Building a cat shelter: tweaked plans

I’ve drawn a new detail view for the front windows and awning, to help plan their construction:

I’ve also tweaked the existing plans for the cat shelter a little bit, based on changes while building. Nothing too significant, but I thought I’d publish the changes for completeness.

There are only a couple of subtle differences in the front elevation: the deck is higher than previously pictured, and the feeder opening is taller:

You can see those changes in this elevation, too:

Here you can see the higher deck, and its supports:

I originally planned to have the deck lower than the floor, to allow clearance for the maintenance door swing. But I also wanted to extend the side rim joists from the back of the shelter to the front of the deck, to make it more sturdy. I considered having the side joists higher than the deck level, but felt that’d look untidy. I’m happy with how it turned out. I’ll just have the maintenance door a bit higher to offset that change.

Building a cat shelter: floor

Today I started construction on the outdoor cat shelter.

I went to Home Depot on Sunday to purchase a bunch of materials, but decided to get the larger items delivered, as there was too much for one load. Home Depot has a relatively inexpensive delivery fee, and next-day delivery, so it was totally worth it. I also took the opportunity to get additional materials for other projects, e.g. t-posts for the apple trees, extra treated 2x6s to make a second beehive stand, and extras of other stuff I commonly use, just because:

Then this morning I started work on the floor, building it in the workshop. The floor joists use treated 2×6 boards. Looking at the following photo, the shelter will be on the back-left, the feeding station on the back-right, and the deck in the front:

I added foam insulation under the floor of the shelter:

Here you can see the underside:

And added the shelter & feeder floor, using 1/2″ plywood:

Some supports for the deck:

And the deck boards, using 1x2s:

A closer view:

Tomorrow I’ll start on the walls!

Building a cat shelter: plans

As mentioned at the end of a recent blog post about the feral cats, the current shelter for the outdoor cats is a little too small, now that they’re getting bigger. Also, the current feeding station is a bit untidy (aka an ugly hack job).

I considered building a new feeding station that would look nicer. I also considered buying a second heated shelter like the current one. But I finally decided that a better solution would be to build one structure that would serve both needs: a wooden shelter plenty big enough for the cats, and an attached feeding station.

Doing research into existing examples, I thought about many different designs. Jenn had the idea of an old west theme, like a “cat house saloon”, which seemed fun. So I wrote up detailed notes on the design, and yesterday spent pretty much all day drawing some plans. I used The Iconfactory’s excellent Linea Sketch app for iOS, on my 12.9″ iPad Pro, drawing with the Apple Pencil.

Here’s what I came up with. Of course, I’ll probably continue to refine the design as I build it, but I’m pretty happy with this.

The overall size of the structure is 6′ wide (4′ for the shelter, 2′ for the feeding station), 3′ deep, and sloping from 3.5′ high in the front down to 2.5′ in the back.

The walls, floor, and roof of the shelter portion will be insulated, made of two layers of plywood sandwiching some foam. There will also be a couple of heating pads inside.

This is the front elevation, i.e. looking at the front wall. The basic outline is inspired by western buildings, with the roof façades. The left side is the shelter, and the right side is the feeding station; they will be styled as separate buildings, though joined. There are windows at the top, awnings, and doors at the bottom. Most of the shelter wall will open as a maintenance door:

Here’s the right elevation, showing the side view and inside the feeding station. You can see the sloping roof, awning, and a deck out front. Inside is divided into two levels: a cupboard at the top, where the food dispenser sits on a pull-out drawer (to make it easier to fill), with a large tube leading to a tray in the feeding area below, where the cats go in to eat:

Another elevation, this time through the middle of the shelter. Here you can see the cat doors at the front and back (important to have two entrances, so they can escape any threats). You can also see the maintenance door taking most of the front wall, and a vent at the back. The horizontal line across the middle is a sleeping platform:

Finally, the plan (top-down) view. Again, the shelter is on the left, and the feeding station on the right. In the shelter, you can see the two platforms (the darker rectangles), with an open space in the middle. The square in the feeding area is the tray where the food drops. You can also see the deck out front, that is covered by an awning (not shown in this view):

I’m pretty happy with this design. Like the chicken coop, it is perhaps over-designed, but hey, that’s my way. I have tried to keep it fairly simple, and appropriately scaled. I’m also trying to keep it fairly lightweight, since I will be building it in the workshop before moving it into place. I plan to build it in a few pieces to help with that; separate floor, walls, and roof, which will be screwed together when installing. Hopefully that works out.

