Of Rats and Cats: Elusive Figures in Chicago’s Landscape

Authors: Connie Johnston*, DePaul University
Topics: Landscape, Animal Geographies, Urban Geography
Keywords: Chicago, animals, landscapes
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Gallier A, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban populations do not only take human form. Rat populations have spiked in urban areas and Chicago frequently tops the list of the US’s “rattiest” cities. Like humans, rats are intelligent, adaptable ecological “generalists”, and they are able to make productive use of human habitations and built environments. Mostly in dark and hidden places, however, only a small fraction of a city’s rats is glimpsed by humans. In Chicago’s urban landscapes of residential neighborhoods, “L” stations and tracks, and alleys behind businesses and restaurants, rodent societies pursue their livelihoods parallel to humans’. Another shadowy, skittering (and fertile) figure—the feral cat—has in recent years been used as a tool in Chicago’s rodent wars arsenal. A city’s feral cats are protected and defended by some, while at the same time maligned and actively threatened by others. Because they are not welcomed by all, Chicago’s cats in the “Cats at Work” program and their human caretakers frequently need to keep a low profile in the neighborhoods in which they are employed, despite being arguably the most successful method of rat control to date. Shelters, food, and water for these reclusive cats are placed behind homes, under decks, and within vegetation, allowing them to quietly go about their work of rodent predation. This paper explores the lives (and deaths) of these shadowy Chicago residents who exist within our human landscapes and society.

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