SHELTER: Shelter is essential for all
cats living out of doors. Providing shelter can be challenging
as well as deeply rewarding. Other than a warm and dry place
to sleep at night, it can also provide a safe place away from
predators and hostile situations. After the requirements for
feeding and feeding stations are in place, shelter is the
next greatest concern.
All shelters and feeding stations should be out of sight,
no matter how friendly the area may appear. My general rule
is to camouflage and or conceal everything and place all outdoor
shelters and feeding stations out of sight with only the persons
who are feeding and caretaking aware of their locations. This
can include your backyard. Complaints from an unfriendly neighbor
could jeopardize your humane efforts on behalf of stray or
feral cats residing there.
SHELTER AREA: Assessment of safe shelter location
should be made in any area where feral or stray cats are being
cared for. Shelters should be warm, waterproof and sturdy
enough to withstand the elements. Although we tend to think
of shelter as being important only in the winter, it is equally
important year around.
EXAMPLES OF EXISTING SHELTER:
Carports, backyards, gazebos, garages, warehouses, basements
with access, barns, storage rooms, tool sheds, laundry rooms,
out-buildings, under houses, porches or other structures,
abandoned buildings, abandoned houses, and many others.
One example: If the shelter
area is under a house or other similar structure, be sure
there is an opening 7 x 7 inches. Place pieces of wood, linoleum,
or anything with a firm surface inside the structure on the
ground and dirt areas outside of the opening. Then, put the
sleeping quarters into the area, such as cardboard boxes or
cardboard boxes within cardboard boxes, plastic storage bins,
fleece or any other material that will provide warmth and
comfort. There are areas under houses where hot water pipes
are located that could provide warmth in the winter. With
imagination and innovation, safe and dry shelter can be created
under a house or other structures and within existing structures.
The general rule is to provide shelter within the shelter
if the existing areas are large.
PROVIDING OUTSIDE SHELTER: If
you are providing shelter for your feral cats on your property,
you will probably have more options and a safer place for
them. But, the basics for warmth and protection from the elements
with food protected and fresh water will be equally important.
All cats living out of doors need a safe place to eat, sleep
and rest. All outside shelter must be off the ground a few
inches to keep the inside dry. Bricks, cement blocks, wooden
boards, trellis or any materials that will raise it up off
the ground can be used. You may be putting shelter on uneven
ground, in bushes or other discrete areas where leveling of
the surface may be necessary.
VIDEO INSTRUCTION: BUILDING THE TYPE "A" SHELTER
VIDEO INSTRUCTION: BUILDING THE TYPE "B" SHELTER
VIDEO INSTRUCTION: BUILDING THE TYPE "C" SHELTER
If you are creating shelter in an existing space that is high
off the ground, be sure the cats will be able to jump into
The following are instructions and helpful information for
constructing outside shelters in a limited amount of space
available under and around bushes: First, measure the area
where the shelter is to be installed. Cut the existing branches,
so it can be placed far back under the foliage.
Do not cut too much until you are actually ready to put the
shelter in place, as the brush can serve as support and concealment.
If the shelter cannot be completely concealed, use plastic
similar foliage, fastened to the shelters and existing bushes
to blend into the surrounding landscape. There are various
types of materials that can be found at the Army-Navy Surplus
stores that work well. I have planted sturdy plants by shelter
areas for concealment and to make access more difficult for
dogs and people.
Example of a shelter for two: Purchase
heavy duty plastic storage containers with lids. Sit them
upright with the lid as the roof. If you turn them over with
the lids on the bottom, extra measures must be taken to keep
the rain from pooling around the inside of the lid and leaking
into the sleeping area. Cut a hole 6 " x 6 " (even the chubbiest cat will fit - but most dogs won't) on one end or on the side of the container
close to the corner, up 4-5 inches from the bottom. This is
very important, as it will keep the inside of the shelter
dry. If you are placing the shelter far back in the bushes
and have room for one or more, they can be positioned for
better protection and escape by having them face one another,
or on an angle or facing a thick dense growth, etc. I have
created tunnels for escape and used other materials to create
barriers, that blend into the area.
When using plastic storage containers with one hole cut on
the side, or the end, an awning must be made. The heavy awning
covering the opening and extending beyond the width of the
shelter gives a certain amount of protection and safety. If
there is a need for an additional escape hole do not cut holes
directly across from each other, as it creates a draft. Additional
awning will be required to cover the second hole.
My personal experience with the use of storage containers
with awnings, is that the cats feel
safe having a heavy awning across the front of the
container and covering the opening. They can exit the opening
and run in either direction behind the safety of the awning.
I have had cats stay in their shelters while gardeners cut
trees and worked all around them. As
a rule, I create an awning in front of any type of shelter
that sits on the ground, no matter the size.
Awnings can be made of heavy duty black plastic rolls, rolls
of lucite, plastic sheets, heavy duty garbage bags or many
other suitable materials. To create an awning, measure from
the back at ground level, across the top and down the front
of the container or other type of shelter, to ground level,
adding an additional 6-8 inches in length beyond ground level
in the front. Measure an additional 6 inches on either side
of the opening for width to keep the wind and rain from blowing
in the sides. Cut and fold the black plastic according to
the total measurements. The measurements of the awning will
start from the back of the container, across the top and down
the front, over the opening to the ground, extending 6-8 inches
beyond ground level allowing it to lay on the ground and 6
inches in width on either side of the opening. You do not
need to make a flap to cover the sides, however, the more
insulation you can install on the outside,
the better. Leave as much room as possible inside for the
rug and bedding if the shelters are small.
