As Thor Cheston remembers it happened in the middle of a Saturday. The weather was temperate and the Right Proper Brewing Company’s taproom door in Brookland was open. Cheston, the co-owner of the brewery, saw before stroll out, past the guests enjoying a pint, and head towards the street. He didn’t expect what would happen next. She dived straight into the bushes, after a brief struggle pulled the corpse out and laid it in front of the door. It was a rat, now dead.
Right Proper adopted the black and white cat in 2019 through Blue Collar Cats, a Humane Rescue Alliance program launched in 2017 that connects cats that are not suitable for traditional adoption with rooms where they can roam . Most of them are not ideal candidates for traditional adoption because they become depressed or fearful of people while in detention.
“These cats were physically healthy,” says Erin Robinson, a former HRA program manager. “But [they] had no socialization with people and would not benefit from living with people herself. They hadn’t done it, they didn’t want it, they didn’t like it. ”Living indoors was bad for both their mental and physical health.
Releasing these cats outdoors is also not an option. You might try to go back home and get lost; there are environmental hazards like traffic; or they might come across a “cat colony” that shares territory and doesn’t always welcome newcomers. HRA calls these “community cats”. Their notched ears indicate that they were captured, neutered, and returned to the area by the HRA. Many Blue Collar Cats are former community cats that had to be moved because of construction work or their food (a designated neighborhood resident who feeds them).
The BCC program was developed for this niche population and was inspired by stable cats that are not normally socialized but play an important role in their environment as a pest repellent. Since there were few barns in DC, Blue Collar Cats felt more appropriate. “These guys do a job,” says Robinson. “These cats are like kittens for handicrafts.” The goal is that, like Prima, they kill all pests or their smell scares them off.
First. Photo credit: Michael Loria
For those with rodent problems, having the right cat can be a godsend. before Regret Arriving in 2018, Greenstreet Gardens, Alexandria, lost hundreds of dollars to mice chewing through seed bags. First operations manager Tim Williams concerned that Rue was a dud – the crushed-faced cat preferred to idle on cacti. Then she entered a phase in which she caught a mouse every day. After that, all rodent problems became minimal. Today she can be found lounging triumphantly on the seed bags.
The experience is not always like that. Rossen Tsanov accepted Sam and Lucy in 2019 to protect his garden in Eckington. But unlike Rue, they were ineffective, Tsanov discovered one evening when he saw some rats chasing them away from their food. “The rats punked them,” he says. “It’s like you have a child and they are supposed to be the railway master and then they are the last to die.” Sometimes he blames himself for feeding the cats in the evening when rodents are active. He started giving the cats less food earlier in the day and has not seen the rats since. “They found out that there is no such thing as a constant supply of food,” he says.
Stacy Tannard, Owner of Broad Branch Market in Chevy Chase, reached out to HRA last year after packing up her store like a pop-up every night, even though she never saw more than one mouse in the cameras at a time. “Mice don’t jump into a loaf of bread and eat it all,” she says. “They jump into every loaf of bread.” It was her first rodent problem in business in 13 years.
But with time Mac and cheese when Tannard had already hired a specialist to deal with the problem. HRA Adoption Director Ashley Valm says there are fewer cats on the program today as the HRA built better relationships with community cat feeders and the behavioral team improved their training. They also took in fewer cats this year. Animal rights activists speculate that this could change if the eviction moratoriums are lifted.
The program is currently not accepting applications. Before this, applicants completed a form online and then HRA representatives came forward to confirm that the space would be suitable for these cats. “We have these undersocialized cats that we had no outcome options for before, and now people are climbing the walls to get these cats,” says Valm. They think this is a good problem for a shelter, even if the adoptive parents don’t like to hear it. Similar programs are being developed at the Montgomery County Animal Services and Adoption Center and Laurel Cats.
Though there’s little work to do at Broad Branch, Mac and Cheese now have a home in Chevy Chase. They stick a brown tabby or a Russian blue in the cellar, where they make the rounds. They can be hard to find and when found they look at you as if you are interrupting them. Results like this – a home for the cats to thrive in – is the goal of the program. “We’re not a store where you pick up a product to solve a problem for you,” says Valm. “We are an animal welfare organization”
The cats can be a welcome addition for employees. “[Rue’s] a good outlet for the employees, ”says Williams. “It’s relaxing just to interact with her.” She still prefers the outdoors, but in the years she’s at Greenstreet, she’s felt so good with the staff that they can pick her up even though she meows quietly in protest.
For Tsanov, part of what sparked his interest in the program is to enjoy that relaxing presence like he did in Bulgaria. “Cats in the neighborhood bring calm and comfort,” he says. “I like that very much and I missed it.” Today, Sam and Lucy are cherished neighborhood characters.
But it is a gamble. “[The HRA] gave me the scenario, ”says Tsanov. “Some could be friendlier and more loving, others stay wild forever and you just keep your distance.” In this case it turned out to be the former. Of the two, Lucy is friendlier and approaches pet visitors while Sam watches from behind with wide eyes.
Sam and Lucy represent another programming trend that is that most cats end up with homeowners rather than businesses. But when they got there, some neighbors raised an eyebrow. In order to move the cats to a new location, they must remain detained for at least two weeks to get used to the area, but ignorant neighbors called the police. “People who walk by see a huge cage with two cats in it for two weeks and can imagine what they’re thinking,” says Tsanov.
Others remain skeptical of people, but the pandemic appears to have affected Prima. She used to be barely visible during operating hours, but now she walks freely between groups of people and roams the bar like an employee, patroness and owner. “COVID has changed them,” says Bri, a bartender in the taproom. “It made her more social and a better cat.” She finds that children still let their hair stand on end.
Still, the scars she left are hard to forget. “She’s a murderer,” says Cheston. “It’s good for three pets and then it’s done with you. It’s all just a ruse to get you close and then it can eat your face. “