Watch out, Pizza Rat. South Treatment Plant in Renton is taking a natural yet highly effective approach to rodent control with the help of King County’s Barn Cats R Us program.
South Plant has relied on these competent cats to control rodents around its facilities for several years, thanks to the efforts of WTD employees Sarah Collins, a laboratory specialist, and her husband Bob Collins, a treatment plant operator.
“Currently we have at least three cats,” said Sarah Collins. “It’s difficult to say exactly how many because true feral cats are extremely hard to find. We have one semi-tame, female tabby cat that regularly catches large rats each week. She allows people to get within a few feet from her, but she prefers lying under bushes and trees.”
Why have cats at a wastewater treatment plant?
Rats and mice are naturally attracted to waste plants, landfills and farms, and the security of South Plant’s pipes and buildings offers an especially hospitable habitat. But these little critters are big trouble. Rodents can damage structures, start electrical fires and spread disease. The use of toxic rat poisons poses additional health and environmental concerns.
WTD has found Barn Cats R Us to be an environmentally-friendly way to control the rodent population while also giving the cats a life they deserve. Since the treatment plant is staffed around the clock, 365 days a year, the cats’ water and food bowls always stay full.
What’s a barn cat?
Barn cats are outdoor animals that range from feral (wild) to friendly, but most are timid and shy, preferring to stay in the background away from people. As opposed to house cats, which are accustomed to human companionship, barn cats wouldn’t enjoy being someone’s pet. They live to hunt and thrive outdoors but still depend on shelter, food and water from a human caretaker. The program offers a second chance for cats that are often euthanized at shelters because they are not considered adoptable.
To make it into the Barn Cats R Us Program, cats are checked by veterinary staff to ensure they test negative for communicable feline diseases. The cats are also spayed and neutered, ear-tipped for identification and treated for fleas.
“Some ‘feral’ cats become very friendly once they are released from the stainless steel cages of the animal shelter,” said Sarah Collins. “Some cats get scared while in the shelter and don’t show their true personalities. When these social cats come to us through the barn cat program, they often end up getting adopted by employees.”
Many of the cats at South Plant leave presents in the form of dead rats and mice at the building entrances for employees to find. It’s a great way to see the effectiveness of the Barn Cats R Us Program, and it justifies the cats are really doing their jobs!
The Collins’ are extremely passionate about Barn Cats R Us. Sarah has offered to donate her time to help other King County sites build shelters and start cat colonies of their own because of the great success at South Plant.
Protecting our cats
King County asks people not to drop off unwanted cats at the treatment plant or any other location. These cats have not been tested for disease and often do not have the skills to survive. Better options are available if your pet needs a new home. And always license, spay and neuter your pets!
For questions about the Barn Cats R Us Program, please contact Regional Animal Services of King County (RASKC) at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-200-8908.