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07/06/2016, 11:00

A work for feral cats is found

They roam the streets, scavenge for food and aren't the most trusting of humans.

Although feral cats might not be ideal to adopt as household pets, the Little Rock Animal Village says they could be perfect workers for a business or rural property.

The Animal Village recently started a "working cats" program, in which it captures, sterilizes, vaccinates and microchips feral felines and then adopts them out for free to businesses or farms in need of a solution to unwanted vermin.

Tammy and Keith Langley live on 7 acres in England. They adopted five cats through the program Friday.

"They are going to keep the rodent population down as well as the snake population," Tammy Langley said. "They are excellent hunters, especially the females."

When adopting one of the cats, the property owner or business must agree to provide shelter, food, clean water and veterinary care to the animal.

The city suggests "working cats" for construction companies, barns, farms, warehouses and other businesses that need rodent control.

Healthy feral cats that aren't suitable for normal adoption will be considered for the new program.

In the past five years, the Animal Village has euthanized more than 1,000 feral cats. Feral cats are the offspring of pets abandoned by their owners. They aren't domesticated. They avoid humans, spend most daylight hours hiding, and eat whatever scraps or small animals they can find.

Little Rock has had an overpopulation of feral cats in recent years and has been considering ways to correct that.

Animal Village Director Tracy Roark previously proposed a trap, neuter and release program that would keep the cats in a colony and would prevent reproduction.

There was some pushback to that idea, and the city is still discussing it. The working-cat program is a different way the city can respond to the overpopulation issue, he said.

"This is an adoption program, and it's an awareness program," Roark said. "We really want these cats to find their place. We've got this influx of feral cats coming in, and over 20 years we've just not found anything that is positive for them to go. So I think it's time we start looking at a positive way to get them out there, and plus to fuel the need for people who want a working cat."

The idea of a working-cat program was developed in Los Angeles in 1999 by Melya Kaplan, an animal activist.

It started after she was told of a rodent problem at a flower market she frequented. The owner had laid out poison and attempted other methods, but nothing got rid of the rats. Kaplan suggested dropping off three cats to rid the venue of its vermin problem and promised to take them back if they didn't get rid of the rats.

Seventeen years later, the market now has 15 cats and no rats.

Kaplan told the Los Angeles Times last year that once rodents smell a cat on the prowl, they leave.

"It's not anything new. People used to have barn cats or church cats to keep out rodents," Kaplan told the newspaper. "We just brought [the idea] to the city, and it seems to be really working."

"We're saving cats and helping people," she said, calling it a win-win situation.

The Little Rock Animal Village delivered five feral cats to the Langleys' England property Friday afternoon.

The cats are delivered in cages. Roark recommends they be housed and fed in the cages for about two weeks so they learn that the property is their new home and that they can return there for food and water.

Tammy Langley said that often when people offer up kittens and she tells them she needs a working cat, the people don't understand and would prefer that the kittens go to homes that will have them as pets.

"A lot of people don't understand that cats are going to do what they naturally have the instinct to do, and that is to catch birds, mice, snakes, whatever. We reap the benefit of that because it keeps everything away from the house," she said. "If we don't have working cats, we are just going to be overrun with mice and snakes."

Donations from the Friends of the Animal Village group help pay for the sterilization of the cats that are adopted through the working-cat program.

In addition to the cats delivered to England, four more were in the process of going to a rural property in Pulaski County. The city began advertising the new program Thursday.

"There's just such a need for this program," Langley said. "I think as the word gets out more, they'll have more people participate. It not only helps us, but it gives the animals a chance, too, because otherwise they would be euthanized. I think it's just a win-win all the way around."

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