Another Tip on Building and Cleaning Out Feral Cat Shelters

Every year I go around the neighborhood and clean out the outdoor cat houses that I’ve put out for the colony cats. I can’t afford to build wood shelters for all the colonies, so I use Rubbermaid bins. They’re cost-effective, easy to transport, and most importantly, they keep the cats warm.

There’s no single “right” way to build cat shelters, but as I’m cleaning them out this year I realized I prefer the two-bin shelter with pink insulation in-between model. The insulation gets filthy and you have to replace it every year if the cat is sitting on it. That’s added expense to buy more insulation, and time to measure and cut it out again every year.

If the cat sits on the straw placed directly in the bin, you just throw the old straw out, hose down the bin, and add fresh straw.

Check out this photo of a cat house I’m currently cleaning. You can see the insulation in-between the bins is still as good as new, while the piece that was inside that the cats sat on is dirty, scratched up, and needs to be thrown out.  two-bin outdoor cat house

Erica says:

Vanessa, yeah, if the styrofoam pieces you use are just squares cut out and dropped in, propped up by straw, this will happen. We cut our pieces using a template so that the 5 pieces are fitted perfectly to the shape of the bin, and inserted so tightly that they cannot fall over, even with no straw in the bin. 🙂 (shameless plug for Tree House brand shelters here!)

Vanessa says:

I moved that piece for the photo – that was the “floor” used as extra insulation, not propped up. The cats scratch the insulation and it also obviously gets filthy from them. You can hose down the bins because they’re plastic, not the insulation. There’s no right or wrong way, I’m just freshening up a lot of bins and have found this way saves time for me.

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Chicago Artists Commissioned to Make Outdoor Cat Houses

TATIC, the Terraformer Advancement of Interspecific Communication, opened its doors to the public over the weekend to view outdoor cat houses made by Chicago artists.

We talked to one of the artists and asked what led to this project, and if he sees cats outside. He said there are a few cats in the area that have already visited the garden, and one of the cats goes into his apartment. We talked about TNR, trap-neuter-return, and he said Throop St Ferals was there earlier and has offered their help. Throop St Ferals happens to do TNR in Bridgeport within blocks from TATIC so this is perfect.

It was interesting to me that TATIC made the connection of the cats needing shelters first. Most people start feeding the cats, then want to fix them when the population increases, and then move on to building shelters for them. I can appreciate this roundabout way of trying to learn how to help the cats because I never fed cats initially in my yard either. I rented my first humane trap to try to get a sick cat that would not let me near her otherwise and never stopped trapping since then.

The pyramid cat house was my favorite. It is fully insulated – it just needs a floor added and straw stuffed inside. pyramid cat house

They also had other feral cat shelters and cat-themed projects throughout the empty lot.

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Come See Outdoor Cat Houses All Over Chicago Today

We added another feral cat shelter to our yard yesterday. Now we have three wood shelters for the cat colony to choose from, and all three will have heating pads. The original cat house is to the right with the cat feeding station, and the new one is on the left, made from following Alley Cat Allies’s instructions. There is also a Feral Villa hidden behind plants in the middle. Can you see Dash and Dice checking everything out? new outdoor cat house If you want to see examples of outdoor cat houses, or learn how to make one, there are two events today, 10/27, to choose from.

In Bridgeport, you can see cat houses made by artists on display for a new project called The Terraformer Advancement Towards Interspecific Communication, curated by Christopher Smith. This project is in a vacant lot south of 3216 S. Morgan, open today, 10/27, from 2-6pm. 

In Uptown, if you want to learn how to make outdoor cat shelters, or purchase one, Tree House Humane Society is hosting their annual Winter Preparedness Fest from 1-4pm, at 1212 W. Carmen.

They will have community cat shelters for sale for $15 and $20. Here’s an example of their larger $20 Rubbermaid bin feral cat shelter. There is enough room for 2-3 cats in there.

Pepe and his new shelter You might even get lucky and see Al, their resident outdoor colony cat. Al, Tree House colony cat

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When an Outdoor Cat Colony Loses Their Home

So, the Rockstar Colony has lost their home.  Literally. The owners sold off their three buildings and they’ve all been torn down. There’s just a huge hole in the ground for now.

Last year I finished TNR’ing all seven cats for them. Since then, other neighbors told me two cats have died.

I hope they took Fluffy, their indoor pet cat, with them.

Pepe Le Pew is a super friendly cat from that colony that they would let in and out of their homes but did not want me to adopt him out last year. That is strange, because it appears they left him behind. 

Pepe is gorgeous – check out this video I made of him last year.

He came out to show off in front of a sweet ride. He is a true rockstar!

Pepe poses

I met another neighbor there a few doors down who is now feeding the Rockstar Colony. She also lets Pepe in and out of her home so he’s in good hands. However, she is willing to adopt him out if anyone is interested in providing him a forever home where he won’t be left behind again.

This is the same woman who was also feeding Babalu, the cat that I brought inside earlier this year. Babalu is currently in Tree House Humane Society’s FIV+ room and is available for adoption.

