Winterizing Your Outdoor Cat Shelters

Once again, it’s time to clean the outdoor cat houses I’ve placed throughout the neighborhood for the colony cats.


I compost the old straw, take out the pink insulation sheets, and then hose down the bins. IMG_8638

Then I replace the insulation sheets as needed using the old ones as a template, and fill the bin with fresh straw.


This time Mooha inspected each bin carefully. IMG_8646

Even Funny Face’s curiosity got the best of him. IMG_8685


How can I skip the stories of individual cats and just find how to find info on the blog: healthcare suggestions, housing, waste collection and disposal, etc. I’m sure you and readers have ideas to share. I can’t bear to read another teary story about old cats or kittens or…I have enough of those of my own. I suspect others who maintain small colonies have as well. Don’t mean to be petty but I really need ideas that d purport our efforts more than warm fuzziness m I’m al tee easy committed.
By the way, those open cell political signs candidates leave all over the place make pretty good insulation. I liked the article on use of tubs. I have used all sorts of containers but never thought to cut holes in tubs.

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How We Made Heated Outdoor Cat Shelters

There’s a lot of quick and easy outdoor cat houses that you can make to help keep your TNR’d feline colony warm during the winter.

Years ago we purchased the Feral Villa and it has always been a big hit with the colony cats. Cats on top of the Feral Villan

Then we made another wooden, insulated cat shelter, kind of like after the style of a dog house. The cats use it year-round. Since Jim made it, we called it the Jim Villa. The Cats In My Yard Colony

This year there was a lot of new construction in my area. A lot of abandoned homes were torn down, and a new park is being built. The cats used these buildings and land for shelter, and I got worried they would have nowhere to go. So we decided to add another outdoor cat house and include heat in all of them.

I am so thankful for this decision, as this winter is also the year of the Polar Vortex, and I live in Chiberia. The winter has never been this cold since I started caring for and TNR’ing outdoor cats a decade ago. We’ve been having our own problems as the pipes have burst in our basement this year for the first time.

But I digress.

First, Jim made a new insulated cat house, using these directions from Alley Cat Allies. He modified a few of the measurements, and we call it the Alley Cat Allies Villa. Here it is in progress. Alley Cat Allies Villa in progress We have outdoor electric outlets and decided to take a step further this year. We ordered outdoor heating pads for all three of these houses from K&H Pet Products. The heating pads are activated by weight, and come in different sizes. We also purchased Thermo Cubes, which are plugs that make the heating pads turn off once the temperatures reach a certain level.

I love this company. I also bought their Thermo Kitty Cafe bowls to use for wet cat food and water. They’ve been a huge hit with the feral cats. The directions say not to leave them plugged in outside, but they’ve been outside working ever since I purchased them. Thermo Kitty Cafe Bowls

Bouncy Bear loves to eat and drink from all of the heated outdoor bowls. photo-3 We placed the outdoor heating pads into all three of the wooden cat shelters.

Here is the heating pad fitting nicely in the new Alley Cat Allies Villa. That little shelf is for them to go up on, but I’m not sure how necessary it is. It’s not a waste, by any means, because they can also fit under it. Alley Cat Allies Villa with heating pad

I put some straw around it to add warmth and cushion for the colony cats, but honestly, they push it to the side. They are more interested in keeping warm. Alley Cat Allies Villa with straw and heating pad

We drilled a hole for the electrical cord to go out of the villa, and then plugged it into our outdoor outlets. I had to use a few extension cords because my outlets are actually up on the deck.

You can see the hole drilled here. The Alley Cat Allies Villa was also taken over almost immediately by Dice, my James Gang Colony cat in my yard.  Allie Cat Allies Villa outlet

When it gets really cold, he lets Bouncy Bear in there with him. Dice and Bouncy Bear near the villas

The entrance hole is about six inches across, and seems to be the perfect size. Deice leaving the Alley Cat Allies Villa

Now on to the Jim Villa.

Every year, it gets cleaned out, and we add new straw and insulation. The front can be easily removed with a power drill.

Jim Villa without the front

We use the old insulation pieces as templates to cut out the new insulation pieces. Jim Villa with insulation

And here is the Jim Villa drilled closed, with the outdoor heated cat pad inside, added straw, and a drilled hole for the outlet. You can see the cats pushed the straw to the side again. Jim Villa with straw and heated pad

Dice also loves it. Dice in the Jim Villa

And so does Funny Face. Funny Face in the Jim Villa

Now on to the Feral Villa. This was the biggest success because even the Doggy Woggy, the opossum, approves.

