CAMDEN, Maine — Feral cats have gotten a bad rap. At least that’s what the folks at PAWS Animal Adoption Center say.
Sure, these “wild” cats don’t want your love. But they would love to live in your basement, barn or anywhere else you might have a rodent problem.
“By adopting them, you’re saving the cats and taking care of a destructive problem in your home,” PAWS Program Coordinator Brandi Moore said. “They just don’t want to be held or cuddled.”
They’re often referred to as “barn cats,” Moore said, since they’ve historically lived in farm facilities and used for pest control. But last year, PAWS abandoned the term since many people who didn’t have barns wouldn’t consider adopting them. Now, they’re known as “working cats” that can help curb rodent problems anywhere.
“They don’t have to be kept in a barn, but people just don’t know that,” Moore said. “They can live in workshops, offices, even your house if you just don’t mess with them.”
The rebrand is working.
This year the Camden-based shelter found homes for about 45 feral cats. Five are awaiting adoption.
Feral cats were not socialized with humans when they were kittens, so they’re afraid of them and prefer to be left alone, Moore said. They do not like being petted, picked up or trapped.
Many of the feral cats that PAWS receives come from barns, or feral cat colonies, where cats that are not spayed or neutered have reproduced in an isolated area.
Animal control officers will typically be called in to remove the cats and bring them to a shelter. But shelters are a very stressful place for these cats to be since they’re terrified of people.
“This is the worst place for them. You’ve got strange people, all these cats they don’t know, strange noises and smells,” Moore said.
At PAWS, working cats are housed in cat condos that afford them some privacy. What these cats really want is to be given a place where they can be left alone, Moore said.
Since these cats were born and lived for a period of time in the wild, they are exceptionally good hunters, Moore said. Catching mice and other rodents is how they survived.
“Rodents are always a problem in Maine,” Moore said. “Especially during the winter because they [find ways to get] inside where it’s warm.”
But the wild is not a safe place for a cat to live a long and happy life. By adopting a working cat, the cats are given shelter, a reliable source of food and the space to be left alone.
“They basically just want to exist peacefully and do their job,” Moore said.
If you want to take one home, here’s what you need to know:
— Working cats can be kept in a basement, attic, workshop, barn, garage, office building, business or any other place where rodents pose a problem.
— The cats need to be given a warm place — like a hay-insulated cubby — during the colder months.
— When you first bring working cats home, they should be kept in a large dog crate with food that is covered for at least two weeks in order to ensure they will stay on the property.
“You need to let them know this is home. If you just let them loose they wouldn’t stick around,” Moore said.
— After the transition period, put their food and water next to a warm, cozy spot they can return to after a day on the job.
— If you’re using a working cat for rodent control, it’s imperative that you are not also using poison for rodent control. If a cat tries to eat a mouse that was killed with poison it will die or get very sick.
— While the shelter will fix, vaccinate and microchip the working cat before you take it home, it will need to be kept up to date on its shots.