Jim Trenter was fed up with the mice chomping into grass seed bags at his business’ warehouse — until he heard about the new “working cat” program of the Animal Humane Society.

Despite the fact that “cats” and “working” rarely appear in the same sentence, he adopted two felines. They now live and labor in the warehouse, which is suddenly mouse-free.

“Best employees I have had!” joked Trenter, manager at Ramy Turf Products in St. Paul. “And you feel really good about it. You’re able to give a cat that might be euthanized a good place to live.”

That’s precisely the goal of this program, designed to find less conventional living arrangements — and a full-time job — for cats that aren’t a success on the adoption floor.

While cats have been marketed to barns for some time, targeting businesses and beyond is a new strategy taking root nationally, said Katie Lisnik, director of cat protection and policy for the Humane Society of the United States.

“I haven’t seen the broader use of working cats until about a year or two ago,” said Lisnik. “You guys [in Minnesota] are definitely at the leading edge.”

These cats aren’t the instant cuddle buddies most desire. Some recoil at human touch. Some don’t use litter boxes regularly. Some are hissy and cranky. But they’re otherwise healthy and could be a good match for hobby farms, warehouses and other homes and businesses interested in nontoxic, trap-free rodent control.

Plus, many even become sociable in stable settings, lending themselves to the “work” of business mascot and customer magnet, said Anne Lally-Rose, site manager at the Humane Society in Buffalo.

“I’d love to see them in bookstores, in fire stations, police stations, any kind of business,” said Lally-Rose, who helped spearhead the project. “There’s something kind of nifty about having an office cat around.”

How it works

Twice a week, the Humane Society sends out an e-mail advertising cats on the job market to folks who express interest in hiring.

Trenter scrolled through the photos in February. He was losing up to $10,000 a year in seed and was in serious need of a warehouse warrior. Two tabbies looked up to the task.

Fritz and Nutmeg soon moved into their new home, a warehouse stacked with floor-to-ceiling grass seed and excellent hunting opportunities. Trenter provided food, water, litter box and sleeping areas. After several weeks getting adjusted, they started work.

Fritz now struts proudly down the warehouse aisles, a dead mouse on the floor proof that he’s doing his job.

Nutmeg hides from human visitors, but not from mice.

The cats are terrific employees, said Trenter. They’re dependable. Never late for work. Require no training.

“And they don’t talk back,” he joked.

One surprise, though, is that Fritz is friendly. He rubs the legs of strangers and warehouse staff, who get a kick out of their newest co-worker. He’s become their little mascot.

“I’d recommend this program to anyone,” said Trenter.

Job options

Businessmen such as Trenter would not have fit the Humane Society’s old preference for in-home housing for pets. With an out-of-home option available, new adopters are stepping forward.

Jayne Griffith, an epidemiologist from Blaine, heard about the working cat program from a co-worker. She had a “mouse infestation” in her garage so bad that her box of Christmas ornaments showed signs of a nocturnal visitor, and it wasn’t Santa.

Griffith was concerned about diseases transmitted by rodent droppings, but had hesitated over adopting a cat because of her three dogs. With other living arrangements available, she adopted Belle, a petite calico, and set up a cat space in her garage.

“She worked out wonderfully,” said Griffith. “She patrols the garage, walks around. She has a perch on some shelving, so she can see any activity.”

Plus, she get to tell her friends, “I finally have an employee,” she joked.

But like Trenter, Griffith found Belle to be more. Belle became a feline friend. She purrs. She likes to be held. She even gets along with the dogs. So during the coldest winter months, Belle wound up sleeping in the house.

“I’m a huge advocate of this program,” Griffith said.

Other employers have included hobby farmers such as Middie Ringer, of Medina, who adopted two feral cats to patrol her horse barn. Katie Ruggle recently adopted three cats that live in a heated space in her barn outside Northfield.

Wanted: more employers

Nearly 70 little laborers have been adopted since the working cats began as a pilot project last year, said Lally-Rose. Half were adopted since January, when it was launched in earnest. Just three have been returned.

That compares to more than 9,000 cats who have found work-free homes during the past fiscal year.

The numbers point to a need for more cat employers, the Humane Society says.

Lisnik, of the national Humane Society, says that the working cat program fills a niche in cat adoptions. Many shelters have been successful finding homes for people-friendly cats and kittens. And nonprofits have sprung up for feral cats.

But cats that aren’t feral but have other “issues,” have been “our hardest population of cats,” said Lally-Rose.

Typically these cats are referred to rescue operations. And if they are not taken, they are euthanized, she said.

“Now there’s an option,” she said.