Cat Faeries talks to Susan Wheeler, co-founder of San Francisco’s “Cats on the Job” – a new organization which is placing cats in businesses “to work” who were previously thought to be unadoptable due to their personality traits.
CF: Hi Susan, how did you get interested in creating Cats on the Job?
SW: A number of years ago I read about a program called Working Cats in Los Angeles. It was being used to place feral and difficult-to-place cats in situations where people needed rodent control. Among the places they placed cats is the LA Flower Market, police station parking lots, a church, and a number of other venues. Because of my work on behalf of cats in Italy I knew that their culture respected cats for all the help they give us in keeping down rodents populations. I thought it was a great program and should spread to the US.
CF: How would an organization like this benefit a community?
SW: We think of this as a green program. Lots of people hate rodents and resort to really terrible poisons. With our program the cats do the work. They are also great to have around.
CF: Are there other similar programs?
SW: Los Angeles of course, and I’ve heard of a few other which are mostly informal groups. A friend just gave me an article that came out recently about a cat in Richland, Washington who has become a crossing guard at the local school. There are surely working cats that we don’t know about.
CF: How long did it take to get this program off the ground in San Francisco?
SW: The Los Angeles people sent us their template. We tweaked it to meet our concerns and local conditions. We worked on it for a couple of years.
CF: How many cats have you placed, and where?
SW: A couple of cats are in a horse barn. There are cats in a taxi cab yard. There is a cat in a warehouse. There are 3 cats at SOMAarts. We have placed cats at a plant nursery. We did need to turn down a couple of requests as we thought the places were not safe for the cats.
CF: You are partnered with the San Francisco SPCA – why was this important? Can a group be independent?
SW: We are partnering with the SF-SPCA because they have a lot of visibility and they will be putting up a website for us as part of their online presence. They are also giving us some money so we can get any cat we place a health check, microchip etc. My other organization, Friends of Roman Cats, a 501 c3 nonprofit, has taken Cats on the Job as a local program. As a nonprofit we are in much better shape to deal with the SPCA than if we were just individuals. Any donations for Cats on the Job will go through Friends of Roman Cats. We have some fund raisers planned.
CF: Where can a group learn how to set this up?
SW: Anyone interested may contact us for our protocols which are written up. It’s lengthy but they will know what it takes to start up a similar program. It is one more way of placing cats that might otherwise not be adopted.
CF: If a business wants a cat or two how do they go about getting one through Cats on the Job?
SW: After they contact us we send 2 people to their location to make an assessment to see if we think the place is safe for cats. We find out what it is they want the cats to do.
We make a list of things the people need to change or fix at the location so the cats will be safe and have easy access to food and water, and litter boxes. If the people don’t respond to our requests, we politely say we don’t think they are good candidates.
CF: How are these programs funded? Tax payer money or donations?
SW: No taxpayer money! It’s all donations.
CF: What types of cats are ideal candidates for Cats on the Job?
SW: Sometimes feral cat colonies need to be relocated because they are threatened. Relocating cat colonies is extremely hard to do, so we are able to draw from the feral colonies. We can place shy and under socialized cats who have been taken to Animal Care and Control which is our city run animal shelter. Many rescuers have foster cats in their homes who might be considered if the location is safe.
CF: How many cats can be in one location?
SW: We think a pair of cats is the optimum number. Each situation is unique.
CF: What can an office expect from having an office cat?
SW: People who want an office cat might want one that may become quite friendly over time. However people must understand these are not going to start out as lap cats.
CF: What types of businesses benefit from having a cat or two around?
SW: All sorts of businesses! Bookstores, retail stores, pet stores plant nurseries are the obvious choices. We are more than happy to evaluate any business that wants working cats, in particular for rodent control. Cats aren’t allowed in places where food is sold or served. Although we wish that would change!
CF: What businesses are not ideal for having cats around?
SW: Businesses that deal with toxic substances, substances the cats can get into and places where the cats can’t be kept reasonably secure.
We make certain that everyone in the business is on board with having cats around. To help everyone with this new idea we suggest a contest for employees to come up with the best name for the new cat. A recent cat that we placed at an art exhibit space was named Georgia O’Kitty, a great play on words about the great artist Georgia O’Keefe.
CF: How is food paid for?
SW: This is like a regular adoption, so we expect the people or company to feed and care for them just like with any cat adoption.
CF: How is veterinary care paid for?
SW: The SF-SPCA gives the cat an initial health check. If the cat needs anything special Cats on the Job would consider paying or partially paying as long as we have the funds. Ultimately the cat is the new owner’s responsibility.
CF: Let’s say a cat is placed in a warehouse – is there one employee in charge of the cat? Someone to feed the cat, tend to the litter boxes, and notice if the cat is ill? Or would someone from the organization do this?
SW: We make certain there is a trained primary person at the business where we place the cats. This person will take responsibility for them and set up a team to feed them, particularly on weekends and during vacation times. We are on call to give advice and we will come by and make an assessment if the business feels they are having a problem.
CF: We love the name “Cats on the Job.” Can anyone use it? Would you want them to also use their city name, for example:
Cats on the Job: Cleveland, Ohio.
SW: Yes, that’s how we’d like them to use it, with their city name attached. Or better yet – get creative and come up with your own name! Originally we were using Working Cats assuming that the Los Angeles group would be flattered and see it as for the greater good, but they told us to stop using it.
Interested in starting a similar program in your community? Contact Susan Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org