Equipment and Gadgets

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Here is an article submitted by Kyle Smith about making warm shelters for feral cats using simple, cheap materials.  I thought the design was so simple and effective that I agreed to post the article to help spread this information.


Make a winter shelter for feral cat colonies. The winter and summer seasons are the hardest for feral cats. Cold temperatures, wind, freezing rain and snow can lead to frostbitten paws, noses, and tails. Food and water become scarce and braving the elements makes finding food harder. Feral cats exist in every city and small town. They number in the millions and mostly go unseen and unprotected. ASPCA recommends implementing a TNR program in any area where feral cats roam. This program helps capture, neuter and return cats to the colony, which in turn reduces the population and helps maintain the cat’s health. Most animal rescue organizations are willing help you join or set up a feral cat program in your area. If there are feral cats nearby you can help them have a warm place to hide out this winter by creating a “Roughneck Home”. Erubbermaid has created a not-for-profit program called “Roughneck Homes” where you can purchase or donate an 18-gallon Rubbermaid tote at wholesale prices. Spend a little time, today, to help your fellow feline this winter.

Cat Shelter

What you need to build a Rubbermaid Roughneck Feral Cat Shelter.

  • Rubbermaid Container (the 18-gallon size is pictured)
  • Styrofoam Cooler
  • Straw
  • Duct Tape
  • Exacto or box knife
  • Eight inch diameter pot lid or plastic lid
  • Marker of pen
  • Nail file

Make a hole in the front of container by using a marker to trace around the lid then carefully cut out hole with Exacto knife. File down any sharp edges. Place the Styrofoam container inside the Rubbermaid container. Mark inside hole by tracing around outside container with a marker. Cut out Styrofoam hole. Pack straw into the gap between the Styrofoam container and the Rubbermaid container. Place the straw inside the inner container. Place the lid on Styrofoam cooler and tape edges with duct tape then do the same with the lid on the Rubbermaid container.

For more information, step-by-step instructions and photos go to the Roughneck Feral Cat Shelter site.

The shelter pictured is an 18-gallon container, suitable for one cat or two small cats. For a larger shelter, use the 36-gallon Roughneck and a bigger Styrofoam cooler.

Getting feral cats to use the homes isn’t too difficult if you think like a cat.

Cats are cautious, like small spaces where they can hide. Place your home in a secluded quiet area where you’ve seen cats. Avoid open spaces, noisy populated areas, away from car fumes and chemicals and away from dogs.

Entice cats with food and water. Never place food inside a shelter that’s meant to be ‘slept’ in. Cats don’t like to sleep with food near them. Place a dish of food near the shelter to draw cats closer and boost their curiosity. If using food only visit shelter once or twice per day. Feral cats get nervous and will avoid something that attracts too much human attention. You can also create a separate shelter for food using just the outside container with no cooler in it. Place ‘food’ shelter in the same area as but not close to ‘sleeping’ shelter.

Patience. It may take a few days to a week for feral cats to trust the new shelter. If there have been no signs of habitation after 2 weeks consider changing the location of the shelter.

Additional modifications: Often, feral cats will be hesitant to enter a shelter with only one exit, since it leaves them vulnerable to predators. You may need to cut a second hole on the opposite side to encourage ferals to use your roughneck home.

For cold windy areas added protection from wind or other elements may be needed. Installing a door flap made of heavy plastic, vinyl or canvas to each entrance of your roughneck home easily does this. Cats don’t like change so its best to start your shelter with flaps rather than installing them later.

This spring I’ve been bit twice while wrestling a cat. Compared to cats I’m slow and soft. My best successes wrangling cats have come from using my big brain to guide them to do what I want.  When I figure out how to do that is less stressful for me and the cat.

Our main role with Alley Cat Project is to hold cats for recovery from spay and neuter surgery.  They come to us in a carrier and we put their carrier directly into a cage along with food, water, and litter.  We open the carrier door and they have access to the necessities and a little room to move.  When it comes time to release them we have to get them back into the carrier.  Most feral cats will seek out the shelter of the carrier, making the task easy.  Recently, however, we have had a few cats who would not go back into the carrier and this has caused wrangling difficulties.  I applied my brain to this problem and came up with the cage to carrier tunnel.

Tunnel partway across cage door

The tunnel is mounted on a larger board which blocks the cage door.  You open the door a smidge and slide the board in from the side.  There is a point where you have to open the door wide enough to let a cat out but I think this can be done quickly enough to now allow escape.

Tunnel completely covering the door. It can be held in place with bungies.

The tunnel has a sliding door to keep the cat in until a carrier is in place.

Tunnel with door closed

Tunnel with door closed

I measured the doors of all the cages we have and tried to select a tunnel position that worked for all.

Carrier bungied to the tunnel

The carrier can be bungied to the tunnel for one person operation.  I’ll feel better doing this with two people, one holding the carrier, until we know how well it works.

Cat's view of the tunnel

I hope the cats will see the open tunnel and carrier as a possible escape route.

Transfer board between carrier and tunnel

Once the cat enters the carrier the tunnel door is closed and a transfer board used to cover then close the carrier door.

Hopefully it will work that well.

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Because our cats have been fractious we have been keeping them isolated. To make this easier we built a door for the top of the stairs to our second floor. The evening we put it up Luna jumped it.

Luna and Nelson - New Door

The door is about 5′ high from above and about 5’8″ from below (it is at a step) and there is little to grab onto. She probably stood on the bench to the left so it was not such a tall jump but the door is only 1/4″ thick so there is precious little for her to grab onto or stand on top of. Marie heard a kerfufel, a thump, and momentarily Luna came strolling into the room.

Before this door we were using the introduction barrier to block the upstairs:

Nelson and Jojo - Introduction Screen

I built this when we picked up Luna as a foster and wanted to introduce her to Nelson. It just slides into place and rests against the door frame. Originally it was about 5′ high and luna quickly learned to climb over that. I extended it to 6′ with some wood that didn’t quite fit edge to edge and Luna learned to get around that. The final solution was to add some plexi-glass to over 6′, full width. The clear glass lets us see through.

Problem is that it is awkward to move. Slipping through it while keeping a cat from slipping out is a skill. Doing this with even a cup of tea in hand it difficult. So it creates a barrier for both the cats and ourselves. Having it up for the one or two weeks of a successful introduction is tolerable. Having to keep it up for months of this slow re-introduction has been an on-going frustration. Using it at the stop of a flight of stairs (even with a small landing) presented an on-going risk of falling down the stairs so we are both glad to have

Meanwhile, the introduction barrier is set up at the door to Jojo’s room. Nelson seems to be upset when there are places he can not go and cats he can not, um, dominate? We are hoping that letting them watch each other will help them relax with each other.

We have also built a door on the basement stairs

Basement Cat Door

Basement Cat Door

For now we are keeping foster cats in the basement, isolated from our residents. Problem is, once the fosters have explored the basement they are ready to see the rest of the house. Their presence at the door increased resident cat stress and makes it very difficult for us to get downstairs with out the fosters slipping upstairs. We still need to fill some holes around this door, but hope that it will keep the fosters away from the actual basement door and make it easier to have them in our house.

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