Mama Cass Cat also came and peeked out at me from the same hosta plant that Babalu used to hang out in. Mama Cat I have no idea what happened to the outdoor cat shelters I made for this colony last year so I dropped a new one off to their new feeder. Pepe came to investigate immediately. Pepe and his new shelter

Their new feeder said she was going to make more shelters for them as well.

I’m glad that I don’t have to look into relocation for this colony. Relocation is very difficult and I don’t have the time or resources to attempt it. These cats know the area very well and deserve to continue living here. There are cats living everywhere in this city – it doesn’t make sense to move them from one place to another unless their lives are truly at stake. Relocation should only be done as a last resort.

I’ve had other colonies lose their homes and/or feeders. In those cases other neighbors also stepped up to feed and continue to care for them. People understand that the cats are here through no fault of their own, and appreciate the fact that TNR allows them to live out their lives as they know how, while humanely decreasing the outdoor cat population over all.

Rock on, Rockstar Colony!


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How To Make a Low-Cost Outdoor Cat Litter Box

My cat Mooha loves to check out everything I make for the outdoor cats, as I’ve blogged earlier this week when I was making some cat houses.

I also made a quick and easy, low-cost outdoor cat litter box for the V Colony. The caretakers of that colony have about 15 TNR’d cats that that hang out in a cement backyard, with nowhere for them to go to the bathroom.

This outdoor litter box is made from a Rubbermaid bin that I also found discarded in an alley. We cut out two large holes for the easy entry and exit, and filled it with regular play sand that you would use for a sandbox.

Mooha approves.

Mooha approves.

The lid obviously keeps the rain out, and you just open it up daily to clean it out with a regular litter box scooper.

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The Audubon Society Advocates Killing Outdoor Cats

Ted Williams of the National Audubon Society published an editorial in the Orlando Sentinel saying that people should put Tylenol in cat food and leave it outdoors to poison the outdoor cats.

If you are against this, sign Alley Cat Allies’ petition.

The Audubon Society responded to the public outcry and edited William’s story. They also put out a statement saying they do not support poisoning stray and feral cats with Tylenol, but they still advocate to trap cats and bring them to local shelters. They are anti-TNR.

I agree that indoor pet cats should be kept indoors for the safety of the cats and wildlife.

However, stray and feral cats are outside through no fault of their own. I practice Trap-Neuter-Return to help contain the colonies’ populations. I feed and provide shelter for the cats. Since feral cats are opportunistic feeders they will conserve their energy and look for the free handout, rather than spending time and energy hunting for food.

Birds and other wildlife also appear to be opportunistic feeders. I have seen them eat cat food that I left out. I try not to leave out cat food all day for this reason, but I have seen birds hop into my cat feeding areas looking for food. What if they were to eat cat food that was poisoned?

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Some Indoor Cats are More Trapped Than Outdoor Cats

Such is the case of the Stealers Wheel Colony stuck in the hoarder home in my neighborhood that I wrote about in December. When I was there I counted up to 16 cats, 2 birds and a chihuahua.

My original plan was to help this house get all of the cats fixed, and ultimately adopted or placed into shelters. Kittens are routinely being born and disappearing from here, cats are outside, and I’ve been TNR’ing a colony across the street from there since 2009. I don’t doubt some of those outdoor colony cats are from this house.

So, since December, I was able to TNReturn some of the cats there, and my neighbor managed to get two of them adopted out to other neighbors.

I was jogging by there in January and saw one of the ear tipped cats in the window. Gidget_in_Window I was excited to see him and he looked pretty good, despite the fact that he’s in a house filled with chaos, feces, and garbage stacked to the ceiling, while being fed sporadically and receiving no medical care.

Allen, one of the cats’ “owners” came out. He said that the cats that I fixed all got sick and died. When I asked about the cat in the window, he just said “except for that one.” Christina came out next. She appeared angry and I felt physically threatened by their behavior. They were accusing me of getting the cats sick, but at the same time asking me to come back and get them fixed and adopted out. It was scary and I decided I could not go back there alone, or even with help. My original plan was not going to work anymore. This had to be handled by authorities.

It has been very difficult to get a response here. Every local organization I can think of is aware of this house. Another organization called Triple R Pets that covers TNR outside of the city in the southwestern suburbs suggested I call Dr. Donna Alexander, the Administrator for Cook County’s Animal and Rabies Control. They said she will be able to help.

I called Dr. Alexander and got a response within two hours.

Chicago Animal Care and Control has been sent again to investigate further. The cats cannot keep breeding like this over there. Also, Christina and Allen need help. The house is not habitable for animals or people. I’m glad they all may finally get the help they need.

I’m thankful for Dr. Alexander’s expedient response so far. She is a rock star. She has a dog named Leroy Brown!

I hope I never encounter a house like this again in the future, but if I do, I now know who to call.


Erica says:

WOW. Interesting. PLEASE keep us posted and call me if you need anything

Vanessa says:

Thank you, Erica! This has been quite the learning experience.

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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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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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