Dinah, a “blue-collared cat” from Logan Circle. Photography courtesy of Jessica Drake.
Rats are one of the oldest nuisances of urban life.me tooLike many US cities, DC has been unable to eradicate its thriving rodent population – our nation’s capital remains one of the noisiest cities in the country. While the District has taken steps to address the issuesome DC residents have resorted to their own means of pest control.
rat hunting dogs, for example, now patrol Georgetown and Adams Morgan to catch and kill rats. But they are not the only four-legged mercenaries out there.
Blue Collar Cats is a Human Rescue Alliance program founded in 2017 that sends “community cats” (stray cats not used to people) from its Cat Neighborhood Partnership Program (CatNiPP) to different DC neighborhoods to to serve as a “rat patrol”. After an application is accepted (applicants are usually a group of several neighbors), the program takes the cat to its new location, where it spends four weeks of “deep decompression” in an extra-large dog crate with all the essentials.
“The caregivers or adopters visit the cat daily to refresh its food, water and sand, but they do not open the cage. That’s the acclimation period,” says Maureen Sosa, director of pet support and adoptions at the Human Rescue Alliance. “After that, they open the cage door and the cat can come and go as it pleases. They keep feeding them so they keep coming back, and that’s the time they learn their area.”
Since its inception, Blue Collar Cats has placed more than 400 of these working cats in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. “So that’s 400 cats that may not have had a successful life outcome at one of our sister shelters that doesn’t have options to place these cats,” Sosa says.
But the question remains: How effective are these cats against the rat population? And how does the use of cats to control rats compare to the use of rat-catching dogs?
“[Cats] They don’t even have to do anything all the time, just their presence will often scare away the rodents,” says Sosa. “I think they are an effective type of deterrent. Restaurants and homeowners have used it and have been very successful.”
Logan Circle resident Jessica Drake, 39, is a fan of the show, mentioning the benefit of “no longer having a rat jumping out of my garage.” She says that after joining the show in December 2019, “We haven’t seen evidence that they killed rodents, but we haven’t seen evidence of rodents since either.”
The HRA is critical of the use of rat-catching dogs, because the dogs kill by shaking the rodents aggressively to break their necks. According to an HRA statement emailed to washingtonian, “killing rodents in this way is extremely inhumane. It is also an ineffective means of management for an entrenched rodent population.”
Dog owners don’t see it that way.
“Cats are usually one and done,” he says Bomani Mtume rat catcher dog owner. “They won’t make more than one rat because that’s how they do it [it]. These dogs go on and on and on. They will put them down and prepare to get another one. That’s what they were bred for, you know?
But Bobby Corrigan, an unofficial “rat czar” in New York City with a PhD in urban rodents, is skeptical about using cats or dogs to control rats. Corrigan acknowledges that cats in DC aren’t as likely to kill rats as dogs. “If you ever go up against a fully grown rat in DC, and I have, you realize that before they die, they’re going to fight hard. They are very, very agile and very gymnastic.”
He notes that there are “really good papers by really good researchers” linking the presence of cats and cat urine to keeping rodents away from certain places. But still, he says there’s a slim chance that cats will actually be effective at deterring rodents, unless the environment, the size of the rat population, and the humans around them are all in favor of cats. . Translation: In DC, there are a lot more rats than cats.
Corrigan also doesn’t think dogs are a viable long-term solution: “Dogs will always kill some rats. So what? There are probably 500 more that took off somewhere in the sewers.”
Corrigan says the only scientifically proven way to keep rats out is to come together as neighbors to ensure everyone’s trash is disposed of safely: “It only takes trash from one property to feed an entire colony of rats.”