Clearing Out the Cat Paths

My James’ Gang Colony cats weren’t around much yesterday after it snowed. Today I shoveled out the cat paths in my yard and swept off the snow from their favorite sunning spots. They came right away. Cats need to stay dry in order to stay warm in the winter.

Honey, Dice and Springy stay warm and dry in the winter sun.

Honey, Dice and Springy stay warm and dry in the winter sun.

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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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Cats In My Garden

Work has been flying me all over Florida this week and it is a reminder of how much I miss summer. In the summer, I am always outside in my backyard garden, and so are the feral cats in my yard that I care for, the James’ Gang Colony.

Now I’m back in Chicago for a few hours and then flying east. There’s supposed to be winter weather coming at both locations so I’m trying to zen out and think of a few of my favorite things: gardens, felines, flowers. And music! This video of my colony cats is set to a song also inspired by the outdoors that we recorded in our home studio at Caffeinated Recordings. If you want to listen to the rest of it, you can find it on my Vansassa album on Bandcamp.

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TNR is Nationwide

I’ve been a flight attendant now for nine years and I love it. This week my trip consists of layovers all over Florida.

First stop yesterday was in Fort Lauderdale, where my sister lives. As soon as we pulled into her driveway, Joe, her neighbor’s indoor/outdoor cat that she feeds, came out for us. image

My sister also took me to see the peacocks that roam another neighborhood near her. There were cats hanging out as well, and they could not care less about these birds.

I was most excited to see that one of the cats was ear tipped! Trap-neuter-return is nationwide. image

Today I’m in a resort & spa near Fort Myers with pelicans, cormorants, and other sea birds. Tomorrow I’m hoping to wake up early and go on a boat ride across Estero Bay to the beach to see some manatees and dolphins along the way.

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How to Find a Home for a Friendly Stray Cat Outside

Hi. So I heard you like cats.

Hi. So I heard you like cats.

Thank you for wanting to help that cat!

Alley Cat Allies offers expert advice on How to Find Homes for Stray Cats.

Here is the full text in case you are having problems with the link:

How to Find Homes for Stray Cats

When caring for a feral cat colony and performing Trap-Neuter-Return, you are likely to encounter cats that are friendly even upon first meeting you. Stray cats act differently than feral cats—they tend to approach you more readily, vocalize more, and may look disheveled, as if they are not used to living on their own. A stray cat once had a home and is socialized to humans, but has become lost or abandoned. Follow these steps to either return her to her home or find her a new one.

1) Try to find the cat’s home.

Check for a tag or microchip. If a cat has a tag, call any numbers and attempt to track down the guardian. The collar may only have a number for a veterinarian; a call there may help track down her home. A veterinarian or rescue group can also use a scanner to help you determine if the cat is microchipped.

Check local shelters and lost and found ads. Calling local shelters and animal pounds to let them know you are caring for a lost cat can yield results. Shelters and pounds are usually the first place guardians call when looking for their cat, and they keep lists to help match up callers. Make sure to ask if they have found pet or lost pet sections of their website or at the shelter in the form of binders to search or post an entry. Be sure to check the shelter bulletin boards as well.

Be advised that if you take the cat to an animal shelter, she may be killed. Always ask the shelter about their adoption procedures, typical duration of stay, and “euthanasia” policies. If you do turn over the cat, realize that you may not be able to reclaim her if the guardian is not found.

Check your local paper’s “lost” ads, in print and online. You may also want to check various online resources, including your local Craig’s List, as well as national listings on Petfinder, The Internet Lost and Found, Tabby Tracker, and Pet Amber Alert.

Spread the word. You can place your own “found” ad in the same places listed above—your local newspaper and online. Additionally, create a colorful flyer to post around the place you found the cat. Describe the cat’s coloring, fur length, location where she was found, and a photo if possible. Include your phone number and/or email.

Be wary of dishonest callers. Ask callers to: describe their cat in depth; provide a reference, such as a veterinarian; send in advance or bring along a photo of the cat; and give you their name, address, and phone number. Leave out some information about the cat on your flyer to help you confirm the guardian’s story.

2) Publicize and promote the cat for adoption.

Once you feel certain that you cannot reconnect the cat with her home, it’s time to help find her a new one.

Prepare the cat for adoption. To increase your chances of finding a home and the likelihood of success in the new home, we strongly encourage you to have the cat neutered and vaccinated before placement in the adoptive home.

Create an attractive flyer and post them in as many places as possible. Flyers are inexpensive and often highly effective, especially when they include a good color photo and description of the cat. Include a striking color photo of the cat, looking relaxed and straight at the camera. The photo should focus on the cat’s face and body. Creatively describe the cat’s coloring, size, approximate age, positive personality traits, habits, and some of the things that make her special. Give the cat a name, and explain the name if it is applicable.

Keep the flyer short and only include relevant information about the cat—not what you have done for the cat, etc. It should also be positive in tone, even when describing restrictions or potential negatives, (including health problems, disabilities, age, or behavior quirks), which should also be included. Cut the bottom of the page into pull-off strips, so that people can rip off your name, phone number, and email address.

