Case Study: Williamson County Working Cat Program

An offshoot of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) or Return-To-Field (RTF) programs is working cat programs, in which community cats that enjoy outdoor life are fed and cared for while “working” by providing pest control services for a barn, warehouse or business.

Franklin, Tennessee, one of the first BETTER CITIES FOR PETS™ certified cities, is host to a successful working cat program run by Williamson County Animal Center (WCAC). We asked them to share their experience and recommendations for cities interested in this type of program.

A Special Solution for Special Cats

Many lifelong outdoor cats do not want to become indoor or owned cats. They are independent, get stressed when confined and prefer to avoid interactions with people. That’s why the general best practice for TNR and RTF programs is to return outdoor cats to their home territory after they are spayed/neutered, ear-tipped and vaccinated.

But in some cases, that’s not possible. If an outdoor cat’s home location is no longer available or is too dangerous – for example due to new construction destroying the area where a cat colony lived – shelters look for other solutions, like working cat programs.

WCAC says they’re thrilled their working cat program offers an appropriate option for outdoor cats that would languish or suffer in shelters.

How it Works

In working cat programs, shelters invite local businesses to apply for working cats – WCAC typically has a waiting list, there is so much interest in their program!

While they are not participating in a complete TNR or RTF program, working cats are still spayed/neutered, ear-tipped and vaccinated to keep them healthy and continue to reduce overpopulation by outdoor cats. The difference is just that instead of being returned to their territory, the cats are placed with the business that needs their help. 

In exchange, the business provides a warm, dry shelter for the cats, daily food and water, and veterinary care as needed.

Examples in Practice

The local Williamson County landfill was having an issue with mice, so they reached out to WCAC to explore adding working cats for their office, since the office staff was very bothered by the rodents. WCAC had two cats who didn’t have the temperament for traditional adoption, so they arranged for the cats to live at the landfill. The arrangement has been a huge success, helping address the rodent problem and also helping socialize the cats. The staff says that having learned that they can trust their human caregivers to provide food, care and affection, the cats are now practically pets.

Another example comes from a local recycling center. They were looking for four cats to provide pest control in their warehouse, which provided a great opportunity for Buster, a cat who had been surrendered to WCAC twice, most recently for biting. His temperament didn’t fit with living in a home, but because he had been a pet most of his life, it wouldn’t be safe to place him at a barn or other location that would require “street smarts.” Since the recycling center warehouse is huge, it allows Buster to interact with humans only on his own terms and to live safely indoors, away from outdoor predators. Buster is thriving now, as are the other three working cats at the recycling center. The staff recently reported that Buster even follows them around the shop begging for treats and rolls on his back if they sweet talk him! It’s amazing what he has become given the opportunity to be himself.

Getting Started

The WCAC team urges cities or shelters that are exploring working cat programs to go for it! Not only does the program help outdoor cats, the Williamson County community has embraced the program. Even opponents of outdoor cats understand the need for working cats and that some cats are not happy without a job. 

The overall impact, WCAC says, is time saving. Even though it takes time to keep up with the list of potential business participants and identify appropriate placements, it’s time and resources well spent compared to letting cats languish in the shelter or having to consider euthanasia for unadoptable cats.

Learn more about Williamson County Animal Center and its working cat program by visiting

Want to know more? Check out our Community Cat Toolkit for an overview of community cat care, case studies, tools for citizens and more.

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