MESQUITE, Texas — It had been only a month since Jared Walker picked up four feral cats, but he already noticed fewer pests encroaching on his property.
The Dallas Morning News reports Walker, who owns a 40-acre hay farm in Sulphur Springs, dealt with snakes slithering through his fields and a multitude of mice nibbling on the cables of his farming equipment.
That stopped when the Mesquite Animal Shelter offered him a long-term solution: feral cats hungry for prey.
"This is a good, easy, cost-effective solution to combat the problem that I've been facing for the last five years," Walker said.
The shelter's barn cat program, which started in April, matches up fixed feral cats, free of charge, with people who need pest control in farms, junkyards or near rural areas.
Walker tried to fight unwanted animals on his property with chemicals, which weren't as effective, he said. He also worried about the health effects the chemicals could have on his 2-year-old nephew, who often visits the farm, and his dogs.
Adopting the cats has made good business sense, too.
"I'm just giving them shelter and a little bit of food, and they save me, in the long run, a lot," Walker said.
Mesquite residents can set up traps to catch feral cats inside the city limits after obtaining a shelter permit, said Jeanne Saadi, managing director of Mesquite Animal Services. The permit, which can come with a loaner cat trap, is valid for up to three weeks and can be renewed by phone.
The shelter will pick up the trapped cat and keep the animal for three days in case it's a lost domestic cat — even if it shows feral traits like being aggressive and people-shy.
Then the cat is taken to a veterinarian, who checks its health and looks for skin diseases that may be transmitted to humans. After it is neutered or spayed, its ear is clipped and it is released.
"All cats have different personalities just like all people do," Saadi said. "Some of them may become a little friendlier and some of them may just want to do their job."
Most ferals are returned to the neighborhoods they were picked up from, unless residents ask that the cats be relocated. In those cases, the shelter finds them a new job through the barn cat program, a more humane practice than euthanizing them, Saadi said.
"These are really working cats, so I like to think of our barn cat program as the unemployment agency for feral cats," she
The shelter trapped, fixed and released 920 cats between 2017 and 2018. This year, it has received about 250, and about two dozen have been relocated through the barn cat program.
The trap-neuter-release strategy isn't exclusive to Mesquite. Dallas Animal Services has also chosen to fix feral cats and return them back to their neighborhoods.
"As long as they're healthy, we take them back," said Ed Jamison, director of Dallas Animal Services. "The theory behind it is that they're thriving because they have a food source, and catching and killing doesn't change the population. Controlling birth rates
Feral and stray cats produce around 80 percent of all the kittens born in the U.S., according to the Humane Society of the United States. Saadi said most residents complain when there are too many ferals but are usually happy to have a few around.
"They're going to be out there anyway, so we try to make sure they're not repopulating," she said.
For people like Walker who need the pest control, the more cats the merrier.
"I'll pick up as many as they're willing to give me," he said.