But really, this is Dash’s house. Dash is the O.C.C. – Original Colony Cat. He was TNR’d in 2007 and he loves the Feral Villa. He just keeps his a low profile. Dash and the Feral Villa

This is the inside of the Feral Villa with the heating pad and straw in it. Again, the straw is pushed to the side. I’m pretty sure Dash doesn’t share it with any other cats, and leaves if Doggy Woggy the opossum is in there, and vice versa. inside the Feral Villa

The cats come and go as they please, but with this extra added heat in this brutal weather, they don’t seem to be going anywhere as much. This is the scene that usually greets me when I come home. Cats in the cat houses in my yard

Kat says:

I was reading your post because I wondered if I could use the straw, which I do use now with the new K&H extreme weather heating pads I just bought. I was concerned about fires but it seems you use both straw and the pads. I have ‘doors’ also on my shelters to help keep the drafts and cold out and they are find with them. I am getting cat doors to install to give even better protection. Where did you get that large black plug connecter? I need to plug in 3 things in a 2 thing outdoor outlet. I also bought a heated water bowl since water is already freezing here. Thanks for any info.

Vanessa says:

Hi, Kat, yes, I use straw with the heating pads, but if you’re really concerned, just forget the straw.The cats push it to the side anyways, since they want to get to the heat. The large connector and outdoor extension cords all came from Home Depot. Links for heated water bowls can be found in this post:

I’d love to see photos of your own set up for the cats if you’d like to share. Thanks so much for caring for them! Vanessa

When your cats get up off of the heated pads in the winter, do they get cold because of where they were lying on the pad and got really warm? How do I know that the pad won’t to be hot for my cat to lay in? People are not susposed to lay on hearing pad long so would it be okay for my cat to lay on? Thanks for your help.

Vanessa says:

Hi Tammy, I have been using those heating pads for a few years now without a problem for the same cats. They do not seem to get too warm. You can test the heat and see how they work for yourself by placing a heavy book on the heating pad – they are weight-activated. Thank you for caring for the cats!

Cat lady says:

Tammy Blankenship

There is an attachment that you can buy for that heating pad which turns it off when it gets to a certain temp, so it regulates the temp using your cats body heat.

Louann says:

I love your ideas! Thank you for sharing. I have 3 cats that have shown up as kittens are are probably 3 – 4 months old. I have 2 jobs, so I am gone most days, when I get home in the evenings around 10 – 11, they are waiting on me to feed them. I talk to them and feed them, but have only been able to get within a couple of feet of them. I have a friend who is going to build me houses like yours and I will add the heating pads and the heated food bowls. My question is how did you trap them for TNR? Did you have a safe trap? I worry about stressing them out. Do you have any suggestions? I don’t want to freak them out or have them get hurt, but I do want to have them fixed and healthy. Thank you!!

Donna says:

Luann, if you call the local humane society they will place traps for your kittens and take them to the humane society to be spayed and/it neutered. They bring them right back when they’ve had time to heal. Sometimes there is a small fee but sometimes PETA will pick up tab.

sharon j chamberlain says:

I guess its because I rescue homeless cats too but this this the most beautiful page of info I have seen in a long time. Their little faces looking out of the warm homes are a picture of real love, thank you for being a caring human.

Vanessa says:

Thank you for your kind comment, and for all that you do for the cats, Sharon!

Jason says:

My cat shelter inside dimensions is 30.5×17. I am wondering if the Extreme Weather Kitty Pad would be sufficient enough being it’s measurements are only 12×17 or should I go for something like the Deluxe Lectro-Kennel which offers a medium size, but it has a user controlled thermostat, so I am unsure which way to go. Could you offer advice? Thanks.

Vanessa says:

Hi, it depends on how many cats are using the shelter and will be sitting on the heating pad. The straw and their body warmth together will also heat the shelter. I like the K&H heating pads because they’re weight-activated, but I know there are many products out there. Please feel free to let us know what you decide and how it works out. Thanks for all that you do for the cats!

Jason Mulkey says:

I ended up going with K&H medium lectro kennel pad. It was the perfect size and came with a soft cover for the cats to lay on inside the shelter. It is body weight activated, which is terrific for the application at hand. I live in southern part of Georgia, so it doesn’t get that cold very often, but on those night the temperature drops really low I can rest easier now knowing they have some heat. Thanks for the great ideas here on your site that inspired me!

Leah says:

Aw wow, it’s really uplifting to see that there are people like you who will spend their time and money to help homeless felines. I currently foster 2 lovely indoor orange cats and live in a rental basement suite (in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where winter Temps can reach -40 Celsius and worse). I’m just looking into what kind of outdoor shelter I can make for neighbourhood cats, if you have any suggestions. And thank you for assisting the furry ones😊

Vanessa says:

This post shows how all of the shelters I have were made, with links. This other post also shows how to make simpler shelters:

Thanks for all that you do to help the cats!

Jeanne says:

Hi Vanessa!
I love reading about your kitties, as I am a cat lover who recently lost my 20 year old Mr. Paws. Had him since he was a baby so I have many great memories of him. I have 8 outdoor feral cats that I provide food, shelter and after 2 years they are starting to trust me more and waiting at the back door every morning for breakfast. I make the Rubbermaid Tub houses and plan to buy the K&H pads for this winter, here in Virginia it can get very frigid!! Can u suggest if I should cover the outside of the houses with anything, such as old blankets. They are under a large carport with lattice siding so the cold still blows thru there. I put the white insulation panels inside the tubs but may try the kind you used in your pictures, it does look a bit more thicker and more solid.
Thanks for any and all suggestions!!!

Vanessa says:

Hi Jeanne, blankets can get wet and cold. But plastic tarps can help hold in heat and block the wind. It also helps camouflage the shelters if they’re out in a more open area. Here are some photos as an example:

Thanks for all that you do for the cats!

Ronald Thompson says:

If you make the floor of the house larger then the heating pad, the cats will adjust their position on the pad based upon the temperature. If they’re too warm, they will put more of their body on the unheated parts of the floor. This occurs in the Fall and Spring when the weather fluctuates. In NY, the Winters are generally cold, so they spend most of the time on the heat.

Vanessa says:

This is a great observation, thanks, Ronald!

Joann Asta says:

Appreciate all the great info! I am now the caretaker of two strays, mama and baby. Have made a temporary shelter but will build better one in summer. Worry bout the cold weather coming. We seem to do what we can.

Vanessa says:

Thanks for caring for those cats, Joann!

Beth Mann says:

I have one stray cat in need of a small heated shelter. Your piece was VERY helpful and well-written. Thank you. (Kitties silently thanking you too.)

Vanessa says:

Glad I could help! Thanks for the kind words, Beth, and for all that you do for the cats!

art says:

Hi everyone,
I was led to believe the heat pad I have was designed to keep my cat’s body temp. normal. It seems like the heat pad doesn’t heat the rest of the shelter. I checked the temp inside the shelter but it is the same as outside. the shelter is well insulated, out of the wind and just big enough for the cat basically. Our temp. is about to drop down to -20F. I guess I’m asking should I have extra heat or just maintaining the body temp. enough.

Vanessa says:

Hi Art, if you could provide extra heat somehow, I’m sure the cats would appreciate it. This is what I’ve been able to provide the cats since the Polar Vortex of 2013/2014 and it kept them warm even during those plunging temperatures. In fact, wildlife like opossums moved into the shelters as well since those cold temperatures were unprecedented. If you come up with even more solutions, I’d love to hear about them and share! Feel free to email me at [email protected] Thank you for all that you do for the cats!

Kathy Williamson says:

Since I have people in my neighborhood I have decided to make heated houses for the cats and I have a doggy woggy opossum. They don’t seem to mind each other but sharing living space may be pushing it too far. This winter seems to be brutal and
he worst of it hasn’t hit yet. I’m hoping to set it up on my front porch since this is where food and heated water dish is at. So happy to see that you care for others disposable pets also. I used a heat lamp last year I was wanting a warm area to draw the cats near hoping to entice them with warmth

Karen says:

Hi, I’m new at the cat thing. Never had a cat, ever, just dogs. But, last Feb. I found my “Buddy” as a kitten living in a culvert while walking my dog. After 4 days of feeding him sardines ( I had no cat food), he followed me home. According to the vet he was around 6 mo. old. But, he won’t stay in the house but a few minutes. He gets weary, and frets at the door. So, I got him a cat house and put a K&H heating pad in it, and put in in my garage, and he sleeps in there at night, and stays in the cat house on the porch if it’s cold outside. But, I am worried about the temp in the garage right now, (12 degrees)! He seems OK and is snug in his house, but will this heating pad do the job? Will he be warm enough?

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Tips on Cleaning the Outdoor Cat Shelters for Winter

This is the time of year where my garage gets taken over by outdoor cat houses. cat house factory

This year we’re making another colony cat house for the cats in my yard. We also bought heating pads for all three shelters.

In addition, I’m cleaning out all the cat shelters and adding new straw for their bedding, as well as new insulation.

Dash came to check out what I was doing to his cat house underneath our deck. Can you see him? Dash helping me clean out the cat house Most of the cat shelters I have around the neighborhood are made out of Rubbermaid bins.  Cleaning them and changing the insulation is easier because all of the measurements have already been done.

Here’s a couple of things I’ve learned along the way.

I empty the bins and hose them down in the yard. The old straw can be composted.

In some cases the sheets of insulation also need to be replaced. You can see the old insulation on the floor here is dirty and scratched up by the colony cats.

cat insulation scratched up I use the old sheets of insulation as a template to cut new sheets. I trace around them and cut. No need to measure! To ensure a tight fit, wedge pieces of scrap insulation on the outside. cat house construction

Add straw inside and close. If you add too much straw the cats will just pull it out to make more room. This is not a problem, especially if the cat house is underneath a deck or stairs. The straw acts as extra bedding for them on the floor.  Frontier Colony Cat Houses


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Quick and Easy Ideas for Low-Cost Outdoor Cat Shelters

I made a few outdoor cat shelters with the help of my cat, Mooha. Mooha is an indoor cat, but she comes outside in my enclosed garden with me. She wanted to check out each shelter for herself.

These two outdoor feral cat shelters are very easy to make. The materials were free – I found everything discarded in alleys.

This first cat shelter is made from a styrofoam cooler lined inside with straw. I cut a six-inch hole that a cat can easily fit through.

I fits!

I fits!

This shelter is the perfect size for a single cat to snuggle in.

Now what?

Now what?

This second shelter is made of two plastic storage bins stacked within each other. You line them up and cut the six-inch entrance holes, and then add straw for warmth and comfort.

This is big enough to hide in.

This is big enough to hide in.

Since there’s room for more than one cat, you can also add pink insulation sheets for even more protection from the cold.

Mooha prefers playing with a stick by herself rather than sharing with other cats.

Mooha prefers playing with a stick by herself rather than sharing with other cats.

I have also been cleaning out the cat houses in my yard and will update with those ideas soon.



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How to Make 100 Outdoor Cat Shelters in One Weekend

If you Google “outdoor cat shelter” you get 1.3 million results, with lots of ideas and instructions on how to make one cat shelter at a time. There are tons of great resources out there on how to custom-build outdoor cat houses using scrap materials to save money and I encourage everyone to make their own.

This is instructions on how you can mass produce a whole bunch of feral cat houses with minimal time or waste. You can also use these instructions just to make a few outdoor cat shelters at a time. We did this at PAWS Chicago a few years back. Someone donated around 100 new Storage Totes bins, all the same size. It made sense to buy new insulation materials then and make the interiors all the same, like an assembly line. Otherwise we were going to spend a lot of time measuring scrap materials and making each house individually.

First step: Recruit some help. I had a partner in crime to divide and conquer. Jim did the measuring and cutting. I did the assembling and taping.

If you’ve got cats lying around, make them work! We put a kitten in charge of inspection and quality control.

And don’t forget to have some fun.

Now you’re ready. Here’s what we used:

Storage Totes bins, 23.5″x 17.5″ x 15.5″
Half-inch Foamular insulating boards. Each board insulates four bins.
– A Sharpie, measuring tape, and a dry wall square or some sort of straight edge to make your measurements on the insulation boards.
Duct tape.
– A cutting tool, like a box cutter, to cut the insulation board. You can also use it to cut the entrance hole of the bin, but as you can see from the video above, an oscillating saw is easier and gets great results.
Straw for insulation, warmth, comfort and to repel moisture.

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RIP Felix: It’s Up to the Community to Help the Community Cats

Felix was found dying outside a block away from me last summer. A neighbor took a video of him laying in the dirt, slowly dying, and posted on Facebook for “somebody to do something.” It took three days until another neighbor finally scooped him up and took him to Medvet, where he was humanely euthanized.


I did not know any of this until Medvet called me, because they traced his microchip to me. Since he was full of maggots, they thought he was overcome by botfly. There was no way to save him at that point. They were incredibly kind and compassionate on the phone and explained everything they could to me.


I went through my TNR medical records and figured out I TNR’d Felix in March 2013. I called his colony the Stealth Colony because I had set up the trap in an empty lot, just on a hunch.

I had no idea who fed him, and in fact, I thought he may be a neighbor’s indoor/outdoor cat. The funny thing was I was driving down his alley to check on the trap before I went to the clinic with some other trapped cats for TNR, and he ran in front of my car, through the alley, through the empty lot, and straight into the trap. It seems like he thought the trap was a hiding place.  After his TNR, I never really saw him again, except for one time almost two years later. Eventually I “retired” the Stealth Colony in my TNR Case Study.

I then found the original Facebook post because another neighbor told me about it. It was long and convoluted, and eventually taken down, because somebody found it upsetting. It WAS upsetting – it was upsetting to see an animal suffering that people did not help. They did call Animal Control, but AC is totally overwhelmed and underfunded to pick up dying animals in any sort of timely manner. Another neighbor did finally take him to Medvet, and unfortunately I never found out who.


Also in that thread there was several posts from a man named Jose, who was very upset and asking where this cat was, because he was sure he was feeding this cat, among others, in the neighborhood. I couldn’t believe it! I found another cat colony feeder the next block over from me that I hadn’t met before. I immediately contacted him.


Turns out Jose was feeding FOUR ear tipped cats, all from different colonies in our neighborhood.  Including MY Funny Face from MY colony!  Jose calls him Simon, and had names for all of them. Jose and his wife Mary’s dogs died in the fall of 2016. Almost immediately cats started showing up in their yard, and they started feeding them. All were already ear tipped. He now also provides shelters for them.

Although the death of Felix was tragic, it was how I met Jose and Mary, more animal loving neighbors who are caring for the cats. Caring for these cats is a community effort, there is no “service” that’s just going to come and do it for you. And neighbors have stepped up to the challenge – we don’t want to see cats suffering outside needlessly. I wish we could have helped Felix faster, but we’ll keep moving forward and trying.

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RIP Wolfie, the Cat Hit by a Car (But We had No Idea)

This orange tabby cat, named Wolf Blitzer, aka Wolfie, has the kind of story that shows we are all doing the best we can with the information we have at the time. There is an outdoor cat overpopulation crisis and when you are doing TNR, you are preventing more cats from being born outside to suffer. In the meantime, some of the cats already outside like Wolfie are suffering. Every animal rescuer beats themselves up because we don’t always have the answers until the outcome, although we try. There is no blame here, although we blame ourselves constantly.


Wolfie’s story is also why I advocate that people trap their own cats for TNR – if they can. A cat colony caretaker knows their cats the best, and can observe any changes accordingly. This is not always possible, of course.


His story is also why I do TNR here only on the northwest side of Chicago, reasonably close to me. I will help the feeders and caretakers near me who cannot do the TNR on their own because they may be physically or financially unable to. ALL of Chicago has a lot of cats outside, not just certain areas. I believe in targeted trapping to reduce the numbers of cats in an area, and then take on the responsibility of continuing cat colony management as new cats show up to be TNR’d, and the existing cats require continued vet care as they get sick and injured. That has been more than enough to keep me more than busy with TNR here in my area since 2004. I am only able to do this because I am constantly talking to my neighbors about cats and working with them, whether they are feeders, caretakers, animal rescuers, or concerned citizens who also want to live in a community that doesn’t have animals dying and suffering outside in their yards. Sometimes these neighbors are also hoarders, or the kind of people that dump animals outside, or animal breeders, and I’ll still try to work with them. TNR is a community effort – you are not going to get better help elsewhere. Whenever I get requests from other areas, I urge people to knock on doors and get help directly from their own neighbors. They will most likely also find other cats and colonies, and then can do the TNReturn and rescue there as well.


OK, I’ll go on to Wolfie’s story, it just had me thinking, as it tied into so much of what happened these past few years with me and other people wanting me to help them with their animals. Wolfie showed up in one of Jennie’s colonies last spring. Jennie currently cares for 26-28 TNR’d cats outside in West Humboldt Park. Another 60-80+ cats from her area were moved into adoption, sanctuary or other locations since 2011 with the help of a no-kill shelter and their volunteers. I first met her then when I helped trap a few times in her area as a volunteer. She currently also has 10 rescued cats, one bird, one turtle and a dog in her home. She is overwhelmed, physically and financially unable to fully vet and feed all of the outdoor cats all of the time. With your help and donations this year, I’ve been delivering cat food to her, and I’ve vetted three of her colony cats so far: Mooksie, Gorgeous George, and Wolfie.


Wolfie showed up in her colony, fairly friendly last spring. A shelter staff person trapped him for her, TNR’d him at their clinic, and returned him outside. Wolfie was on their radar for admission, but could not be admitted right away. During his TNR, the clinic noted he was injured. Jennie never received that paperwork, so she did not know about his injuries. This was just something that happened because again, Wolfie was trapped by someone who was not directly observing the colony themselves, and who was trapping a lot of cats in a lot of colonies. Jennie blames herself bitterly for this. I understand why she does, I would be the same way, but again, this was no one’s fault. It just sucks overall.


After awhile, Jennie saw that Wolfie would show up at one of her feeding stations covered in diarrhea. By this time it was summer, June, and I agreed to take him to my vet. Since he was able to be handled, she put him into a carrier instead of a trap. That day I was also taking two other cats for vetting from two other colonies. Normally I treat all cats from outside initially as ferals, no matter their temperament, but he was so sweet and friendly in the carrier. He reached for me, meowed, and clearly wanted attention.

Delivering him in a carrier was a possible mistake, but I had no idea at the time. He was so cute and friendly! Had he been brought in a trap, he would’ve been sedated and examined as a feral. Maybe then they would have noticed more of his condition, rather than being treated as an outdoor friendly cat with diarrhea, which we all assumed was caused from parasites, a common problem. Remember, we didn’t know about his internal injuries yet.


I picked up Wolfie and the other two cats after their vetting that day and dropped them all off to their three different caretakers. Since the vet was in the suburbs, basically I was in the car all day. The cats were stressed from that and their vet visit. Wolfie had a blood exam, was cleaned, and had been diagnosed with possible inflammatory bowel disease. He was sent home with meds.

A few days later I learned from the vet that during his exam and clean-up, Wolfie bit a vet tech there which sent her to the hospital. As a result, they no longer treat feral cats to this day, even though Wolfie was not a feral cat. No exceptions. I don’t blame them for this either. I offered to talk to them about feral cats, and all that we face working with them, along with all that they face working with them, but this was not the avenue they wanted to take. It is one of those things that happens that again sucks. There’s no other word for it.


Meanwhile, Jennie decided to foster Wolfie and care for him. She asked the shelter again for admission. Their vet saw him once or twice, and we then learned about the internal injuries, caused by blunt trauma, that they had discovered during his initial TNR. Had we known about these injuries, I would have told my vet about them, and possibly have avoided the whole biting mess. He most likely bit that vet tech because of the extreme pain he must have been in. Again, we all do the best we can with the information that we have at the time. Hindsight is always 20/20. Blah blah blah. You know what I mean. Again, it SUCKS.


The shelter ultimately refused admission for Wolfie based on their exam. Jennie managed to get him into another shelter called C.A.R.E. last month. Coincidentally, he was admitted with another one of her cats, Gorgeous George, that I vetted from her colonies.


They took Wolfie to their vet, who determined he had nerve and spinal damage, most likely from being hit by a car, causing the slow failure of his bladder and colon ever since. His injuries and condition were only getting worse. They humanely euthanized Wolfie last week.


RIP Wolfie. We’re thankful that despite everything that happened, we were able to prevent you from slowly dying alone on the street. We’ll continue doing everything we can to help the outdoor cats.


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How to Convert a Feeder into a Cat Colony Caregiver

Joann found the Land Colony last summer in Avondale while we were TNR’ing all over the place there during the height of kitten season.


Margie and her husband, Pepe, were feeding the cats in their yard, and there were just too many. Joann saw several two-month old kittens.

Margie was on board with TNR, but Pepe was not at the time. We moved on to do TNR and foster kittens from several other colonies in Avondale.


We don’t know what happened to those kittens in the photos, but Margie called us a month later because she found yet another sick kitten in her yard. Simon had a URI and was infested with parasites. He was starving and underweight. Obviously he was also super cute and friendly. His rescue was a group effort from all of our friends from start to finish. We fully vetted him at Joann’s vet, our friend Elissa at Rockstar Pets fostered him, and he was eventually admitted into PAWS Chicago’s adoption program.


And then, on another twist of amazing fate, my TNR friend, Trudy O., saw Simon’s story and shared it with her neighbor. Her neighbor adopted Simon along with another kitten together there!

