There are good ideas and there are brilliant ones. SpokAnimal, a Spokane, Washington-based nonprofit animal shelter, has devised an ingenious way to save at-risk cats from euthanasia: It’s called Farm Livin’, a shelter cat adoption program that places less adoptable felines onto local farms to serve as barn cats. Launched in 2009, this successful program has so far placed more than 1,700 cats on hundreds of farms, warehouses, and other rural properties throughout the Spokane area. In essence, it’s sort of a job placement program for unwanted felines that enables them to live their natural-born calling as “mouse managers.”
According to the ASPCA, of the 3.4 million cats who enter animal shelters every year, 1.4 million don’t make it out alive. So for feral, unsocialized, or behaviorally challenged cats facing euthanasia, Farm Livin’ is a lifesaver, says Dori Peck, SpokAnimal development director.
“We came up with our program to save and rescue a high-risk population of cats due to the high amount of feral cats in our community – cats who were being euthanized due to the lack of adoptive homes,” she says. “Through our program, an enormous amount of lives have been saved, farmers have cleaner barns and farms, shelter staff morale is much better, and community support has greatly increased.”
Whether incredibly shy, badly behaved, or semi-wild, Farm Livin’ cats are all spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and given a clean bill of health before being adopted for no fee into their new working homes. All cats are at least 12 weeks old, and they are accustomed to independent living, says Peck.
“We place truly feral cats most of the time, but we also place cats that have unacceptable house behaviors such as urination, marking, biting, and hiding,” she explains. “We have lists of barns that want our cats, so when we receive word that we have some coming in, we call them ahead of time. Most of the ferals go out in the traps and are released at the barn. We just ask that [the property owners] feed and water the cats year-round and that [the cats] have a warm, dry place to live. We keep in touch with the owners and they come back to adopt from us many times.”
By helping to control rodent populations, Farm Livin’ cats not only help property owners avoid the use of mousetraps or poisons, but also save money on feed grain spoilage or loss.
Although most Farm Livin’ cats tend to live out their lives on one property, there are some who just need a little time in the country and a chance to warm up to humans before they can become house pets.
“If we get a cat with bad home habits, we have quite a few barns around here that will take them home and try to socialize them, if possible,” says Peck. “Our executive director, Gail Mackie, owns a horse farm, and she has a lot of people coming in and out of there, so sometimes the cats get tamed down. She holds horse shows on the farm, so a lot of times people fall in love with the cats and [the cats] get adopted.”
Take Sylvester, a black and white kitty who came to SpokAnimal spitting and growling. Once Mackie took him home and let him adjust to life at her busy stable, Sylvester became more sociable. Soon his sweet, affectionate personality emerged.
“Sylvester is a favorite for us,” says Peck. “He had bad inside bathroom habits, so that’s one of the reasons he went out to Gail’s farm. He lived at the barn and became a staff favorite because he has tons of personality and is very loving. He has since been adopted by a family that gives him in-and-out privileges, which seems to work out perfectly for him.”
When transitioning into a pet isn’t possible, Farm Livin’ cats can continue living as hardworking mousers. Meanwhile, word has circulated about this innovative, life-saving program, says Peck.
“We have received dozens of emails and phone calls from all around the world asking for our help and input since our story went live,” says Peck. “So I see our program continuing to grow and thrive as we continue to network and build it.”
SpokAnimal’s Farm Livin’ program appears to benefit all sides — the cats, the property owners, and the shelter. Everyone, that is, except the mice.
Here’s a video of Farm Livin’ in action:
SpokAnimal aims to grow Farm Livin’ and work with shelters across the U.S. to find “rodent management” positions for every cat on death row. For more information, visit SpokAnimal’s website or its Facebook page.