Friday, June 24, 2011

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

Read more articles by Julia Williams


  1. I'm grateful my crew takes care of all the large bugs and scorpions! And snakes...YIKES!

  2. That is very interesting. What a great job for kitty cats. Free food and get to go hunting too plus people to give them some good attention. I did not realize that that was done but it is a great solution. Thanks for this info.

  3. Wonderful post! I visited Key West in the mid 90s, and most of my memories of the visit are about the cats. They were everywhere, not just on the grounds of the museum, and they all looked well-fed and healthy.

  4. Every feed store I know of in S. Calif has a resident cat, usually lounging on the counter or prime greeting spot, but I bet at night they help keep the critters away.

  5. You know I love working cats!! I'm planning to do a week of "working cats" posts soon! Yay, Longwood Gardens is amazing..I hope to get a chance to visit all of the other places someday too (esp. Key West!!)

  6. HA, and the humans say we just lay around all day! Hooray for working cats everywhere!!!

  7. We've got one of the best 'Verminators' around. Our little guy brings home everything he can catch. I've been to The Hemingway Museum in Key West and it's cool to see all those kitties.

  8. What a brilliant job they do. I believe they acutally like the idea of a job. We have one male cat as part of our little colony who clearly sees it as his job to welcome people to the property. People always comment on how friendly he is - no one misses out on noting him!!
    P.S. Thanks SO much for your many lovely comments on Gods Little People.

  9. What an awesome article! You're right - dogs are hailed often for their work, cats are just taken for granted. I love the info about these places, how cool it must be! We've got our own verminators, and will wholeheartedly attest to their excellence :)

  10. Very interesting post - guess we are guilty too of not thinking of cats as workers - they always seem to be lolling around to us:) BOL

    Thanks for all your visits to our blog and your sweet comments.

    Woos ~ Phantom, Thunder, and Ciara

  11. Very interesting I never knew about any of this. You can't get better mouse control than a sweet kitty. They take care of lots of other pests too. Hugs

  12. That was such a great article. The only "vermin" we've had in our house is the occasional housefly. And in such cases, Moosey is our official resident Verminator. What a hoot to watch him jump and bound after them. :)

  13. Interesting to learn that about the Alamo and the other attractions. It would seem to be true that cat lovers would flock to a site with one or more cats. So the cats should be paid, since they're really working. :)

  14. We enjoyed learning about the working kitties! We've heard there are working feral kitties at Disneyland too to keep the mice away but of course not Mickey!

  15. Excellent! I love a cat with a job. Mine are so lazy and need a good workin'-cat role model. I'm going to make them read this post. :)

  16. I know I would definitely be more inclined to visit if there was a cat to see!

  17. Wow ! what an interesting blog.Thanks for sharing this information.Your information is really informative for us.
    Nice blog on rodent control
    Keep sharing more & more.....


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