About the Community Cats & cats at work programs

We’re so happy one of our favorite programs is receiving so much attention! Catch us on WGN, Fox Chicago, and NPR’s Morning Edition, as well as in publications like People, The Hill, and The Independent. We even got made fun of on Stephen Colbert (a huge honor, to be clear) and ended up on Reddit.

When they told us cats were big online, we weren’t expecting like this! That said, we understand these programs bring up a lot of questions. Our vision is a world where every cat thrives, and that means making sure they’re placed and cared for somewhere that’s best for them. 

Feral cats, and especially feral cats without safe habitats, have frequently been overlooked in the past, often resulting in long stays at animal control or even euthanasia. Our Community Cats and Cats at Work programs help us save cats in every environment.

Not sure what to make of all this? Read our blog post with everything you ever wanted to know about our feral cat programs!

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cat on a chicago trash can

Community Cats

The Community Cats program focuses on outdoor cats and finding long-term living solutions for them. For those that are stray or abandoned, Tree House rehomes them through our adoption program. For those that are feral and for whom the outdoors is their home, managed community colonies provide healthy, nurturing environments.

In 2007, Cook County passed the Managed Care of Feral Cats ordinance, which permits the creation of managed feral cat colonies. Tree House manages over 1,000 colonies that are home to more than 4,000 outdoor cats. Colony caretakers are registered with Cook County and receive training and support from Tree House. Caretakers are responsible for providing food, water and shelter to the cats in their care. Caretakers are also expected to spay or neuter the cats in the colony. They trap and bring their cats to Tree House’s in-shelter clinic to be neutered, vaccinated and micro-chipped. 

Cats at Work

Sometimes, a feral cat is rescued from a dangerous habitat, or that habitat is destroyed by natural or human intervention. Rather than returning these cats to unsafe outdoor habitats, Tree House founded the Cats At Work program in 2012. We connect displaced feral cats with colony caretakers who may need help with pest control. 

Since it’s founding, we’ve placed over 1,000 cats in the program and they’ve enjoyed thriving lives ever since. 

More Resources

Don’t just take it from us!

Curious about community cats practices? Learn more from the ASPCA here!

Studies done at University of Florida show we’re on the right track, and have even more work to do. Read more here!

Curious about how it affects other wildlife? Read this from Best Friends!


I read you’re “releasing” cats on the streets. Is this true?

Not quite! Our Cats At Work are feral cats. In our TNR efforts, we make our best attempt to return the cat to its home environment. Sometimes, though, that environment is gone or unsafe because of human intervention. Because these cats would not thrive in a shelter or home environment, they’ve been overlooked in the past, resulting in long stays at animal control and even euthanasia. Our program finds new, safe outdoor placements for them so they can live their best lives.

1,000 cats all at once?!

Sometimes, a headline doesn’t tell the whole story. Our Cats At Work program has placed 1,000 cats since it was founded in 2012. We place approximately 10 – 15 feral cats each month, depending on safety and demand. As silly as the image of 1,000 cats being unleashed into the streets for rat combat sounds, it’s not quite the truth of our program!

Shouldn’t we be taking cats off the streets?

Our Cats at Work cats are feral cats, not house cats, that need to be relocated for various reasons (including loss of habitat, human intervention, or loss of a caretaker). Because they would not thrive in a shelter or home environment, these cats have frequently been overlooked in the past, often resulting in long stays at animal control or even euthanasia. We trap, neuter, and vaccinate feral cats before returning them to an outdoor colony with a registered caretaker. These caretakers make sure their cats are well cared for by providing food, water, and shelter!

What will the cats do for food and water?

We place Cats at Work cats with caretakers who provide food, water, and shelter and attend to their medical needs. In most cases, the cats are better cared for after placement in the Cats at Work program than they were before. 

What about the bird population?

By practicing TNR (trap/neuter/return), we are able to control cat populations and reduce the number of feral cats and create a net positive impact on the small animal population of Chicago. While outdoor cats (managed and not) are natural predators to birds, Tree House Cats at Work are also provided with food, water, and shelter. Our friends at Best Friends have an excellent resource on how TNR helps with wildlife conservation! You can read that here: https://bit.ly/BestFriendsTNR

Don’t rats carry disease?

Our Cats at Work cats are feral cats who have already gone through the trap/neuter/return process and are vaccinated against diseases like rabies. While feral cats do kill rats, often their pheromones are enough to scare rats away.


Want to support our Community Cats or Cats at Work program? You can help!


We’re partnering with Kitizen Science to measure our impact, and we need your help!

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Did you know our Veterinary Wellness Center helps expand the reach of our Trap/Neuter/Return efforts?

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Become a Caretaker

Are there feral cats in your area? Are you hoping to adopt a Cat at Work? We can help!

apply to become a colony caretaker


Your support helps us provide caretakers with materials like shelters, food, water, and resources.

donate now