We are sad to announce the passing of our beloved kitty Gozer. She passed away due to complications from FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus). This is a common, deadly disease that is most often contracted at birth. We are just grateful that we had the time we did with Gozer. She was a resilient, tough, wonderful kitten right to the end. Her Empirical family was with her when she passed, and she felt no pain.
We will have a fundraising event in her honor at the taproom soon (watch social media). However, if you would like to donate to a worthy charity in her honor, please consider the following: http://www.gildasclubchicago.org/donate because Gozer could always make us smile and was also taken at a young age.
In December 2014, Empirical Brewery adopted 4 feral cats through the Tree House Humane Society's Cats at Work program. Breweries have grain, and grain means pests. The traditional rodent control solutions weren't working for us, so we turned to Cats at Work. After a brief acclimation period, the cats were free to roam around the brewery.
We built them a house, we feed them, we change their litter and in exchange they offer the best pest control solution around. We held a poll on social media to name the cats and the winners were the Ghostbusters. Venkman, Ray, Egon and Gozer (yes we know, not a Ghostbuster) patrol our brewery's production facility, chase laser pointers and scratch at any cardboard they can find. The people over at DNA Info were nice enough to write an article about our feline friends.
Our working cats were also featured in a video from a Medill School of Journalism student and on CNN. They've even been on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. You can also follow Venkman on Twitter @VenkmanTheCat
People have had a lot of questions about our colony of cats, we did our best to answer the most common ones.
What do the cats eat?
- The cats are fed dry food in the morning and wet food in the evening, and we give them cat treats in between.
Where do the cats go to the bathroom?
- Just like house cats, our cats are trained to go in litter boxes, which are built into the bottom of their house, The Dark Tower.
What effect, if any, does the presence of cats have on brewing beer?
- Our grain is stored in heavy sacks, which the cats protect from rodents but never eat themselves. From the grain crusher, to the grist case, to the mash tun, to the boil kettle, to the fermenter, to the bright tank, everything is part of a closed system. This is necessary to maintain a nearly sterile environment for the yeast to properly ferment the beer without bacterial interference.
Why is there no Winston?
- We have three male cats and we had the one female act, so we chose the names of the three original Ghostbusters and Gozer, because our Gozer was kind of a destructor.
What makes the cats feral?
- They were stray cats and not socialized to humans when the Tree House program found them. These cats could not be adopted by a family looking for a new pet. While they have warmed up to us over time, they do not like to be touched (though Ray lets us pick him up when he's hungry enough to be nice to us) and would not do well in a smaller house. They generally want to be left alone.
What about healthcare?
- As you can imagine, a feral cat does not want to visit a vet. Tree House helps with any care by coming in and trapping the cats if they need a vet visit.
Did you try a traditional exterminator before getting the cats?
- Yes, and it was pretty ineffective. After throwing out dozens of 50 pound grain bags we decided to make a change. We haven’t seen any varmints or lost a single grain bag since the cats arrived in the brewery, nor have they encountered anything (pests steer clear of cats).
Do the cats go outside?
- Feral cats can be allowed outside. However, it’s better if they stay indoors where it’s safer. We have a large enough facility that they don’t need to go outside. They are very content roaming the 8,000 square feet of production space. The garage door is often open for deliveries and the cats show little interest in exploring the outdoors.
Are you crazy cat people or what?
- No, we like dogs too. In fact, our CEO has two dogs he adopted from shelters and adopting dogs is a pursuit near and dear to him. He would like to one day open a non-profit, multi-disciplinary dog training school for service roles (dogs to help the blind, PTSD dogs, agriculture dogs, etc). He's pretty busy getting Empirical up and running, and also dealing with a newborn baby. However, we are active in helping dogs already. Empirical recently hosted New Leash on Life for a Doggy Prom awareness and adoption event in the taproom. We also regularly collect money for New Leash on Life and the ASPCA (see the donation canister near the bar and the dog biscuits in our taproom).
Do you have any problems with the local authorities?
- Not many. In fact, local government agencies are starting to recognize the city’s rat problem and we’ve seen new feral cat programs popping up in several neighborhoods, often supported by the local alderman. Chicago’s best hope of combating its rat problem is with feral cats, in our opinion. We have received tremendous support from the local agencies on this program and we applaud their efforts in advancing the program.