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Evanston aldermen Monday started exploring the idea of whether feral cat colonies could be effectively used to control rats in the city.

The discussion at the Human Services Committee meeting was prompted, Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, indicated, by a decision by residents of the Sherman Garden co-op development to set up a feral cat colony to deal with what Fiske described as “a huge rat population” there.

Public Health Manager Ike Ogbo said the city now has only limited and somewhat conflicting rules about such an arrangement.

The city code, he said, allows residents to feed feral mammals as long as approved containers are used.

But it bans free-roaming cats from public parks, playgrounds and sidewalks and bans noise or property destruction by cats as a nuisance.

Using feral cats to deal with rats has become a popular strategy in Chicago recently, drawing attention from media organizations ranging from Chicago Business to NPR.

And several animal care groups in the region, including Tree House Humane Society, offer Trap-Neuter-Return programs that help restrict the size of feral cat colonies and train volunteer “colony managers” to oversee them.

But Health Director Evonda Thomas said evidence that cats can reduce the rat population is mostly anecdotal.

She said the state health department favors sanitation, rodent-proofing and trapping as techniques for rat control and that the state natural resources department sees dangers to wildlife whenever feral cats are present.

The aldermen asked staff to invite representatives from the animal care groups to speak at the committee’s July meeting.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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12 Comments

  1. Feral Cats is a Very Bad Idea
    Introducing feral Cats into the Evanston community is as bad an idea as I have heard generated in this city. Ask folks from Australia how that idea worked there. Feral Cats will cause several times more difficulties than they will solve problems; ironically, this is one of the few times that I agree with the State of Illinois’ approach to solving a problem: better sanitation circumstances at each residence, remove ground cover-style gardening so as to eliminate hiding/nesting safe havens, and trapping as a last resort.

    Who possibly came up.with the concept of feral cats?

      1. It’s a really bad idea
        Not only will there be cats getting run over by cars all over the city, they will bite rats that are already eating poison, so the cats will get sick or die. Why doesn’t the city just get a bunch of Giant-Destroyer Smoke Bombs for rodent control, it’s simple, you fill in most of the holes, drop one in where there is an opening, and cover it up once it starts smoking, then water the hole a little to seal off the smoke from escaping. It’s not hard to get rid of rats, it is an urban myth, it just takes effort. AND Sanitation at all these eating establishments. Cats are not going to do it, at most they will just chase them off to some other location so they can be a problem somewhere else… Cats on the farm are not the same as cats in the city, it will just put them in harms way and scatter the rats…

    1. Feral cat concept

      Gavin, you ask who possibly came up with the concept of feral cats – this concept has been used successfully throughout the United States.  You can check out Alley Cat Allies website to learn more. 

      I'm not aware of any difficulties feral cats present. They're actually already there, you just don't see them. 

      As for rats…groundcover, or the reduction of, has very little to do with rat populations. Water is the biggest attraction, so where you have water (and gutters), you will have rats. Unless you have cats. It's pretty simple.

  2. Birds
    It’s worth exploring I guess. It would have ramifications for the bird population, though. At least that’s what I’ve heard happened in Chicago.

    1. Rodents aren’t the only thing the cats will hunt
      Indeed, it will be devastating to the songbird population. I love cats, but not in this instance.

  3. Problem solved

    If the feral cats get out of hand we can release packs of feral dogs. Remember the old lady who swallowed a fly?

    1. That is quote of the Day!!!
      Love it….you are the winner! Maybe we can release tigers if feral dogs get out of control or hyenas? Ha ha
      Releasing feral cats to curb rat populations is sign of a third world city….c’mon…pick up the trash and stop putting it in crappy paper bags…use plastic!

    2. She swallowed a horse,
      She swallowed a horse, perhaps she’ll die.

      She’s dead, of course.

      I hope this is not the same old lady that lived in a shoe.

  4. Give it a try
    The city’s efforts to control rats is largely anecdotal. City inspectors work 9am-5pm after garbage has been picked up and the rats are back in their nests. For years the city’s response has been “nothing to see here, nothing to do here.” Time for something new.

  5. There are already feral cats in Evanston

    No one needs to "import" feral cats to Evanston – they are already here! Up until now, there has not been a systematic plan in Evanston with how to control their population (it has been up to individuals to undertake trap-neuter-return — TNR — like in Sherman Gardens). TNR and colony management will reduce the feral cat population in Evanston (reduce the number of calls to animal control about cats and kittens living under porches) and therefore reduce predation on birds. in 2007, a Cook County ordinance made TNR the recommended way to humanely control the feral cat populations. Let's support this idea so everyone — cats and humans — benefits.

  6. Out with cats in with snakes

    Evanston is missing a key element to it's wildlife ecosystem, SNAKES!  Harmless, native snakes released would decimate the rat population.  Snakes go into the burrows and eat the babies, exactly what we need… 

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