Sheila Massey is a talent agent of sorts tending to her non-paying clients in an effort to find them stable gigs doing the only thing they know how: hunting for a living. Her “clients” are part of New York City’s feral cat population, and they need homes. But not just any home will do.
“They don’t want to be on anybody’s sofa,” explained Massey of the nonprofit Hard Hat Cats, “but they make great working cats.”
Massey spends her days introducing herself to the management and owners of places like breweries, bodegas, warehouses, and anywhere else that might be dealing with rodent issues, offering them the services of her furry clients and their nontoxic pest control methods.
“If you do it properly the cats adapt very, very well,” Massey noted while adding, “The rats say, ‘Oh, now we have a predator on site, a new sheriff in town, we’re out of here,’ and they leave.”
Hard Hat Cats works in conjunction with the Animal Care Centers of NYC (ACC) to locate suitable living arrangements for felines that likely aren’t pet material. They come from a variety of environments, like the homes of hoarders, feral cat colonies, and even felines with known behavioral issues.
Massey shared that during the past three years, she’s been able to place approximately 30 kitties in varying businesses, as well as community gardens and apartment buildings, but her luck has been strongest with local breweries and distilleries.
“Cats have been alongside alcohol making going back to medieval times,” said Colin Spoelman, co-founder of Kings County Distillery (KCD) in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Recognizing that fact, it should come as no surprise, then, that KCD employed two Hard Hat Cats in August of 2021. Named Harold and Maude, Spoelman added, “When you’re hiring cats, as opposed to just having cats, I mean, you do want them to be a little street smart.”
Aline Nocera, KCD’s tours and events manager, looks after Harold and Maude by keeping their litter boxes clean and providing them with food and fresh water. “[The cats] were at first extremely skittish and scared and then slowly just started to open up,” Nocera said. Now, Harold has taken to accompanying tour groups and even posing for photo ops with visitors. “They definitely bring joy to the workplace,” she said.
“It’s just unbelievable how the cats have their own personalities and become more of a mascot than a mouser,” stated Massey. “This is like a side benefit I really hadn’t anticipated.”
Massey admitted that she did not always have an affinity for cats saying, “I was a dog person my whole life,” until she was convinced to adopt a kitten off the street, “and I fell in love. I always say, this little cat, Sadie, changed my life because I’m a cat lady now.”
I am broadly interested in how human activities influence the ability of wildlife to persist in the modified environments that we create.
Specifically, my research investigates how the configuration and composition of landscapes influence the movement and population dynamics of forest birds. Both natural and human-derived fragmenting of habitat can influence where birds settle, how they access the resources they need to survive and reproduce, and these factors in turn affect population demographics. Most recently, I have been studying the ability of individuals to move through and utilize forested areas which have been modified through timber harvest as they seek out resources for the breeding and postfledging phases. As well I am working in collaboration with Parks Canada scientists to examine in the influence of high density moose populations on forest bird communities in Gros Morne National Park. Many of my projects are conducted in collaboration or consultation with representatives of industry and government agencies, seeking to improve the management and sustainability of natural resource extraction.