You have rats? Gross! I thought rats only lived in big cities,” my sister Mary said. We’d just seen a rat the size of a pony gallop across my kitchen floor. I did have a small horse ranch after all. “Nope, being in California, I’ve learned that wherever there is food, there are rats,” I said.

Here in Altadena, we have bears, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, possums … and a ton of tree rats. It’s a veritable fruit tree smorgasbord in our yard. Whether you live in Downtown LA, Pasadena or any of the foothill communities, we are all very familiar with rodents. The question is: What’s the best way to control them?

I’m adamantly anti-poison, because whatever poisons a rat also poisons wildlife or the occasional pet that eats that rat. I’ve often wondered what the creator’s purpose was in creating rats. Then it occurred to me that rats are the livestock of the animal kingdom. For example, we have owls who sometimes visit us, and they love to swoop down and grab a warm dinner. However, we need a daily diner at the rat buffet table.

Nextdoor to the rescue! The website is a neighborhood social media platform that is an excellent resource regarding lost pets and coyote sightings. It also occasionally has rants, scoldings, strange tangents and personal attacks, although its moderators try to keep the noise down. But I hit the Nextdoor jackpot one day. There was a post about working cats! Dimly aware that feral cats were being rescued and put to work, I’d not considered it for our situation. Interest piqued, I contacted the Pasadena Humane Society. They got right back to me with the news that the working cat program had a very long waiting list. They referred me to three other feral kitty rescue groups. And now, I’m off to the rat race!

Our feral kitty “installation” happened on Saturday, Feb. 25, and there was a comprehensive list of things I had to accomplish before they arrive. To be clear, these cats are designated as unadoptable and would otherwise be euthanized. They are decidedly disinterested in laps, preferring to scratch faces off than to cuddle. They are “employed” by businesses and private homes and apartments.

This brings me to my praise and love for another rescue organization, the hyperlocal “Buy Nothing” or “BN.” It helps neighbors connect and “rescues” mostly material items from going into the landfill. Buy Nothing is a Facebook group that has very particular protocols. Although it’s about “one person’s trash is another’s treasure,” it’s also about neighborliness and community creation. I’m part of the Central Altadena group.

This was my post for pre-kitty preparations. ASK: “I would like to borrow an extra-large wire dog crate. We will have two working cats that we need to acclimate to our space. I will need the XL crate for three to four weeks. FYI, the crate will be used for Working Cats and acclimating them to our property so they can keep the rodent population down without resorting to poison. TYIA!”

I had a response from Leah Thomson Snell, someone I’ve grown fond of over the years through our shared adoration of all things canine. I don’t recall if we’ve ever met IRL. She let me know that she had a large crate I could use. It didn’t look big enough for two cats to live in for four weeks, so I held off accepting or rejecting the offer.

What happened next? A classic example of the loving nature of our community, thanks to Thomson Snell and Eliza Valdes Jones, another of my favorite BN posters. Valdes Jones posted a “Curb Alert” for a few items she’d spotted, including an enormous dog crate. (A Curb Alert is BN jargon for letting area people know that someone has put “free” stuff on a curb.) Within minutes of the post, I jumped in my car and searched but couldn’t find the crate, as she had mistakenly posted the wrong street. By the time she realized this, I had already returned home. Thomson Snell saw the thread, found the crate, then dropped it off in my driveway! It really does take a village.

Thomson Snell even had to use her husband’s pickup truck, as the crate was so large. She privately messaged me, “If you find an XL dog crate on your driveway, I left it for you.” Wow! BN has created a community of care, conservation and kindness. It blows my mind; I thought people were only this friendly in the Midwest, where I originally hail from.

If you’re interested in getting some working cats working for you at home or business, you can contact the following rescue organizations:

• Paw Mission — Rodent Rangers: thepawmission.org/rangers.html.

• Kitty Bungalow — Working Cat: kittybungalow.org/workingcat (This is whom we’re working with. I love their subtitle “Charm School for Wayward Cats.”).

• Kitten Rescue — Cats On Pawtrol: kittenrescue.org/2019/12/cats-on-pawtrol.

I also can’t praise Buy Nothing enough. Use a search engine to find the group in your area. Our grandkids are setting up a household with absolutely no discretionary income. They should be able to find everything they need — from an extra set of dishes to a dining room table — via their local Buy Nothing. Happy hunting, everyone!

2023 marks the 30th year that Ellen Snortland has written this column. She also teaches creative writing online and can be reached at ellen@

beautybitesbeast.com. Her award-winning film “Beauty Bites Beast” is available for download or streaming at vimeo.com/ondemand/beautybitesbeast.