The awning will create insulation and protection and keep
the rain and wind from entering the shelter. The longer length
in front of the opening will keep the flap from blowing (a
brick can be placed on the flap if very windy) to provide
additional safety. After the measurements have been completed,
the awning is then sealed with black duct tape over the folds
and along the bottom to be sure no leakage of water can get
inside. You will have a rectangular piece of heavy duty black
plastic material, sealed with black duct tape and ready to
be attached to the bin with duct tape. Before
attaching the awning, cover the entire container with heavy
duty black plastic, taping the edges firmly in place. You
now have a sturdy and warm shelter. As a rule, I use dark
materials that are less noticable.
When installing the shelter, place it on bricks, trellis,
cement blocks, wood or anything that will provide a platform
off the ground a couple of inches or more. Make sure it is
steady and against something firm. If this cannot be achieved,
put cement blocks (like stepping blocks) on the top or sides
of the shelter to secure it in place.
To insulate cover the inside with reflective surface (reflector insulation material from the hardware store is seen here, those with financial constraints can use car reflectors instead
). Measure and cut carpeting for the bed inside. Put fleece on
top for the winter and towels in the summer. Towels hold dampness
and are not good for use in winter months.
of a shelter for two or more: Extra large storage container
placed on its side. Lid will not be used for this shelter
as a roof. Lids can be placed under the containers as a platform.
Purchase an additional storage container, more like a storage
drawer you might use under the bed. Measure both containers
to be sure the storage drawer will fit into the storage container
lying on its side. Once again, you can insulate the storage drawer using reflective material (picture shows insulated and uninsulated drawer). You will now have the large container with
a drawer about 6 or 8 inches high sliding completely into
the opening. Depending upon the size, 3 or 4 cats could cuddle
Continue exactly as with the smaller shelter, as
to the awning and covering the container. Always cover it
first and then attach the awning over it. Check all corners
and be sure it is secure. The awning, being 6-8 inches longer,
can also be draped close against the opening and the cats
can squeeze in the sides and exit easily. This shelter will
have an opening larger than the 7" x 7". To make
the opening smaller, when covering the container with plastic
before the awing is installed, bring the plastic over the
front about 6 inches. With the drawer in place there will
probably be about a 7-8 inch high opening between the drawer
and the plastic overhang from the top inside, depending upon
Putting wood, cement blocks or other materials on the ground
in front of the shelter will keep the bedding cleaner and
drier. For additional insulation home improvement stores have
various products. Discarded wood and other materials can also
be used for shelters. There are many innovative ways to provide
shelter that is safe, warm and dry. Plan ahead carefully.
After the shelter is ready for occupancy, I put in a little
catnip, and a treat inside and say a prayer for the beloved
It has been my experience that no matter
how friendly the area may appear, if you are providing shelter
away from your home, concealment is absolutely necessary.
Circumstances change and people change.
MATERIALS THAT CAN BE USED FOR SHELTERING:
Plastic storage containers with lids
Plastic storage drawers
Foam insulated boxes (may need to weighted down)
Wooden boxes or crates
Art canvas boards (covered in black plastic) before constructing
Plywood or any wood that can be cut or used for shelter and/or
Discarded materials or scraps
Plexiglas-can be cut to size and a rectangular or tent-like
shelter can be made with wooden flooring made from palates
Covered Litter boxes (hole already cut) needs to be covered
and an awning made.
Any type of purchased or discarded shelter-type materials,
such as drawers from desks or cabinets
Lucite sheets or rolls for covering large areas for waterproofing
Small nails, staples and gun
Duct tape (black)
Heavy duty plastic material (black)
Carpeting for inside shelters and entrance
Fleece bedding or blankets for winter and towels for summer
In colder climates, additional insulation will be required.
you are feeding colonies of feral cats away from your home,
feeding stations will be necessary. Feeding stations will
insure that all of the cats will be fed and not just those
who come out when the caretaker arrives. It is important to
insure that the cats have plenty of food and this can be done
with wildlife in mind, if it is an issue.
VIDEO INSTRUCTION: BUILDING A FEEDING STATION
Feeding stations should be out of sight and protected from
the elements. Plastic storage containers with constructed
awnings are also good protection for food and water. The awnings
for feeding stations only need the front covered which will
help protect the food from rain and the elements. There are
dozens of ways to set up feeding stations, from accommodating
two -20 pound feeders to smaller ones. If you can, create
a feeding station with enough room for at least one cat to
go in and eat. Cleanliness in all areas is essential. Refer
Instructions for Feral Cats.
It never ceases to amaze me at how
the cats instinctively gravitate to their shelters. Sometimes,
as soon as they are finished and in place, I will see them
venturing in. At other times, I have had them sit and watch
while I measured and installed the shelters. Even when I find
a little nook, barely big enough for one cat and manage to
create a shelter, I find cat hair, leaves, etc. I have come
to understand, over the years, the value the cats place on
their shelters. It has been a remarkable experience for me
to observe their little faces, sleepy eyes and dry coats,
as they come out and stretch and go to their food. On those
cold and stormy nights, when I am cozy in my bed, I can feel
good, knowing I have done my very best to provide them with
a loving place to rest their little heads.
Dona Cosgrove Baker, President and Founder, Feral Cat Caretakers'