So obviously there were a lot of cats that Maria, Pepe and others were feeding, but we weren’t allowed to TNR yet. We were still in contact with them while we had Simon to let them know everything that was happening, but Pepe still did not want us to trap the cats. Fast forward to last week, six months later, when Kim V. and Nellie J. heard about this colony again because neighbors complained to animal control.


This time, Pepe was more on board with TNR although he still is worried. Kim and Nellie talked to him, Maria, their daughter, and tons of neighbors around the area who all feed the cats. Everyone loves the cats, feeds them, and wants them around to control the rats. No one wants the cats killed. But it’s the same old story – there are just too many of them. Maria and Pepe found kittens dead in their yard this winter, frozen from the low temperatures. They were realizing that they had to do something. Kim and Nellie were now allowed to freely TNR.


Last Friday night they showed up, and trapped 11 cats in just a few hours. They could have trapped at least a dozen more, but they ran out of traps and only had a set number of appointments..


They brought all of the cats to Anti-Cruelty Society for their TNR surgery. A LOT of cats were brought in that day for spay/neuter surgery.

THANK YOU, Nellie and Kim!

They think one of the cats miscarried in the trap before her surgery. Kim saw this when she picked up the trap off of the floor.

Out of the eleven cats, eight cats were female, three cats were male. Two of the female cats were pregnant with ELEVEN kittens total. 


Can you imagine if ALL eight females were pregnant? With those rates, 40-48 kittens would be born there this spring from just this bunch. Not to mention the other females still not trapped. You can see in the photos below Kim and Nellie trapped three tortie cats that night, but they saw at least five more. We all know tortie cats are female.


All eleven cats are currently recovering and doing well in Kim’s recovery space.

TNR and colony care and management doesn’t stop there. Kim and Nellie took it upon themselves to show everyone how to properly care for the cats afterwards. Currently the only shelters the cats have are cardboard boxes with plastic tarps and towels. Kim and Nellie are going to help them provide better shelters.


There are also outdoor electrical outlets so we’re hoping Maria may be able to provide electric outdoor warming bowls for food and water, and perhaps even heating mats for them to lay on. In the meantime Maria has also asked about costs for everything, and is even interested in possibly throwing a fundraiser for the cats. We’ll keep you posted if they do!


Maria has also agreed to register now as a feral cat colony caregiver in compliance with Cook County’s Managed Care of Feral Cats Ordinance.  Kim will be returning the cats there this week, and trapping again. We think once the cats are returned, then EVERYONE there will see how much the cats thrive and are better off with TNR. Kittens won’t be born and dying. The TNR’d cats won’t roam to mate and fight – they will remain to eat in their own territory. Kim is also talking to Maria about establishing set feeding times and a feeding station for the cats so they will all see how many cats they have and how much to feed.


Persistence, patience and follow-through is crucial to not only trapping cats, but also in working with the feeders. Sometimes it can take months and YEARS to get a feeder on board. Communication is key, and sometimes you have to walk away for a bit. There’s always more to be done with people who want your help. And then later you can come back and ask again. We are very excited about this change of heart and hope the momentum continues.






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Helping Caregivers with Cat Colony Management

Edda is a 60-year old woman with limited income and means caring for up to 20 cats in the Hermosa neighborhood of Chicago, an area filled with cats. This is a very common scenario on the west side of Chicago and all over for people who feed cats.


My TNR friend Oleksandra told me about Edda when I asked her if she knew of any cat colony caregivers who needed extra cat food and supplies. Edda’s outdoor cats were all TNR’d by Oleksandra, Erica and Brianna a few years ago. Since then Oleksandra keeps in touch and helps Edda care for the cats, including additional vetting, since they live close, along with many other TNR’d colonies.


I met Edda this week with a delivery of cat food, an electric heated food/water bowl, and a bale of straw for her outdoor cat shelters. Thank you to all who have donated their extra supplies to us! This is an example of where they are distributed to.


Edda gave me a tour of the cats that she cares for. Every cat I saw was ear-tipped. I was impressed by that but not surprised because I know how thorough Oleksandra is when it comes to TNR.


I want to reiterate again that this is a common scene people run into with TNR. Caregivers and feeders do what they can with what they have for these cats. TNR is not just about helping the cats – it’s also about helping people and the community.


Edda has five cats living in the basement of her apartment building. I only saw one because they are semi-feral and go up into the rafters when they hear people.

