My Pet World: How to build a community cat shelter for the winter
I have an outdoor cat who “adopted” us six months ago. She appears to be a year old. I feed “Tiger Lilly” twice a day and provide fresh water. She always comes when she hears my voice and even allows me to brush and groom her. The tip of her right ear has been cut off, indicating she’s part of the “Catch and Release” program here in Las Vegas. I understand that a fixed cat doesn’t (or is less likely) to spray territory. Correct?
I want to provide a bed or shelter to protect her from the elements. The problem is, there are other stray cats in the neighborhood, and they’ve already sprayed several areas around my property. How can I provide shelter for her, but keep other neighborhood cats from spraying it?
— Bernadette Las Vegas, Nevada
You’re correct; cats spray to mark their territories for mating. Overall, if they are fixed, they should be less motivated to spray, but 10% of males and 5% of female cats may still spray after being sterilized. The best thing would be for all the cats in the neighborhood to be fixed through the city’s “Catch and Release” program. This not only prevents unwanted kittens but reduces feline mating behaviors, like fighting and spraying.
As for the outdoor shelter, it’s great you want to provide one for her. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee she will be the one to use it if there are other cats around. If you place it in an area of your yard where you brush her, you may improve the chances she will use it since she will know it’s there. You also could try to train her by calling her over to it (since she comes to your voice) and giving her a treat or tossing a few treats inside it to get her to explore.
If you’re willing, the best thing to do would be to make several cat shelters to increase the odds she will have access to at least one. You can make them out of insulated Rubbermaid bins or Styrofoam coolers. Cut a 5-1/2 to the 6-inch hole several inches off the ground to keep rain and snow from getting inside. Cut the same-sized hole in the back, so she will have an escape route in case a predator tries to enter. Put a flap on the doors for additional warmth and cut it vertically every 1-1/2 to 2 inches up to about one to two inches from the top to ensure she can get in and out. Drill a few holes in the bottom to allow moisture to drain out of it. Finally, layer it with a few inches of straw (not hay) to keep the bedding dry. Then look for a protected area to place it, away from northern winds, dogs, and the interference of people. Place a rock or brick on top of the container to keep the wind from blowing it over or away.
If you are a visual person, you can find step-by-step instructional videos on how to make a winter cat shelter online.