How cats are becoming the ultimate weapon in public health

When head brewer of Empirical Brewing kept losing expensive grain from his brewery to rats.

Towards the end of the shift, when ready to lock up, is when he’d notice them.

“There’d be this foot-tall rat just sitting there, staring up at you with it’s face asking, ‘Are you leaving yet? I’m hungry. Can’t you just leave already?'” McCown said, with a shiver.

“He’d startle us so much we started calling him ‘Jesus,’ because you’d turn the corner and there he’d be — ‘Oh, Jesus.’ “

Credit: Empirical Brewery

However, Empirical weren’t the only brewers in Chicago wishing for better pest control to come along.

Despite what many would expect from NYC’s infamous rats, the pest control Giant Orkin named Chicago the “rattiest” city in the United States. And it’s no joke to residents who have seen and had to deal with so many!

Rat complaints were up 67% last year in Chicago.

Sadly for residents and business owners, the mild winter allowed the pests to have more breeding time. On top of this, the recovering economy brought new construction that disturbed many rats, and new businesses opened giving the critters some new real estate to scurry into.

A mild winter meant more breeding time. A recovering economy brought new rat-disturbing construction that sent the critters scurrying for new rodent real estate.

Credit: Chicago magazine

As well as being gross, destructive, and unhygienic, rats are disease carriers of the ‘civilization-ending variety’. Although black death is now more manageable thanks to the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals, they also carry diseases that are antibiotic-resistant, such as C.diff and E.coli. They also shed lots, and their urine and faeces spread disease.

Rat-to-human infections aren’t merely a rare possibility, they’re a reality. Dr Chelsea Himsworth tested rats that came from a particular neighborhood with high rates of human MRSA cases, the rats carried the same MRSA strain, in a study of the vermin in Vancouver.

“Rats are a highly capable sponge for disease,” Himsworth said. “They can go into any environment, absorb all of what is dangerous and bring it back to the people.”
With climate change and with this century’s unprecedented urbanization, you can expect rat problems to grow.

Credit: FXGuide

The war on rats!

It’s not just Chicago that are under attack by rats. Rat complaints are up in cities all over the country. Municipalities are trying a wide variety of extermination tactics.

The city also launched a public awareness campaign stating “if rats can’t feed, rats can’t breed,” slapping up scary yellow warning signs.

“Folks need to understand how they’re feeding these rats,” said Chicago Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Charles Williams. “Control the food, you control the rats.”

Williams is laser focused on dog owners. He believes rats consider dog waste a delicacy. “Dog feces may be the easiest to control,” he said.

Credit: DNAinfo

A group of campaigners, desperate for Chicago to solve the rat issues, got tired of asking the City for help and being ignored. So one day, they made the decision to skip the City Hall and instead they dialled the Tree House Humane Society for advice.

Tree House Humane Society was the country’s first cageless, no kill shelter.

Tree House became the country’s first cageless, no kill, cat shelter in 1971, but today it may be better known for its innovative approach to rat control.

Credit: Tree House Humane Society

Cats, the world’s first pest control
For at least 10,000 years, cats have worked as the world’s cutest and fuzziest exterminators. Wild cats cozied up with the Natufians, when the first farmers stored grain and therefore attracted rodents.
Because of cat’s history as predators, organizers at the Tree House started the ‘Cats at Work’ project five years ago. It gives colonies of cats to areas that have pest control issues and require help!

Speaking of the successful, Steve Nickerson said:

“Hundreds of rats set up shop under decks in our backyard,” Nickerson said. “I couldn’t even bring my garbage out after sundown, because the rats would just run over your feet. I called Tree House, and they agreed to give him a colony. His cats have kept his yard rat-free for years.

Credit: Cat Repellent

In Chicago, cats keep the rats out of people’s yards, too.

The organization doesn’t merely drop the cats off in a new neighborhood.

“The cats would honestly have no reason to stay, they don’t know the area,” said Liz Houtz the Community Cats Program manager. “Instead we acclimate the cats, using giant dog crates turned cushy “kitty apartments,” with a litter box, scratching post, toys and shelter to protect them from the rain, until they feel at home.

It takes about four weeks for the cats to get used to each other and to their new territory’s sounds and smells. The colony’s caretaker agrees to feed them twice daily and provide shelter and vet care as necessary.

Credit: Mother Nature Network

Cats may eat rats, but they also deter rats from coming near by, as cats mark their territory, not with urine, but by simply rubbing up against things. Even this scent of a cat can make rats scatter.

Neighbors say they haven’t seen rats since the cats got to work.

When the cats are put in place, they’ll kill off a lot of the rat population, “the other rats will get a whiff of (the cats’) pheromones and bug out and leave the area,” Nickerson said.

“As far as rodent control goes, it’s nearly 100% effective,” Houtz said. “It’s the only long-term, permanent solution there is.”

Thomas, Lake View resident with the bad rat problem would agree.