November 8, 2013

Operation Winter Cat Shelter - Part One

It's never too early to set up winter housing for your outside pets.

This time of year is crazy, weather-wise. November in the Mid-South means sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60s, but it will descend to freezing at night. December, January, February become progressively colder. I find it impossible to enjoy the snuggy warmth of my bed when I know my outside cats are miserable. Therefore, I plan ahead. Items most people throw away, I put aside for my cat shelters. They will never win an award from Architectural Digest, but my kitty camps do the job they're meant to: Protect my outside ex-strays from the elements, and hopefully keep them healthy.

I have two yards. One is fenced, the other is open across the back of our home. The fenced yard is the preferred domain of ex-stray tabby, Chauncie Marie.
She had a feral attitude when she arrived in 2007. In 2012 we had a break-through. Yes, it took 5 years for her to trust me, but now she invites body massages and cuddles. This summer she seemed curious about entering my home, so I let her in to see how she would do. Well! She behaved better than some of my indoor brats <pointed glare at those who will remain nameless.> However, Opie doesn't like Chauncie when she's outside and boy, he sure didn't like her any better in his kitchen.
After Opie made it clear she would not be invited to join his indoor gang, Chauncie returned outside. Never fear. I created a cozy kitty camp for her as follows:

Since 2007 I have provided water and dog kibble for a family of raccoons. This year I used a couple plastic construction bins from Lowe's to hold their water.
When their sharp claws punctured one of the bins, I put it aside for recycle trash day. Then I noticed my outdoor cats enjoyed sleeping inside it. I gave it to Chauncie. She loved it too. Purrrfect!

I padded the bottom of the bin with foam rubber from an old cushion and added a pet bed with sides. Then I covered the bed with a blanket Chauncie had already claimed a week earlier. Cats are highly sensitive to the odor of other cats and will reject a perfectly good blanket if it has a scent that is not their own. This blanket was used outside last year. I washed it before storing in the attic, then rewashed for Chauncie. She initially rejected it, but changed her mind after I put her on the blanket while we enjoyed some together time.

When Buddy was alive, I bought him a thermal pad that created heat when he slept on it. I bought four after seeing how much he loved it. Since Chauncie will not be snuggling with another cat for body warmth this winter, she won the use of one of the thermal pads, placed over the blanket, inside the pet bed.

Next I added another blanket -- $6 from Kroger -- over a chaise lounge where Chauncie slept for most of the summer. Notice the blanket is over the rungs, not the cushion. Let it fall around the sides to the ground.
After I put the chaise cushion over the rungs, I slide Chauncie's bed under it.

Notice there is another pet house placed on top. That belongs to Jesse--Peaches' son and Gidget's dad. He is supposed to sleep on the open-yard porch, but recently decided he wasn't into group housing and bullied Chauncie out of her yard.

Instead of chasing him back where he belonged--there was no way I could prevent him from returning at night--I set up a bunk bed arrangement. I tested it for two weeks. Every morning I found him sprawled across the cushion and Chauncie under the chaise in her bin bed.

Next, I added an old sheet across the cushion, primarily to shield the cushion from wear, then set the pet house on top. Inside the house I put a foam pad, and on top of that a pet bed draped with two blankets. Jesse won't get a body heat pad. Since the pet house has air holes at the back, I blanketed the top.

Next, I took the cushion from a second chaise lounge and tied it to the lower part of chaise #1. This will block the wind for Chauncie in her bin bed.
Evidentially I failed to photograph the next step -- pushing a ratty old cat tree, beloved by Miss Chauncie for the last 4 years, against the cushion to hold it snug against chaise #1. However you can see what I did in the below photos. After positioning the cat tree, I arranged a weather tarp over the whole arrangement and secured with giant clips and bungee cords...and rocks. Like I said. Architectural Digest will not come knocking.

At the top of the last photo you can see the outdoor brooder lamp clamped and bungeed to the top of the cat tree. While the heat will reach Jesse on top of the chaise, it won't benefit Chauncie in her bin bed. However I have another lamp ready to position at the bottom for her when the temperatures make it necessary, though just between you and me... Chauncie has a standing invitation to winter in my home office should she so desire.

Stop by again on Tuesday. I will show you the kitty camp I set up on the other porch. This one is two-tiered with room for four or five, plus the inevitable homeless stranger that will need shelter come winter.

You may also want to read winter shelter ideas from these sites:


  1. That is just about the most ingenious thing I ever saw! That's exactly the way I would have done it.

    On the other hand is my beloved spouse. I wish I had a photo of the two-story A-frame cat house that he built in the backyard years ago for T.W., a Himalayan who tended to get into pissing contest...on the carpet...with Yoyo. It had an electric pet heater, screen porch with storm window for the winter, and she lived there comfortably for six years or so. It could have been in Architectural Digest.

    Some of us are just more concerned about function than form, I guess ;-)

  2. What a wonder cat mom you are. Bless you for all you do for those poor feral furbabies. All ferals should be this lucky.