I already have some of the materials needed, but I’ll go to Home Depot tomorrow for the rest, and will start building in the coming week.

Should be a fun project; I’m looking forward to starting! Of course, I will post about it on this blog. Stay tuned!

What do you think? Any ideas for improvements? Let me know in the comments!

Spud and Poppy

Here are Spud and Poppy, two of the feral cats we house and feed (plus a couple more eating), along with the back of the soon-to-be-replaced feeding station:

Feral cats back in their routine

I thought I’d follow up on the feral cats, after their TNR adventure a week or so ago.

They’ve settled back into their usual routine, sleeping in the heated shelter most of the time, turning up for meals at the feeding station, and patroling around the exterior of the house. We’ve seen them on the back deck (drinking from the dog’s water dish), and playing on the front deck. They’ve approached the doors, too.

While they were more skittish around me for the first day or two after getting home, they’ve gotten over that, and gone back to their usual level of skittishness, where I can get within 6 – 10 feet of them.

Here are an assortment of photos.

Drinking from the dog’s water dish (they do have their own water dispenser, but this one is closer to the shelter, for now):

Peeking at me while I get bird seed:

Hard to see, but three pairs of eyes peeking from under the deck:

So casual:

Mid-lick!

Actually three cats in this photo; head and tail of two different cats in the shelter:

This shelter is rated for up to 4 cats, and we have 5. It was fine when the kittens were smaller, but now that they’re getting closer to fully grown, it’s a bit overcrowded. So I am currently in the planning stages of building a new shelter for them; a custom wooden structure that will be quite a bit bigger. It will also include a feeding station, so I can replace the monstrous hack job I have out front with a nicer one next to their shelter.

Oh yeah, speaking of that hack job, I did modify it a bit since I posted about it, to put the dish under cover… but that just made it even uglier:

Stay tuned for posts about this fun new project!

Trap-Neuter-Return of feral cats

Firstly, welcome to people reading this via a link on the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon Facebook page. That link is the blog filtered for cat topics; you may also be interested in other posts on the blog, including about chickens, bees, and more. Click here to read the full blog.

In my previous post, I talked about pre-baiting the feral cats, to get them used to going into the traps to eat. That worked quite successfully; it didn’t take them long at all to be comfortable eating in there.

Then a couple of days ago came time to betray that trust! I kinda feel that way, even though I know it was the best thing for them. Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is an essential protocol to ensure a few feral cats doesn’t turn into hundreds of feral cats. We are happy to feed and house the five (mother and four kittens) that adopted us, in exchange for their services keeping the rodent population under control. But we wouldn’t be able to care for many more, so they would end up suffering if left to breed unchecked. By being humanely trapped, neutered (and other health treatments), then returned to live out their days here, the population is kept to a manageable level, and everyone is happy.

Anyway. On trapping day, the day before our appointment with FCCO, I fed them a small breakfast around 5 AM as usual, since I didn’t want them stuck in the traps all day, then before lunchtime I activated the traps: closed and secured the back door (that they had been using), rotated them, opened the triggered front door, and placed a paper dish of food at the back:

Then I had the stress of waiting and watching (via my security cameras). Maybe feeding them even a small breakfast was a mistake, but slowly they came to eat in ones and twos, and got caught. One managed to sneak some food from two traps without triggering either, but I angled the bowl so it was a bit further back, and got her later. The first was caught around noon, soon after setting the traps, but the last wasn’t until 17:30.

Finally, all were secured in the workshop bathroom, which was heated to a comfortable temperature. The traps were covered to keep them calm, and resting on boards to raise them off paper to absorb pee, all on a tarp:

Over night the cats pulled the covers off, but they were resting comfortably enough (infrared cam view):

Then in the morning their world was rocked: they were loaded into the back of our truck, and taken to the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon for their spay/neuter. This is a wonderful service, provided free for feral cats, with a suggested donation which we gladly paid.

