A presentation from the Community Cats at Work Program run by the Tree House Humane Society made to the Human Services Committee on Oct. 4 touted colonies of feral cats as a possible solution to the ever-increasing rat population problem in Evanston. One community, Sherman Gardens on Emerson Street, said a group of cats placed this summer almost immediately reduced rats by at least 90%.

Paul Nickerson from Cats at Work said the program has an “overwhelming success rare in curbing the rodent population” because rats “lack a natural predator.” There are now “close to 700 feral cat colonies in Cook County,” he said.

“We love our feral cats,” said Diane Petersmark of Sherman Gardens. “We’ve had excellent luck with our cats. Our gardens looked like Swiss cheese; we didn’t know what to do” this spring, she said, as rat holes were everywhere. Working with Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, Sherman Gardens contacted the Cats at Work program. The City agreed to allow the installation of a colony as a pilot program.

Situated between Lou Malnati’s and Las Palmas restaurants, the Sherman Gardens area was apparently rather an Eden for rodents, with ample sources of food and water everywhere. After the installation of the cat colony, which Mr. Nickerson said costs about $600, “90 to 95% of the rats are gone,” said Ms. Petersmark.

Additional colonies may not be in the offing, however. “Our City ordinance does not support feral cats,” said Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward. He mentioned that some the Sixth Ward residents who investigated feral cats as a possible solution to a rat problem in an alley, but abandoned the idea because of the Evanston ordinance. Ultimately, eliminating the attractive birdfeeders and compost heaps solved the problem there, he said. “Getting rid of sources also works,” he said.

Ald. Fiske referred the matter to staff, to draft an ordinance permitting feral cat colonies under appropriate circumstances.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said no ordinance should be drafted without hearing from someone “representing the bird community.” Cats are notorious for killing songbirds.

Ms. Petermark said she has yet to find a dead bird at Sherman Gardens. However, Mr. Nickerson said his three cats have killed perhaps 30 birds over a three-year period, compared to literally hundreds of rats.

Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward, said any ordinance should include a notice-to-neighbors provision, citing the “beehive issue,” when the committee dealt for about 18 months with the lack of a notice provision in its beekeeping ordinance before adding notice requirements.

Ald. Fiske agreed, and also asked for input from the Animal Welfare Board. She said for any feral cat colony there “needs to be a clear colony manager.”

All of the City efforts may be moot, however. Both Mr. Nickerson and Ald. Miller pointed to the Cook County Ordinance, which may preempt Evanston ordinances entirely because courts view the issue as regional rather than purely local.

The Committee directed staff to return with a draft ordinance, complete with community input from all referenced entities, and in compliance with County laws, by the first of the year.