GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA — Lucifer came to the Guilford County Animal Shelter and all he did was hiss and spit.
The cat — who is solid gray, with the tip of one ear clipped — was feral. He had spent most his life outside, with minimal human interaction, and had zero interest in being touched or handled, placed in a cage or adopted into a home (hence the name).
Typically, he’d be held for 72 hours, evaluated for temperament issues, and most likely euthanized. However, Courtney Richards, the shelter’s foster and volunteer coordinator, had another idea for Lucifer.
“We have a big two-story barn in back of our house, and it was full of mice,” said Richards, who lives near the border of Guilford and Randolph counties. “So I brought him home to live there. And he’s doing his job. We still see some mice, but not nearly as many as we had.”
Living as barn cats, outdoor felines help with pest control in exchange for food and it’s a good compromise for feral cats, who may not flourish in a traditional home. Animal shelter officials are currently in the early stages of implementing an official barn cat program, where suitable ferals — those who will tolerate human contact but can co-exist with other animals, but would do better living outdoors — may be adopted by residents who aren’t in the market for a traditional kind of house cat.
Once the program is up and running, it should be a win for residents and for the cats, according to Logan Rustan, director of Guilford County Animal Services. The shelter receives a high volume of feral cats, Rustan stated, and while they may not want to use a litterbox or snuggle up on someone’s lap, they’re perfectly suitable for outdoor life in the country.
“They’re what we call community cats, in that you can touch and interact with them, but they don’t want to be in a cage or a house,” he said. “If I were to get 20 feral cats in a day, it’s more than likely that at least 12 to 15 of them could be candidates for the barn cat program.”
Shelter employees will evaluate each and every feral cat to determine its temperament, and not every cat will be eligible for adoption, he also said.
If shelter staff have to use special equipment to handle a feral cat, or if an animal is especially aggressive and does not calm down within the 72 hour period, it will be euthanized for liability reasons, Rustan said.
“They would most likely hurt someone, or attack another animal,” he went on to say. “These are not the cats you place into a colony, because they’re going to hurt someone.”
Adoption fees for barn cats will most likely be the same as they are for regular cats. which is currently $50. Rustan said he hopes to have the details of the program all worked out within two months, hopefully allowing people to begin taking home barn cats by the time summer arrives.
“It was a success for me, and for these feral cats, it’s better than just putting them down,” Richards said. “It still allows them to be feral. He’s a perfect pet. He’s doing his job.”