We received a surprise: apparently our mommacat Poppy was FCCO’s 90,000th cat! Quite the amazing milestone. So she was featured in that Facebook post, a brief KGW TV spot, and will be in their upcoming newsletter. Purrfectly delightful!

Once they were home again, they went back into the shop bathroom to finish recovering from the anesthetic, along with a bit of tasty wet food, and spent the night there.

This morning, I took photos of each. It turns out that only one of them was male; meet Potato, aka Spud:

You may notice the tipped ear; that is a convention to make it easily visible that a feral cat has been neutered.

Here is Poppy, the shy mommacat:

This is Pomegranate (Pommie), one of the girls:

Portabella:

Porcini:

I then took the traps back to where they were caught, next to the feeding station, and released them one by one. Here is Porcini making the jump to lightspeed:

And Portabella, unsure if the coast is clear (I did help her out by clearing some of the newspaper debris):

They all headed straight for the safe space of their heated shelter:

I expect they’ll be extra wary of us for a while, though being feral, they’ve always been somewhat standoffish, not approaching closer than about 6 feet. But they’ll settle back into their routine.

Thanks again to FCCO for helping us care for our outdoor staff!

Pre-baiting feral cats

We’ve left it later than ideal, since the outdoor feral cats are about the age when they could start breeding, but better late than never. We’ve set up an appointment with the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon to get them neutered (and other health checks/treatments), and borrowed 5 traps from them to facilitate that.

So we are now getting them used to eating from the traps for the next few days. This is called “pre-baiting”, where the back door of the traps is removed, and food placed inside, so they become comfortable with going in to eat. Then next week we’ll replace the door and activate the triggered door to actually catch them. With this pre-bating process, and a lot of luck, we’ll hopefully be able to catch all five at once.

I’ve placed the traps next to their usual feeding station (which is disabled for now). They’re under a tarp to keep them dry, weighed down by a folding table:

I’m using paper plates for feeding dishes in each; here they are near the front of the trap, but I’ll move them to the back in subsequent feedings:

This morning when I fed the cats, all five happily ate (partway) in the traps:

Again, I’ll put the food dishes at the back in subsequent feedings, so they go all the way in.

Another test of posting from Micro.blog, this time with a photo, and a link.

An interesting feature of Micro.blog is that short posts are more like tweets — they don’t include a title.

Heated shelter for outdoor cats

It’s a little chilly at present… like dipping down to 25° F / -4° C overnight. Which is fine for us, and as discussed is okay for the chickens, but not entirely pleasant for the feral outdoor cats. Sure, they can snuggle together in a sheltered place, but I still felt bad for them.

So, I decided to get them a heated shelter. I bought an outdoor multi-kitty A-frame shelter from Amazon, that is big enough for several cats, and includes a pad that emits a bit of warmth.

I placed it next to the deck, under which the cats often shelter from the elements. I put a camera pointed at it, so I could see if they used it:

I really wasn’t sure if they’d try it, or avoid it as something strange, being cats. But pretty much moments after I left, they started “investicating” it, and soon afterwards some of them went inside. They looked very comfy in there:

I think it might be a success. But we’ll see how it goes long-term… and whether or not the raccoons cause trouble for the cats.

Outdoor cat feeder adventures

I previously posted about the outdoor kitty condo I got as a feeding station for our outdoor feral cats. I since got a food dispenser, but that attracted the attention of raccoons and other wildlife, so I started putting it away overnight, which got old fast.

Next I tried getting an automatic feeder… but that didn’t fare too well; it was stolen and ripped open by the masked bandits; I found it elsewhere in the garden:

So time for a better solution: I repurposed one of our plastic deck table boxes to contain a different auto-feeder. I cut a hole in the bottom, and made a kind of funnel out of a pipe reducer (leftover from the chicken feeder), so the raccoons couldn’t get to the feeder. Even if they reach up the tube (and they’ve certainly tried!) they can’t get the food, as the feeder closes off the outlet after dispensing food:

The box also contains some sand bags for extra weight, and to help hold the feeder in place:

The box is also strapped to a couple of concrete blocks, to give it extra weight and raise the hole off the ground. The food dish from the feeder is also strapped to the blocks:

So far this has proved raccoon-proof, so I think this’ll work.

The kitty condo now just houses the water, which helps keep it cleaner: