Feral cat shelters provide safe haven

Wednesday, December 28, 2016
Pierce City resident Darin Nama demonstrates how to build a feral cat shelter by first cutting a six-inch-by-six-inch opening in the lid of an old cooler to allow the animal entry. Melonie Roberts/Cassville Democrat

Area resident demonstrates how to make shelter

When temperatures drop into single digits, outside animals have a difficult time finding shelter, food and water, and while some area residents do not want to encourage stray animals to hang around, others will at least offer food and shelter during the harshest weeks of winter.

Pierce City resident Darin Nama, who has rescued several feral or abandoned animals, offers suggestions on how to build a feral cat shelter.

Once the opening has been made for the feral cat shelter, Darin Nama seals rough edges with sturdy tape to prevent nicks and cuts on the animal's feet. Melonie Roberts/Cassville Democrat

"We're using an old cooler, which is already insulated," he said. "But other materials, even a cardboard box, can be used if it is well insulated and waterproofed against the elements."

First, Nama cuts a six-inch-by-six-inch hole in the lid of the cooler, allowing access to the insulted interior. He then applies sturdy tape, in this case, Gorilla tape, over the rough edges of the opening to prevent nicks and cuts on tender, chilly toes.

"Then, we cut a thick piece of foam to further insulate the interior," he said. "I built a previous shelter, and the cat that used it shredded the foam and created a hole to hunker down in, which lets the animal retain body heat. If the insulating material becomes soiled, it can easily be replaced."

The lid is sealed shut with duct tape to prevent the cooler from being opened or allowing moisture to leak in.

"You want to put the shelter in a place it is unlikely to be bothered by other wild animals or dogs," Nama said. "I recommend a deck or porch, where it's close enough to the house to be checked and maintained, but far enough away the feral cat doesn't feel threatened by humans or other domestic animals. You especially want to place the shelter in such a way as to limit the amount of wind that comes through the opening. So it should be close enough to a wall or building to block most of the wind, yet not so close to make the cat feel trapped inside the shelter."

Although for this demonstration, Nama used an old cooler, he said emergency shelters can be created out of a variety of materials.

Once the opening is set, Nama lines the inside of the shelter with a thick foam, which will allow the feral cat the opportunity to shred and contour the padding to fit its shape. Melonie Roberts/Cassville Democrat

"Shelter boxes can be made from wood and lined with foam insulation," he said. "When the seams are sealed with silicone, it creates a fairly airtight shelter. Instead of using foam for bedding, people can use straw. It's easily replaced once it becomes wet or soiled.

"A cardboard box can also serve as a temporary shelter in an emergency. It's the same basic process, a six-by-six opening, and covered in plastic with the seams duct taped to keep it weatherproof. Again, straw can be used for bedding."

Flat newspapers, towels, blankets and clothing should not be used as bedding material, as they tend to wick body heat away from the animal. If newspapers must be used, they should be shredded into long strips so the animal can burrow under them.

In extreme temperatures, shelters can be made warmer by lining the interior walls, floor and ceiling with Mylar blankets. Mylar is a thin polyester material that traps body heat and reflects it back to its source.

Nama also said fresh food and water should be placed near the shelter to encourage the animal to investigate and start using it.

"In winter, water will freeze quickly," he said. "To prevent freezing, people can invest in a heated water dish or use a small heating pad to keep the bowl warm. If there is no electrical outlet near the shelter, you can use disposable hand warmers under the water bowl, which will at least slow the freezing process. But, food and water should be frequently checked and replaced, especially if the food gets wet from rain or snow."

Once the feral shelter is kitty-approved by the in-house princess, Bella. A spritz of catnip spray to the interior makes it inviting to the feral cat, who will roll in and replace it with her own scent. Melonie Roberts/Cassville Democrat

If feeding canned food, Nama said adding water to the portion should also satisfy the feral cat's need for hydration. Those not wanting to use electrical heating pads during inclement weather can also make rice-filled warmers which can be microwaved for about two minutes and placed under water bowls. The microwaved rice will hold heat for quite some time, and making the rice-filled bag is a five-minute project, using a washcloth and regular (not instant) rice.

If providing food and shelter in a residential area, keep in mind the old adage, "Out of sight, out of mind."

"It's better to have food and water under some kind of cover and out of the elements, if possible," Nama said. "Feral cats are typically very skittish around humans, so the feeding stations should be hidden or inaccessible to most people. Feeding stations should also be kept near the shelter, so the animal won't have to travel far in bad weather."

while many consider feral cats to be nuisance animals, there are several benefits to having these animals in residence.

"An established colony of feral cats will deter other stray and feral cats from moving into the area," Nama said. "They also cut down on the neighborhood mouse and rat populations."

Nama is no stranger to domesticating feral cats.

Finally, the shelter should be placed near food and water, facing away from the possibility of oncoming winds, such as a porch or garage. Water should be checked often and replaced if frozen. Melonie Roberts/Cassville Democrat

"It sometimes takes months for the cat to trust you enough to let you get close to it," he said. "The one I tamed will usually only tolerate me giving him medication or treating his battle wounds. He's older now, and an inside cat. But he's still a soldier, that one."

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