Around a decade ago, Black Beauty Ranch staff members found a tabby cat wandering the property. The HSUS sanctuary had hundreds of animals—including horses, pigs, bison and tigers—but a domestic cat was an odd sight. After realizing she had likely been dropped off by someone who could no longer care for her, the team decided to keep her.

The cat, now named Felicia, lives at the sanctuary’s equine center (far from wild animals for her safety) and spends her days exploring the stables and receiving attention from staff. The equine team cares for her daily needs and sanctuary veterinarians provide medical care.

She’s taken to the role of barn cat quite well. Maybe a little too well. “I would describe her as a diva,” jokes Christi Gilbreth, senior coordinator of outreach and development.

Felicia the farm cat curled up napping on an office chair.
Felicia diligently attends nearly every Black Beauty Ranch meeting.
Christi Gilbreth

“She really does what she wants and expects us to accommodate her.” During staff meetings, everyone vies for her attention. She often picks one lucky person to cuddle with.

Cats like Felicia have been living in barns for centuries. Historically, they were allowed to reproduce so farms always had working cats, says Danielle Bays, HSUS senior analyst of cat protection and policy. Shelters and rescues have shifted what it means to be a barn cat through “working cat” adoption programs, which place cats not just in barns, but also businesses such as plant nurseries, warehouses and retail stores.

For cats who won’t tolerate living indoors and who are unable to continue living where they were found outdoors, these programs provide an alternative to euthanasia. They pair people looking for a nontraditional adoption with cats who are already well suited to the lifestyle. The adopters agree to provide their “employees” daily care and veterinary treatment as needed. It’s not just shy cats who can go to work: Cats who enjoy human companionship but prefer more independence can make great additions to stores and workplaces.

Dory Rosati, a volunteer with our Animal Rescue Team who lives in rural Massachusetts, had been thinking about getting a few barn cats for a while. Although her indoor cats kept rodents from staying inside her home, they still ventured into the walls through her porch and basement, damaging the insulation. She hoped having feline guards outside would deter the unwanted visitors.

Three cats in crates in the back of a car.
Animal rescue volunteer Dory Rosati adopted three shy cats to help deter rodents from getting into her home.
Dory Rosati

That opportunity came after our Animal Rescue Team rescued 176 cats from residential properties in Mississippi in January 2023. Many had lived outdoors and were very timid. After months of behavioral work at our care and rehabilitation center, most of the cats came out of their shells. Some were still apprehensive, and the rescue team decided they would thrive as working cats. Rosati adopted three, now named Fettucine, Gnocchi and Ditalini.

Rosati slowly acclimated the cats to their new home before letting them roam freely. At first the cats stayed at a distance. But over the next few weeks, they became more comfortable with Rosati and her family. The trio have been a wonderful addition, Rosati says. She also notes that there have been no signs of rodents since she adopted the cats.

Bays says it’s not just people in rural areas who can save a life by adopting a working cat. As our culture becomes increasingly urbanized, cats are moving into other types of outdoor and working spaces. There are the famous bodega cats who greet customers in New York City, and craft breweries throughout the country are adopting cats to help deter rodents who might be attracted to grain—and to be companions for their human employees.

At Black Beauty Ranch, Felicia is both a barn and office cat. She’s in her senior years now but shows no signs of slowing down on the job.

Felicia the farm cat looking out a barn at Black Beauty Ranch.
Christi Gilbreth

How to manage your barn cat’s impact on wildlife

  • Consider native animals that may be extra vulnerable to cats, like ground-nesting birds. Barn cats aren’t appropriate in all settings.
  • Feed barn cats on a regular schedule, at the same time and location every day. Feed only as much as the cats will eat in one sitting and remove leftover food bowls right after mealtime to prevent attracting wildlife.
  • Remove bird feeders; they cause birds to congregate and be more vulnerable to predation. Consider native plants and bushes, which provide food and hiding spots for birds and other wildlife.
  • Provide toys and play games with your cats that will satisfy their hunting instinct.
  • Spay/neuter and vaccinate all barn cats to keep them healthy, minimize disease transmission and prevent overpopulation.
  • If possible, bring them indoors between dusk and dawn to protect wildlife and keep the kitties safe from nighttime predators.

Do you have a working cat? Send us photos of your feline on the job!

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