The feral cats of Chicago have a new job: protecting the barley bags of the Empirical Brewery. Rats are a major problem for most breweries, because they’re attracted to the burlap bags of grain stored in the warehouses. Despite repeatedly bringing in an exterminator, rats were still a problem for Empirical Brewery, since gnawed-open bags of grain had to be thrown out. So, Empirical Brewery opted for a less traditional route.
The Tree House Humane Society’s Cats at Work program proved to be the perfect answer. Jenny Schlueter, manager of Cats at Work, explained that feral cats can play a powerful role in rodent control. “Rats can smell their predators,” Schlueter explained, and the rats often just move along or end up hunted. Through the Cats at Work program, feral cats have been relocated to areas including barns, factories, and even a loading dock, where they provide much-needed rodent control.
Schlueter relocated four feral cats to the Empirical Brewery, and the team is now referred to as the “Ghostbusters.” The brewers bought the cats toys, but eventually began placing cardboard boxes in the brewery for the cats to play with, which (in classic cat fashion) they enjoyed more than the store-bought toys. While the cats were initially fearful of the brewers, much of that fear has since dissipated.
“They’re not wild animals,” Schlueter explained. “They’re still domesticated cats, but they’ve been ‘unsocialized.’ Their socialization is always changing. They can become quite friendly.”
It’s hard to ignore the benefits of the Cats at Work program. The Ghostbusters team now has a safe home where they can pursue their natural hunting instincts. Additionally, the Empirical Brewery benefits from the cats’ presence, and can avoid using rat control methods like poison and traps. Who knows – feral cats may be coming to a brewery near you.