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Working Cats, a.k.a. “the Verminators”

By Julia Williams

Much has been written about the various types of “working dogs” that provide a great service to mankind. I’ve done several articles on “dogs with jobs” myself, and CANIDAE sponsors dozens of exemplary working dogs in their Special Achievers program. But working cats? Other than certified therapy cats – like the delightful Guido the Italian Kitty – you don’t hear a lot about cats with jobs. Nevertheless, working cats do exist and are becoming increasingly more common. They may not undergo the same rigorous training as police dogs or search-and-rescue dogs, but these highly skilled “Verminators” provide an invaluable service.

Farmers have known for eons that cats are the best way to keep a rodent population under control. Cats are also being used at various historical sites, public gardens and museums to keep the grounds rodent free. An extra benefit of having working cats on the premises is that the visiting public enjoys them as well. When word gets out, cat lovers flock to tourist attractions that have kitties on patrol.

Here are just a few places that use working cats to keep the mice away.

The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas

Legend has it that there’s almost always been a cat living at the Alamo. A Mexican soldier’s diary told of a friendly feline roaming the grounds in 1836, the year of the famous battle. In 1981, guards rescued a stray kitten from a tree and she began joining them on their rounds. Upon her death the cat – christened Ruby LeGato – was buried on the grounds. Now the Alamo has another famous feline resident, a plucky black-and-white cat named C.C. who’s been patrolling the gardens for about 14 years. 

“She's our guard kitty, and the grounds are her territory,” says Alamo employee Pattie Sandoval. “We may be her caretakers, but she's in charge here.” Pattie reports that even though C.C. is a senior now, she hasn’t forsaken her duties. The four-legged defender of the Alamo still patrols the premises and keeps them rodent free. Off-duty, C.C. might stroll along with visitors on a tour, pose for pictures, watch the koi carp in the pond or catnap in the bushes by the gift shop (which incidentally has a large collection of C.C. souvenirs, including a stuffed animal look-alike).

Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The Philbrook has two garden cats, a male named Acer and a female named Perilla, that have the run of all 23 acres. Garden manager Melinda McMillen calls her feline employees “the terminators” and says they do a very good job. The cats have become quite popular on the museum’s website and Facebook page. Recently, they were equipped with tiny cameras that record up to four hours of video and sound. The museum plans to put the cat-cam footage on Facebook from time to time, so fans of the furry videographers can see what they’ve been up to. So far, finding shady spots to catnap seems to be a top priority.

Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

Fourteen cats patrol the 1,077 acres at Longwood, which includes 20 indoor and 20 outdoor gardens. Each member of the Rodent Control Task Force has an assigned area of the garden and a human caretaker. In addition to their pest management duties, the purrsonable felines are also employed as greeters and work supervisors, and have reportedly perfected the art of “pruning” the catmint plants. Longwood is located 30 miles from Philadelphia, and 130 miles from New York City.

The Hemingway Museum in Key West, Florida

Although the 60-some cats that roam legendary writer Ernest Hemingway’s former home weren’t brought in specifically for rodent control, I’m sure they do a bang up job of it nonetheless. Supposedly, a ship’s captain gave Hemingway a polydactyl cat (a feline with extra toes) and he became quite taken with it. Upon his death in 1961, his estate became a museum and a home for his cats. About half of the cats living on the grounds today are polydactyl.

I know all too well just how quickly and efficiently a feline can dispatch a rodent who trespasses on its territory. My three ordinary housecats are great at keeping my home a “mouse free zone,” so it doesn’t surprise me that public museums, gardens and historical sites are making good use of talented verminators. If you know of any other places that have working cats on rodent patrol, please share! 

Top Photo: C.C. the Alamo Cat taking a break
Bottom Photo: Acer on patrol at the Philbrook

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