There’s a beautiful black and white homeless cat that has lived outside our home for several years now. He wanders between several neighbors’ homes, but he has two homes that he actually calls “home” and that feed him daily—ours and our neighbor. His name is Alex and he’s lived outside for so long that he’s deeply afraid and distrustful of people. Building a simple cat shelter for Alex seemed like the right thing to do to protect him from the elements and give him a comfortable place to lay his head.
Alex appeared to have been abandoned many years ago, when he was a very young cat. He likely had been left homeless when his people moved away from the neighborhood, and left him behind. So Alex’s defenses were always up, he had learned to be on high alert to dangers, and he had become a scared, shy and cautious cat around humans. However, he trusted me enough to let me within about five feet to watch him eat and quietly talk with him. He always watches me carefully—eyeing my every physical move to see if I’m going to betray his trust. Over time though, Alex has come to know that I’m not a threat, but rather his friend who is just simply trying to make his little life better.
I feed Alex and another feral cat on our backyard patio doorstep every morning and night. I love seeing Alex appear in our French door windows eating his warms breakfast and dinner (I add warm water to his wet food). As soon as I see his lithe black silhouette at the doormat, I come to the window and talk to him through the glass and let him know how happy I am to see his sweet face and inquiring eyes.
With the recent heavy rains, coupled with the homecoming of one of our neighbors from long-term convalescent care (the other house that Alex shares his time), I seized the opportunity to tell our neighbor about possibly providing Alex some warm shelter under her back patio doorstep. He spends considerable time in her fenced in back yard, as it has provided a safe haven for him over the years. At our house, I bought Alex a pre-made “dog house” and I have several cat beds on top of patio chair cushions under the dining table tarp, so he can sleep and keep warm. So one day while I was talking with Dorothy our neighbor, I mentioned that we would be happy to build Alex a cat house out of a large plastic and Styrofoam box and bring it over. She welcomed the idea (she’s as fond of Alex as we are), so we went to work that night on building a simple cat shelter.
I got this simple and inexpensive idea from a feral cat website. For $10-15 dollars you can buy a large plastic container from Home Depot, Target or any home-building store. And to make it even warmer, add a Styrofoam cooler that goes inside the plastic tote. This provides much better insulation from the cold ground and the elements, and makes it warmer and cozier for them.
Put the Styrofoam tote inside the large plastic container and cut out a cat door at one end of the plastic for an entrance, ideally about 6″ around and in the middle, so it’s off the ground. Do the same for the Styrofoam tote that is inside the plastic container, so the door openings match. You want to make it only large enough for a cat to get through the door, but not a raccoon or a possum. You can take the cut-out and make a roof above the door for the rain, but it’s not necessary.
The best insulator for flooring is straw because it will stay dry and will resist getting wet and damp. But if you don’t have access to straw, add a couple of warm, soft fleece blankets inside (NOT cotton or wool). You can buy fleece blankets at Target, or even CVS during the winter. Place the Styrofoam cover on top of the Styrofoam box inside the larger plastic box, then put the plastic cover on top to close the plastic container, and you’re all set! It’s that simple.
Put your cat house in a place that’s out of the sun as plastic degrades and off-gasses. We recommend placing it under a tarp, roof, eve or where it’s shady all day and very private. Homeless cats care about safety and will not use a closed-in shelter like this if there’s any risk to them of other cats or wildlife cornering them.
Now our Alex will have a house that keeps him warm and dry from the rain. Hopefully, his little life will be just a little bit better now!
In spring 2015, I trapped Alex and he is now living inside our home with our other rescue cats. Here’s the story of his rescue.