle one of our working cats unless you are sure they will allow it. As with all cats, pet and feral alike, always let the cat be your guide.

Sometimes we do have working cats who are on the friendlier side, so if you have a temperament preference, let us know and we will try to accommodate it. Some people want wild ninja cats who they will never see, while others would like a pal to hang around in the stalls with them while they do their chores!

Will they bite or attack me?

Feral cats don't want to hurt you; they just want to avoid you! Remember, to a feral cat, a human being is as frightening as an alien would be to a person. Attacking or lunging from a truly feral cat is extremely rare unless they are distressed or in pain. Do move slowly and be aware when caring for the cats in their acclimation crates--this is how our clinic staff have cared for tens of thousands of feral cats with nary a major bite incident from them. You have more to fear from an aggressive pet cat than the wildest of feral cats!

Will they attack my kids/chickens/etc.?

Again, this is extremely unlikely. Many backyard chicken caretakers have working cats living peacefully alongside their hens and roosters. It's important that children know never to try to pick up, hold, or pet a working cat; otherwise, the cats will almost always choose to leave kids alone just like they steer clear of human adults.

Isn't this a crazy idea?!

Not at all! In fact, cities across the US that have similar working cats programs have massive waiting lists of businesses and farms eager to adopt these unique cats. In Austin, TX, luxurious riverside homes have working cats on their properties to help control the snake population. Mounted police barns across the nation adopt working cats to keep their stables mouse-free, and honor these cats as fallen officers at the end of their lives. In Chicago, working cats are the new must-have for property owners who are at wit's end trying to deal with rats. People are crazy about working cats--they get to save cats' lives while also protecting their grain stores, electrical wiring, and other things that rodents can destroy.

Can I come to your shelter and pick out which cats I want to adopt?

Unfortunately, we cannot do this because our cats are housed in a facility that is only accessible to staff for the safety of the patients there. If you have a color or sex preference, we can try to accommodate you, but we will be limited by the cats we have available at the time.

Can I get kittens?

We do not place kittens into our working cats program for their safety, and because we work to socialize unreturnable feral kittens so that they can be adopted into loving homes.

Why do I have to adopt at least 2 working cats together?

Experience has proved that adopting out working cats in pairs (or more) greatly improves their chances of sticking around after the acclimation period. Even if you already have cats in your barn, introducing new ones in pairs will help them feel less alienated from the rest of the colony!

What do I do about vaccines and vet care?

Your working cats can be humanely trapped and taken to a feral-friendly vet for routine vaccinations or to care for them when they are sick or injured. Stress affects cats greatly, and trapping and transporting is very stressful for a feral cat, so you should weigh the costs and benefits with your own veterinarian and decide what level of care you want to provide. Always be prepared to trap and help your working cats should they become sick or injured--this is our only requirement.

Is there an adoption fee?

Adoption fees are waived for working cats. You will be responsible for the cats' food, shelter, and necessary veterinary care. Donations are always welcomed and greatly appreciated so that we can continue our lifesaving work.

Can you relocate feral cats for me?

Unfortunately, no. We pull cats into our program from city shelters who we have determined to be in immediate risk of death or bodily harm if returned to their outdoor homes. We set this high standard because we know that cats are almost always better off staying right where they are. If you're having issues with feral cats, there are tons of resources available to help you deal with neighbors, deter cats from eliminating in gardens, or even carry out barn relocation yourself if absolutely necessary. Feel free to contact the Community Cats team if you need advice.

Okay, I'm ready to adopt working cats! What do I do next?

Wonderful! Fill out the Working Cats Application, and a member of the Community Cats team will be in touch soon!