Put the flyer up anywhere you can; a great place is on community bulletin boards. Other places to consider: coffee shops, supermarkets, veterinarian offices, health clubs, pet supply stores, religious institutions, and libraries. Pass them out to your friends and family and ask them to post them in their neighborhoods or offices as well.

Contact local rescue organizations and breed-specific rescue groups. If your stray cat seems to be a recognizable breed, such as a Siamese or Persian, research breed rescue groups online and ask for their help. They may be able to place the cat right away, as they often have waiting lists. Although you do not want to bring the cat to a local shelter, these organizations may still be able to offer other assistance. Your local shelter or rescue groups can help by allowing you to participate in one of their adoption events, post on their online pet listings, or put up a flyer on their bulletin boards. Some have low-cost neuter clinics, as well. Find them online by searching by your zip code on or Or phone 1-888-PETS911.

Also, virtually every Petsmart and PETCO store in the country has local rescue groups that conduct cat and dog adoptions in their stores.

Place an ad online or in your local paper. Write a creative, punchy ad and post it in your local paper in print and electronically.

Sample Classified Ad Text: Orange tabby with great personality ready to steal your heart! Simba is a 3-year-old neutered male. Gets along well with other cats. Up to date on all shots. Call Susan at 301-555-1234. Adoption fee required.

To discourage dishonest people, do not say “free to a good home.” Indicate that there is a fee to adopt. Post ads online on Petfinder, Craig’s List, and in the other online sources listed above.

Pass it on. You give the cat her best chance of being adopted by telling as many people as you can. Share adoption information in a company email listserv, in newsletters for your neighborhood or place of worship, at meetings of organizations or clubs, when you visit your veterinarian, and when you go to dinner with friends. Ask those people to do the same thing.

Be creative and persistent. Creativity and persistence are usually rewarded. Think about the best kind of environment for the cat and explore all options. There are many animals needing homes at any one time, so finding a home can take some work. The key thing this cat has going for her is you. Stay positive. There are good homes out there.

You are the cat’s best option for finding a new home. Some people think shelters or rescue groups would be best for placing the cat because they have experience, facilities, and screening guidelines. However, an individual, particularly one who knows the animal, can focus all of their efforts on that particular cat, provide the most information to prospective adopters, and screen for the appropriateness of a new home. Also, shelters or sanctuaries are often stressful for a cat. The shelter setting, no matter how nice, can bring on stress-related problems. Anxiety, aggression, and even illness are common, and these natural reactions may make adoption difficult or impossible. Lastly, remember that a shelter offers no guarantee on the cat’s life, and the cat could be killed.

3) Adopt the cat into the best home possible.

Ask questions before you meet. Once you start hearing from people, be prepared to screen potential adopters over the phone. Ask them questions to understand why they are interested in the cat, what kind of prior experience they have had with companion animals, and what sort of environment the cat will be in.

Ask potential adopters to fill out an application. Alley Cat Allies follows certain guidelines for potential adopters, and you will want to decide on the things that are important to you. When a potential adopter contacts you, you may want to give him or her adoption guidelines, so that they will be aware of everything that being a cat owner entails. This will also be a way for you to screen adopters that may not be good candidates. Here is a sample adoption application. Some areas you should consider covering, both in the application, in the guidelines, and on the phone include:

– Spay and Neuter – If the cat is not already, ensure spay or neuter will be fulfilled post-adoption. You may want to consider getting the surgery done yourself before adoption.

– Don’t Declaw – Removing a cat’s claws is inhumane and painful. Make sure adopters agree to not declaw.

– Home environment and other residents – Confirm that the cat will be considered a member of the family who will share the house with everyone else, and not be confined or restricted to the outdoors.

Ask about children in the house. Young kittens are fragile and also playful, and so homes with children under six years of age may not be the best home for young kittens. Young children can severely injure a young kitten accidentally. Some cats are skittish around young children as well.

Ask the adopter if they have other cats or dogs, and if so, if they get along with other animals. Having animal companionship is sometimes important, especially for younger cats. Your cat may not like other animals; be certain of this so you can advertise this fact.

– Housing – Make certain that cats are allowed in rental or condo properties. Ask the adopter to provide documentation and their landlord’s contact information so you can call and confirm that cats are permitted.

– Medical care – Talk to the adopter about potential veterinary care and make sure they have a veterinarian in mind. If they have had a companion animal before, ask for a veterinary reference. Ask the potential adopter what happened to their previous animals and if they have ever surrendered an animal to a shelter. These answers can tell you a lot about the person’s understanding of how to be a good cat guardian.

– Adoption fee – Charging a fee for the cat’s adoption can help you avoid dishonest people. A “free to good home” policy can attract people who will pass the cat on to research facilities or another horrible end.

– Trial period – You may feel more comfortable having a trial period so that the potential adopter can spend some real time getting to know the cat and you can visit to see how she is doing. During this time, either side can cancel the arrangement.

– Post-adoption – Ensure that the potential adopter will agree to follow-up calls or visits to the cat. Also consider requiring the adopter to return the cat to you (and not a shelter), in the event the cat must be given up.

In order to ensure all these requirements are met, make sure you put together an adoption contract that you and the adopter will sign once you have approved them.

Require a meet and greet. Once you are ready to move on to the next step with a potential adopter, set up a time to meet in person. Because cats are often uncomfortable when out of their normal surroundings, it is best to have the person come to you. If you live alone, make sure you have another friend there for your safety. For further knowledge about the potential adopter and his/her home life, you may also want to consider requiring a visit to their home.

The most important thing during the meeting is to closely observe how the person interacts with the cat, and vice versa. Ask them as many questions as you can. Ultimately, your instincts should steer your decision-making process. Don’t be afraid to recognize any doubts you are having and either address them with the person or cut the meeting short. But also be aware of the fact that not everyone will interact with the cat the way you would; that is normal—no adoptive home will replicate everything you do exactly. Remember, it is up to you to find the cat the best home possible.

Finalize the adoption. When you have found a suitable home, sign a contract with the adopter and collect the adoption fee. Make copies for you and the adopter. Set up a time to transfer the cat, and make sure you provide the new guardian with any of the cat’s medical records, as well as her toys and special food or treats. Be prepared to follow up and stay in touch.
And then let them bond. You will certainly miss the cat, but you should also be proud of a job well done. It took a lot of energy for you to find her a home, and you did it!

Finding adoptive homes takes time and creative effort, but it is not impossible. Thousands of grassroots groups and rescuers find homes for animals every day by following the steps above, being persistent and diligent, and remaining positive.

© 2012 Alley Cat Allies

supriya says:

Excellent information with unique content and it is very useful to know about the information based on blogs.

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Tracking Cats

My run today was sidetracked by cat tracks in the snow. This is an easy way to figure out feral cat hot spots and crossings.

Feral cat footprints.

Feral cat footprints.

I also visited a new colony caretaker in my neighborhood. She wanted to release her first cat that she TNR’ed at Tree House last week. She was not quite sure if there were other stray cats, but the new cat tracks in her backyard proved there were more around since the one she was caring for has been inside the past few days recovering from her surgery.

She transferred the cat into a feral cat shelter that she made from an Igloo cooler and we put her outside. After a moment, she darted from the shelter and pretty much followed the same cat track path out of the yard.

Freedom in the sun.

Freedom in the sun.

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Bonded Colony Cats

Honey and Dice are inseparable this week. These bonded feral cats keep each other warm, and keep reminding me to feed them.

Yeah, we noticed that it snowed. We also noticed that you woke up late and haven't fed us yet.

Yeah, we noticed that it snowed. We also noticed that you woke up late and haven’t fed us yet.

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Help Needed for Cats Thrown Out of Home

An animal rescuer posted on this week about 6-9 cats that were thrown out of a home. Their owner was a hoarder that was evicted, and the landlord put the cats that he left outside.

Please let them know if you can help trap any cats.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the posting to see if they still needed help. Today I randomly turned down a side street looking for parking for an appointment. And I saw a trap in a yard covered in a white sheet. IMG01653-20130124-1533

A woman was sitting in her car keeping an eye on the trap. We introduced ourselves and talked about TNR, and it turns out this was the place that the Everyblock posting was about. What a strange coincidence. Well, in animal rescue, especially, things always seem to happen when you think about them a lot. I wish it would work that way for the lottery.

The woman told me that so far two cats have been trapped and there may even be cats left inside the empty house. Neither scenario is very good for these cats.

Diann says:

I can help trap. Is this in Logan Square? – Diann

Vanessa says:

That’s wonderful! Yes, this is in Logan Square. If you can’t respond directly to the Everyblock link above in this post, please email the person coordinating this rescue effort at [email protected] Thank you!

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Volunteering to Help Community Cats Pays Off

I was very excited last fall to learn that the company I work for offers annual Volunteer Impact Grants for employees. Employees volunteer a certain amount of hours with a participating non-profit organization, fill out the application explaining the impact of your volunteer work on the community, and submit it for review. In this case, Tree House was eligible to participate, so I followed all of the necessary steps. And I was awarded the grant! Just a few days ago my employer sent me the check to give to Tree House. I’m pretty happy that my TNR work helps community cats, their caretakers, the community overall, and now also raised some money for one of the organizations that make this possible.

Maybe I can sign the check over to Al, Tree House’s resident colony cat outside at their adoption center. He looks a lot like Banker Cat to me.

Hello. Did you make an appointment to see me?

Hello. Did you make an appointment to see me?

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Outdoor Cat Houses In My Community

Feral cats know how to find shelter from the cold, just like other wild animals outside. If you provide shelter, they will use it. The James’ Gang Colony cats in my yard have a Feral Villa and another insulated outdoor cat house filled with straw that we built for them. For my neighbor’s feral and stray cat colonies I usually make the standard Rubbermaid bin shelter. A lot of these neighbors also build their own outdoor cat shelter for the cats. Here’s a look at the community cat shelters around my neighborhood.

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