Jumping off her perch — a gray, velvet couch — Mash saunters over to the door, tail twitching, and peers through the glass.
As the black cat eyes the outdoor patio, her tabby counterpart, Barley, joins her, the two basking in the afternoon sun that streams through Slow Pour Brewing Company’s garage door.
Though the felines, who have the run of the place during non-business hours, look, and act, like any other house cats, the two are employees-of-sorts at the Lawrenceville brewery, “hired” in 2017 by Slow Pour Head Brewer Matt LaMattina to combat the business’ now non-existent rodent problem.
“We had a little bit of a rodent problem for a moment, and we wanted to (take care) of it organically, without laying poison or traps,” LaMattina said. “Because we’re making beer, we don’t want (potential poison) in the air, so I started looking around for other (solutions).”
LaMattina didn’t have to search long before finding a lead: Planned PEThood of Georgia’s Barn Cat Program.
“Barn cats are feral cats that specifically cannot return to their original home (after being spayed/neutered), whether it be because they’re losing their habitat or the neighborhood doesn’t want them or whatever (other) reason,” said Jeani Wampler, Trap Neuter Return coordinator for the Duluth-based rescue organization. “We usually pull the cats from (the) Gwinnett County (Animal Shelter), and because of our working cats program, they haven’t had to euthanize a cat, except for health reasons, in about six years.”
Since its inception six years ago, the program has taken off, with Planned PEThood adopting out about 12 to 16 barn cats per month.
Some months, though, that number is even higher, Wampler said.
“Last Tuesday, for example, I had eight adopted in one day,” she said. “(To market) the program, we say, ‘Hey, are you looking for a natural, organic way to take care of rats, mice, snakes or other pest?’ They’ll hunt anything. And we get (requests) all over the map — everything from warehouses and breweries to regular business and regular homeowners to people with barns and farms who need help with (a pest problem).”
Because Slow Pour is located in an old building near railroad tracks — the tracks provide a conduit for rats to travel somewhat safely — a rodent problem was almost inevitable. Then added into the mix for Slow Pour was the fact that rats like grain, and barley is a key ingredient in beer making.
LaMattina knew he had to do something, and quickly.
“I contacted Jeani and she was really adamant about getting them homes; she got back to me within maybe 30 minutes saying she had two I could look at,” LaMattina said. “She said they work better in pairs, that way if one is a dud, the other can (step up), but there are no rats in here at all, so they’re doing well.”
Prior to letting Barley and Mash, who are both fixed and came vaccinated and microchipped, loose, LaMattina said he corralled the cats for three weeks so they would get to know their surroundings.
The brewery is their home now, though.
“If we let them out, they stay at the brewery; they’re used to where their home is,” LaMattina said. “They also definitely weren’t the friendliest cats when (I adopted them) — they actually hated each other — but now they have fun and play.”
Though the cats, especially Mash, have become “very social,” patrons likely won’t see them roaming, LaMattina said.
“We keep them kenneled when people are in the brewery,” he said. “The black one (Mash) has become very social and would knock over people’s beers, so now we keep them kenneled.”
During non-business hours, they’re free to roam — and they continue to do their job well.
“We had a couple of mice get in the front (of the brewery) in November when it was cold, but the cats took care of them,” LaMattina said. “We even have a pest control guy and he said he hasn’t seen anything, so they’re working.”
The cats aren’t just benefiting the brewery in their services; by taking in Mash and Barley, Slow Pour is allowing more room in the Barn Cat Program for other cats to be adopted.
“I am, at heart, a pet lover as it is, so when I saw a way to reach out and help the community, I just felt like it was a great idea,” LaMattina said. “Adopting them was a way for me to do my part for society.”
For more information about Planned PEThood or the Barn Cats Program, visit pethoodga.org.