They are the homeless of the domestic animal world -- colonies of feral cats that roam residential neighborhoods and lurk around office buildings and commercial garages, scavenging for food.
Unlike other strays that might rub up against a leg hoping for a crumb or a head rub, these felines are so unaccustomed to human contact that they dart away when people approach. Feral cats cannot be turned into house pets. When they end up in municipal shelters, they have little hope of coming out alive.
On the job
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But one animal welfare group has figured out a way to save their lives and put them to work in Los Angeles. The Working Cats program of Voice for the Animals, a Los Angeles-based animal advocacy and rescue group, has placed feral cats in a handful of police stations with rodent problems, just as the group placed cats in the rat-plagued downtown flower district several years ago -- to great effect.
Six feral cats were recently installed as ratters in the parking lot of the Los Angeles Police Department's Southeast Division, and another group will be housed at the Central Division early in the new year.
Their reputation as furtive and successful exterminators grew after feral cats were introduced to the parking lot of the Wilshire Division nearly six years ago. Rats had been burrowing into the equipment bags that bicycle officers stored in outside cages; inside the facility, mice were sometimes scurrying across people's desks.
"Once we got the cats, problem solved," said Cmdr. Kirk Albanese, a captain at the Wilshire station at the time. "I was almost an immediate believer."
After Albanese moved to the Foothill Division in the northern San Fernando Valley, he introduced feral cats to the building's mice-infested basement in 2004.
"I think it's a very humane way to deal with a very stubborn problem," said Albanese, now assistant to the director in the office of operations at Parker Center, which has its own rat problem.
This sounds like a win-win situation.