CATS AT WORK: Alternative Placement for Feral Cats

Feral cat relocation is a last resort and is only considered in urgent situations; for one reason or another these unsocialized cats cannot be returned to their original territory. Because this population is not suitable for a traditional shelter-to-couch adoption, a need arose for residences or businesses willing to host an outdoor colony of cats as new Community Caretakers. For these circumstances, Tree House created the Cats at Work program! These are feral cats who wouldn’t thrive in a home or shelter environment. By placing them in Cats at Work colonies, we’re able to make sure they’re living their best lives. Cats are placed two or three at a time into residential or commercial settings. Property and business owners provide food, water, shelter, and wellness to their colony of cats and in return, they help keep the rodent population at a manageable level. In most cases, they become beloved members of the family or team and some even have their own Instagram pages!

Hire a Cat At Work

I am interested in adopting “working cats,” what is required?

  1. An area where the acclimation crates can be placed; a private, shaded area is preferred! We’ll work with you to determine the area most suitable for you and the cats!
  2. Owning the property the cats will be placed in or having permission from your landlord to place them.
  3. Neighbor support! Let’s foster good neighbor relationships and give our neighbors a heads up. 

Due to food safety laws, we aren’t able to accept applications from restaurants at this time.

Food Code Laws

Page 208 6-501.115 Prohibiting Animals.

(A) Except as specified in Paragraphs (B) and (C) of this section, live animals may not be allowed on the PREMISES of a RETAIL FOOD ESTABLISHMENT. Pf (B) Live animals may be allowed as follows, if the contamination of FOOD; clean EQUIPMENT, UTENSILS, and LINENS; and unwrapped SINGLE-SERVICE and SINGLE-USE ARTICLES cannot result

Rules & Regulations

4-8-031 Retail food establishment (b) No retail food establishment shall permit any animal, other than a service animal assisting a person with a disability, on any portion of the retail food establishment’s premises, unless all of the requirements in subsection (d) of this section are complied with.

Municipal Code of Chicago

I want to adopt “working cats,” what would my everyday look like?  

Relocation is broken up into two major parts: acclimation for three weeks and release. The acclimation period is a crucial time for the cats. It’s when the cats become familiar with the scents and sounds in their new environment. By making bonding attempts and sticking to a consistent feeding routine, you strengthen the bond!

  1. Morning: Practice Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Law: ring the feeding bell and feed the cats in the acclimation crate. We want the cats to associate the bell with food. While feeding the cats, make an attempt to bond with them by talking to them or sitting near them for a couple of minutes. 
  2. 1-2 hours later, remove the food that was uneaten. Remaining food can attract other critters and we want the cats to get used to finishing their meal within a certain period! 
  3. Early evening: ring the bell and feed the cats in the acclimation crate. And, you guessed it, make an attempt to bond with them! Sticking to a feeding schedule assists with seeing the cats at the same time each day.
  4. 1-2 hours later, remove the food that was uneaten. 

When the cats are released after being in the acclimation crate for three weeks, practice the same feeding schedule! Consistency is key.

This sounds great, but I travel a lot for work. Can Tree House feed the cats while I’m gone? 

Although we’d love to help and say hi to the kitties, we have hundreds of colonies in the city. Neighbor and family support to tackle feedings during trips is encouraged.

Where can I start?

If you’d like more information on the program, please join our waitlist. We’ll get in touch with you as applications open up.

Please keep in mind that joining the waitlist does not guarantee you’ll receive cats in the future. It’s simply a way for us to reach out and dive deeper into our program together, ensuring that your site is the perfect fit for hosting cats.

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.  Free-roaming cats, and especially free-roaming 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. Read our blog post with everything you ever wanted to know about our feral and free-roaming cat programs!


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

Not quite! We work with community members to find ideal location for the cats that are in need of this program. Our Cats At Work are feral or free-roaming cats and become part of the community!

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 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!

Is there a cost?

The base cost for the program ranges between $275-$350. This covers the supplies the cats will need during acclimation and beyond. Any concerns regarding cost? Let us know!

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.  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!

Chicago is cold! How do they survive the winter?

Chicago winters are pretty brutal, but it’s nothing community cats can’t handle! Tree House provides insulated shelters, heated pads, and a heated water bowl to help keep the cats warm. You may see the cats less because they hibernate just like other outdoor critters. Cats are incredibly resilient!


Any cat that Tree House rescues undergoes an acclimation and behavior assessment by our clinic staff. We do our best to ensure we aren’t placing cats outside who might thrive better indoors. Sometimes, an outdoor or free roaming cat will grow comfortable with their caretakers and neighbors they see often. Cat behavior is as nuanced as human behavior! To learn more about the socialization spectrum, read this helpful piece from our friends at Alley Cat Allies.

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!

Don’t rats carry disease?

Our Cats at Work cats are free-roaming 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.