This is the feeding station in her basement, with cat shelters in the back.

The cats can look out the door when it’s open. Edda does not want to let them out because she said there are people who live around there who abuse the cats. This is why she brought them in in the first place. Now she’s worried about finding them homes because she worries what will happen to them if she has to move. She said she is not well and has already refused going to the hospital because she worries about what will happen to the cats.


Another one of her TNR’d cats lives in the basement next door. He has to be kept separate because the other cats will fight with him.

She also cares for a cat across the alley. He is at the bottom of this photo by the cars. He has shelter inside that building, at the top of the stairs where the door is always open. Edda has permission to access to this building.

The stairs are extremely rickety to navigate for humans. Inside are multiple cat shelters for him and any other cats to use. There used to be another black cat here that got very sick. Oleksandra took him to the vet last year and he was treated for awhile, but ultimately had to be euthanized. There are several raccoons that also go there.

Here’s a wide view of this room, with the shelters towards the back.

Edda also feeds a dozen or so cats across the street that live in a woman’s yard. As soon as we started walking towards this house, we saw the colony running around outside.

Edda thinks this cat, Mario, is sick. Obviously I’ve never seen him before so I don’t have a comparison, but he did look disheveled. Otherwise, he moved quickly and has a very good appetite. I gave Edda antibiotics that I got as a donation (thanks, Melanie!) to try for him which might help any infection he may have. If he still looks sick after that, I offered to take him to the vet for her. 

The woman who lives there also feeds, and has outdoor cat shelters underneath the blue tarp. As soon as Edda started getting the food ready, the cats came out, jumping the fence towards her.

And waited impatiently, wondering who I was.

Mario was first in line. Seriously, look at him creep behind her! The other tabby on the left below only uses three of his legs. One of his back hind legs is held out in the air. He was like that when they trapped him and they’re not sure how closely the clinic looked at his leg when he was TNR’d. But he’s been like this now for three years there, so whatever injury he had would have healed by now, or it’s a birth defect. He can’t run very well, but he obviously knows how to survive. Nevertheless, I did tell Edda that we could take him to a vet as well for another look, but it should wait until warmer weather in case a procedure is needed with a long recovery time. It’s too cold to be putting a cat back and forth outside with unnecessary stress.

Still wondering who I am… the cats waited until we left to eat.

I’ll continue to try to keep in touch with Edda and help in any way I can. If you live in the Hermosa area and would like to help, please call 773-609-CATS (2287) or email [email protected]



Amanda Reynolds says:

I love Edda!!
I love you and your group along with the various people who give unto your great work! It is such a desperately needed work in this day. ;/
I have to believe that in time what is being done in your area will indeed be done in Rockford, Illinois and every other city where sentient beings with so very much to offer instead suffer silently.
God bless all involved!!!

Vanessa says:

Thank you for the kind words, Amanda! And thanks for everything you do for the cats!

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Reaching Out to Everyblock to Help a Kitten and her Mama Cat

Joann responded again to a plea on Everyblock looking for help with a mama cat and kitten.


We’re no strangers to Everyblock – we’ve met a lot of neighbors and helped a lot of cats by networking on that site throughout the years. It’s a great way to connect with your community and to find colonies of cats.


In this case, this wasn’t a colony, although the location was very close to the Central Park Colony that Kim and I also just TNR’d a few weeks ago that another neighbor, Karen K., directly reached out to us about in Logan Square. So I guess for now I’ll consider it the Central Park II Colony. This was a single mama cat and her single kitten that a man named Jon was feeding and posted his plea.


Joann trapped the mama cat, Loretta, for her TNR surgery. After a few days of observation and recovery in Kim’s house, they determined Loretta was feral and returned her back to the original location. They also provided her with an outdoor cat shelter and Jon will call us if he sees any more cats.


Loretta’s kitten, Dolly, was young enough to be socialized. Here is the photo of her that Jon initially posted. screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-2-50-41-pm

Dolly is hysterical – she always has those same startled eyes, but she quickly turned friendly and socialized to humans. She acclimated into indoor life almost immediately and enjoy free reign in Kim’s home. Isn’t she gorgeous? This girl knows how to pose. img_9427 img_9430 img_9434 After her vet appointments for vaccinations, Dolly had her final admission appointment to PAWS Chicago for their adoption program today. We are so happy for our most recent kitten adoption graduate! We can’t wait to see the lucky family who gets to take Dolly home.



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