People are obsessed with the idea of cats, and other pets, going to work. We’re not talking about Mittens heading to a financial firm, but more doing a job other than being cute and begging for treats. Working cats are popular on social media, from the pages of CatsWithJobs on Reddit, and Instagram accounts like @CatsOnTap or the hashtag #WorkingCatsofInstagram. It’s pretty adorable to see a cat in a barn or strolling amongst the vines of a vineyard. As an indoor cat owner, I smile as I scroll through images of working cats, wondering if my own feline would actually be able to capture a single mouse if on her own.
But working cats are a serious matter. Cats on the job take care of pests like rats, mice and gophers. Owning a working cat is viewed as eco-friendly pest control. It’s better for the environment and people around, as well as the product, like growing grapes or grain for wine or beer. These cats have a very important job for use in rural farms and ranches, barns, vineyards and breweries.
While some of these cats may look snuggleworthy, they typically aren’t friendly to humans. Working cats are usually not social with humans or ready to live an indoor life.
These cats may be feral cats taken in by organizations, evaluated and deemed not suitable for standard adoptions. They might also be cats with medical needs that would likely not be adopted, like senior cats or FeLV+ cats. Also, working cats are a great alternative for those cats that have been returned to a cat colony after TNR but now face dangerous living situations or habitat destruction.
Sadly, without programs that adopt working cats, these cats might be euthanized or kept in a shelter for their life span. These cats get a second chance at life as a working cat. For example, Barn Cat Programs like the one created by Austin Pets Alive! found homes for almost 300 working cats in 2018.
I recently visited Disneyland, not to ride rides, but to check out its working cats. Disneyland has many working cats on its expansive property in California. These cats spend their days hunting for rodents (not Mickey Mouse, of course!) that might be unsightly for guests.
I only managed to spot a few on my visit, but I did run into two regular guests at California Adventure Park. These cats (Snickers and Francisco) even have fans on Instagram (@disneylandcats). A cast member spilled the kibble to me about these two. While the others have earned their keep, these two prefer napping all day instead of mousing.
While they do come up to the fencing for head scratches, it’s advised by the park to not pet or feed working cats, as they are still considered feral cats with a job to do. I heard that the Disneyland cats are very well taken care of behind the scenes.
Vineyards and breweries
You might even find a cat amongst the vines at vineyards. Wine Cats, the 2013 book, highlights vineyard cats throughout the United States and abroad. After visiting wineries from around the globe for their previous book Wine Dogs, authors Craig McGill and Susan Elliott were struck by how many cats they met on the job. They decided to take portraits of them and find out more about their personalities. They were shocked at how expressive they were — as well as how difficult they were to shoot. As you may have guessed, cats don’t like being told to look at the camera, cannot be bribed and generally don’t show up to photo shoots on time. Even if the cats are difficult on camera, vineyard owners appreciate them for just being themselves.
For example, Australia’s Bent Road Winery winemakers is proud of its excellent mouser vineyard cat named Vicky. It claims it has no problems with mice, in comparison to its neighbors who complain about pests during the winter months, when vermin tend to move indoors. Vicky is head of the Vermin Control Department and is rewarded with venison, her favorite treat.
Similar to winery cats, brewery cats protect the brewery and its grain from pests. The CatsOnTap website allows readers to connect with local breweries that feature working cats and tap room and brewery cats. CatsonTap creators Caroline and Nick say their obsession with cats and beer all started with a feral named Rosie. Rosie’s curiosity around beer helped her to become a coveted #beercat. They claim that every time they pour beer into a glass, Rosie is right there waiting to sniff and inspect the aromas. (Don’t worry, Rosie never takes a drink.) Since then, they’ve created a community of cat-loving craft brewery fans across the United States. Caroline loves it when a reader tags her in a post from a brewery featuring a working cat. “I always get that jolt of joy when I see our followers discovering or visiting with brewery cats.”
Transition to working cat
If you have a barn, small farm or brewery that needs protection, connect with a local shelter about its working-cat program. If you receive a working cat from a shelter, he should be current on all vaccinations and tested for any feline diseases. All you have to provide a working cat is food, water, a litter box and shelter, like a barn, to keep the cat protected from predators or the elements. As with any pet, you also have to make sure the cat is well taken care of, like paying for any necessary vaccinations and vet bills should the cat become sick.
During the first few weeks, the cat needs to be confined for a relocation period, for his own safety. The cat should be kept in a barn, garage or large crate for a few weeks while he adapts to the new surroundings.
New working cats must get used to the 3 S’s, according to Napa Valley’s Forgotten Felines — sights, sounds and smells. They need to be close enough to observe anything, but far enough away to stay safe in the enclosure. After that, they are ready for release! They’ll be at home and ready to hunt.
There is never a guarantee that the cat will hunt or that he’ll be good at it — but it’s an opportunity to use cats as eco-friendly pest control. If you’re interested in helping community cats but don’t have anywhere for them to work, donate to a local no-kill shelter with a community working cat program in place.