Cats will mouse for room and board

JOHNS CREEK – From dusk to dawn, employees who go by the names of Pickles, Pepper, Teddy and Bust-a-rhymes are hard at work.

The cats and dozens of others keep Toni and Andy Levine’s barn and other buildings in the Johns Creek area free of mice and rats.

Barn Cat Buddies adoptees Bust-a-rhymes, left, and Teddy, have a meeting of the minds in Toni Levine's horse barn in the Johns Creek area of Craig County.
Barn Cat Buddies adoptees Bust-a-rhymes, left, and Teddy, have a meeting of the minds in Toni Levine's horse barn in the Johns Creek area of Craig County.

These cats are some of the lucky ones Toni Levine adopted through the Barn Cat Buddies program.

The slogan is catchy: “Will mouse in exchange for room and board.” So is the title: “Rodent Control Technician.”

The message is deadly serious, though. There are hundreds of cats looking for places where they can work – but not multiply.

The Levines support Barn Cat Buddies not only by adopting the cats through the program run by Angels of Assisi in Roanoke, but also by spreading the message.

“Be sure and tell people we need more homes,” said Toni, who adopted their first cats three years ago, about a year after the couple moved to Craig County. They realized they needed mousing help in the barn where their Tennessee Walker, Cisco, and Spotted Walking Horse Nena live.

“Selma who runs the program at Petsmart contacted me about a cat who was living in a gutter,” she explained. A number of their cats are older or have health conditions. One of the cats who works on the farm is 21 years old, an advanced age for a cat.

When asked how many formerly stray or feral cats she takes care of, Levine estimates she’s brought in 21. “They don’t all stick when you bring them here,” she explained.

Even though there are bunches of cats who work on the farm, all of them have names, Levine said.

One of the aspects that makes Barn Cat Buddies so important to her is the program is not only providing homes for cats who were unwanted, but it also helps curb the feral cat population in the Roanoke Valley.

“One of the reasons I encourage people to do this is we’re about controlling the feral cat population. When you see a cat with a notched ear, you know the cat’s been altered so it can’t reproduce, and has had a rabies shot,” Levine emphasized.

It’s not difficult to provide a place for a working cat or several, she said. Some become house pets. “They start off being feral. You keep them confined for a period of time.

Some become tame. When I walk in the barn I have cats all around my feet. I have at least four who would love to come indoors,” she added.

Their cat population comes at a price, one she and her husband gladly pay, she said.

“I am lucky in that my husband has the ability to finance my rescue life. He doesn’t complain about that. He is very generous,” Levine added.

They go through a lot of cat food. She counted it up: “We go through 40 pounds of dry food and 100 cans a month,” she said. There is some help available in getting food for them, through Angels of Assisi and donation centers for pet food.

Levine encourages people to donate to Angels of Assisi. Sometimes she accepts donations, too. The last three cats she brought onto the property “had lived next door to my sister who passed away. The woman next door was going to have to abandon those cats because were wild and she was feeding them. I asked her point blank, and she wrote me a check for $1,000,” Levine explained. “She said she would pay for more later, and for vet services.

Levine came back to the Roanoke Valley after living in Tampa, Fla. Her mother, Phoebe Hicks, and sister, Karen Blake, who both lived in the Cave Spring area were both ill, she explained, and have since died.

Levine’s brother is Billy Hicks, who is well known for his Cave Spring championship basketball teams.

“We are Cave Spring people,” added Levine, who went to Cave Spring-area elementary schools and graduated from high school in Richmond after her dad was transferred.

In addition to cats, Levine participates in small dog rescue and dog transport and volunteers for the Roanoke Valley SPCA and Bedford SPCA.

People don’t have to have a barn to give a home to a cat through Barn Cat Buddies. “Churches, office buildings, just about anywhere somebody comes every day to feed the cat works, any place that might have a mouse problem – which is everywhere,” Levine pointed out.

To learn more about Barn Cat Buddies or to donate, go to www.barncatbuddies.org

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