Looking For A Barn Buddy? This Kentucky Group Can Help Find You The Perfect Mouser

Many readers have long enjoyed our Barn Buddies series, which featured companion animals of all sorts in stud barns, racing shedrows, and hobby farms. (See the full Barn Buddies archive here.) While we have profiled a wide variety of species in the series, it was originally born out of the popularity of barn cats (and cats on the internet). One Lexington, Ky., based non-profit is hoping to make barn cats even more of a fixture on the area’s Thoroughbred and sport horse farms.

The best ideas are born when someone can patch together two problems with a single solution, and Working Cat Project founder Peyton Skaggs has managed to do exactly that, relatively quickly. Back in the dreamy, pre-pandemic days of January 2020, Skaggs found herself riding a train through Paris at midnight on New Year’s Eve. As her friends began making their resolutions for the year ahead, Skaggs resolved to find a way to help feral cats.

Skaggs had volunteered with a number of Central Kentucky shelters before and knew how many feral cats went unplaced and, ultimately, euthanized. An adult feral cat is a tough sell to a family that wants an indoor companion they can pet and play with. Likewise, she had learned there was an interest by horse farms in using cats as a chemical-free solution to rodents in the feed room, but many had negative experiences.

“That’s why I named it the Working Cat Project – people in the racing world look at horses as workers,” she said. “They love them, but they have a job, a role, and that’s just how farm people are. I wanted to advertise [the cats] as workers and employees.

“We try to make the process as easy as possible for the adopters so they’ll want to come back, adopt more, and tell their friends, because we work with cats that have no other option. We work with cats that we are their last chance.”

The missing link, Skaggs believed, was education and networking, and that’s when the Working Cat Project was born. The program attained 501c3 status in May 2020 and works by making the process of having a barn cat as easy as possible for the host farm. Cats are spayed or neutered and fully vaccinated before they arrive to their new work assignment. Skaggs communicates with shelters with feral cats in need of placement and brings the cat, along with a 42-inch kennel, food, and water and litter, and sets the cat up in a safe spot in the barn for four weeks. The mistake many people make with acclimating a new barn cat, she said, is letting them roam too soon.

“That’s where a lot of people go wrong,” she said. “You can’t just take a wild animal, more or less, and let them loose. Even if you brought a friendly cat home and put them on your back porch, they probably wouldn’t ‘stick.’ The kenneling process is to ensure the cats stick.”

Barn staff obviously have to clean the litter box while the cat is kenneled, but after it’s released, they only need to refill food and water. Skaggs comes to collect the equipment after the cat is loose in the barn. More often than not, she said the people in the barn bond with the cats, some of whom become more friendly with time and repeated positive experiences during their kennel time.

“One of the most rewarding parts has been seeing how much people adore the cats,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘I’m not a cat person,’ and then I’ll get pictures three weeks in and they’ve bought them toys and cat houses and say they’ve been convinced. It’s been really sweet.”

Skaggs meets a horse during a placement check-in for the Working Cat Project

Skaggs is delighted by the success of the program, which has come almost entirely from social media referrals, since she has been unable to promote or fundraise in person due to COVID-19. She said she looks forward to continuing the program as a stress relief from her busy schedule – she is in a pre-med program at the University of Kentucky and preparing to begin medical school there soon. She thinks of the Working Cat Project as a memorial to her cat Jack, who died unexpectedly of lymphoma at 14 months old.

The program just celebrated its 200th placement and has satisfied farm managers at Calumet Farm, Denali Stud, Three Chimneys, Fares Farm, and Kessler Show Stables among many others. The majority of placements are in Central Kentucky, but Skaggs has traveled as far as Louisville and Somerset to bring a cat to a new home. The program does not have a set adoption or equipment fee, simply a suggested donation for each placement. If a cat has a medical issue, Skaggs will help trap the animal and get it to a veterinarian for help.

“I’d say I’m basically on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week for questions or concerns,” she said.  “I set my mind to something and I just do it, even if it means working through the night.”

The post Looking For A Barn Buddy? This Kentucky Group Can Help Find You The Perfect Mouser appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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