Cats find second chances in pest control


Yoshi, the first cat Jan adopted, exploring the farm.

“We love it out here,” says Jan Anderson, musing on the beautiful patch of farmland she and her husband Dennis have called home for years. There’s just one problem. The classic red barn and old farmhouse, located just northeast of Stillwater in Wisconsin, are a magnet for mice. Jan says barn cats have always been a necessity to keep their horse feed and the rest of their property pest-free.

When her two longtime mousers passed away of old age, Jan headed to Animal Humane Society’s Woodbury location in search of a kittens who could take over their duties. Explaining her situation to our staff, Jan learned about the Barn and Business Cats program.

All animals who come to Animal Humane Society receive medical exams and behavior assessments. Sometimes, our behavior team discovers that certain cats won’t make great pets inside of a home. They may react negatively to handling or use the litter box inconsistently. Since 2015, the Barn and Business Cats program has provided an alternative to traditional adoption by putting them to work in barns, flower shops, police stations, construction companies, and other businesses looking for inexpensive and effective rodent control. Nearly 500 felines have been adopted through the program in the last four years.

Jan welcomed the idea of giving adult cats who weren’t adoption candidates a life on the farm. She signed up for the email list that notifies potential Barn Cat adopters when a new cat needs placement.   Soon, a beautiful calico named Yoshi popped up in her inbox.

Yoshi came from a home but wasn’t adjusting well to shelter life — hissing and swatting at staff and showing no signs of acclimation. We knew finding her a traditional home would be a challenge. Luckily, Jan had always wanted a calico and immediately placed a claim on the 2-year-old beauty.

A specific set of instructions goes home with every Barn and Business cat adopter. Establishing a home base is a must. For the first two to three weeks, barn cats should be confined to one room with a litter box, food, and water. If allowed to roam immediately, a cat may never return.

Yoshi and horse

Yoshi comes nose-to-nose with the family's horse.

While hissing and standoffish at first, it took Yoshi less than a week to become Jan’s best friend, always happy and purring. Jan always trains her barn cats to associate “kitty kitty kitty” with suppertime, and taught Yoshi the familiar phrase.

Using a harness and leash, Jan took Yoshi on the cat’s first romp outdoors, showing her around the farm and introducing her to the five resident dogs one by one. Two weeks later, Yoshi had fully adjusted to her new living situation and had free reign of the property. And after a few rodent encounters, Yoshi took to her new role with ease.”

Following her success with Yoshi, Jan jumped at the chance to adopt Iris less than a month later. Like Yoshi, this calico lived with a family before coming to AHS. But she was fearful of people in the shelter and displayed increasingly aggressive behavior.

Once in Jan’s care, Iris completed the same trial period indoors. But given the chance to roam, she immediately disappeared for two days, frightening Jan enough that she took the adventuresome cat back inside for another week. Let outside again, Iris disappeared for four days, but eventually returned to the farm.


Iris rests in the afternoon shade.


Iris took longer to acclimate to farm life, but now fully enjoys life on the farm.

Although it took some trial and error, Iris is now fully adjusted to the farm and has become pals with Yoshi. The two play together, sleep together, and complement each other’s personalities.

Yoshi makes friends with everyone and comes when called. “She follows us around just like a dog!” says Jan. Iris is more independent — she loves attention in her down time, but revels in her freedom outdoors.

Iris and Yoshi

Yoshi and Iris have become friends, playing and sleeping together.

Iris and Yoshi with dogs

Jan and Dennis have five dogs, who the cats have slowly warmed to.

With freezing temperatures across the Midwest, the cats are only allowed to roam for about five hours every day. Otherwise, they enjoy relaxing in the warmth of their beds. Jan plans to install an insulated cat door soon so Yoshi and Iris can come and go as they please, no matter the weather. “It’s a great way of controlling your pest population while enjoying a cat,” says Jan.

Do you have a need for pest control or want to learn more? Check out our Barn and Business Cats information page.

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