Over the past year you have undoubtedly become more aware of community cats, feral cats, street cats, homeless cats…
Whatever moniker we give them, these felines fend for themselves by scavenging for food, hunting a meal, or getting lucky and receiving a handout from some kind cat-loving human. Obviously it gets a lot harder for these homeless critters as the wintry weather returns.
A hot topic between those who have a humane heart for these creatures and those who simply want them gone, these are real living creatures facing a battle for survival again this winter. In neighborhoods that support a healthy feral population, rodent populations are kept in check, eliminating the need for harmful chemicals and poisons…a sort of GREEN solution.
The fact is, the cats are out there and they aren’t going anywhere, so the choice is turn a cold hearty to another living creature OR humanely help them get through the winter.
Cats don’t need a lot of space, just something big enough for them to stand and move about and stay safe from the harshest conditions of our Wisconsin winters. Understand that when the weather gets to be the coldest, these cats will be working together and depending on each other for warmth. These intelligent and resilient creatures will effectively create their own tight niches inside of available shelter. YOU can use whatever space and materials you have on hand to provide a small but life-saving haven!
Heavy cardboard boxes from home appliances or TV’s, a Rubbermaid type garbage can, even some scrap wood can be fashioned as a windbreak and a barrier from the snow and sleet. Whatever you decide on, it should be large enough to serve several cats comfortably, but be sure it isn’t too wide or tall. Amore compact offering actually provides a better space to helps the cats retain their own body heat. The opening to your new kitty haven should only be large enough to allow a cat to enter. The idea is to keep as much of the wind and snow OUTSIDE of the shelter as possible and allowing the inside of the shelter to stay dry. If you are feeling especially talented, you can provide a plastic “curtain” to give an extra level of protection to the entry. Think of plastic sheeting or heavy garbage bags…quick and inexpensive fixes to accomplish this added measure of security. If that’s not up your alley, just try placing your kitty shelter close to a wall and have the entry facing the wall. (Any port in a storm, right?)
If you’re feeling particularly humane, consider adding insulation to the interior roof and walls of your creation… and maybe caulk the seams to make it really draft free! It is a good idea to elevate the shelter off of the ground to inhibit ground moisture from seeping in from the floor. Of course, some amount of ventilation is needed so don’t try making it air tight! Even drilling a few small holes in the bottom of the structure can make a difference. Bedding can be added, but not blankets and towels. They can freeze making them worthless and even get moldy over time. A good choice is straw. It doesn’t hold excess moisture AND it helps retain heat.
BE SURE to put your shelter in a safe and concealed spot where the cats can feel secure, hidden from predators and able to watch their surroundings.
Just like your own pets, these felines require extra calories and fat during the cold weather months in order to maintain their energy needs. If you are lucky enough to have supportive neighbors maybe they can help to provide you with food even if they don’t want to build a shelter themselves. A dry kitten formula is a wonderful source of extra calories and balanced nutrition. Canned cat foods are also a great source of high calorie nutrition, but because of their higher liquid content they may freeze during the coldest temperatures. Frozen food won’t help much.
Your feeding/watering stations should be protected from the cold and placed as near to the sleeping shelter as possible so that the cats do not have to be exposed to harsh conditions when they need to eat or drink.
Remember to feed the cats at the same time each day to allow them to expect and rely on a schedule. Just like your housecats know when to expect a meal, these need to be able to do that, too. Why? Because if they don’t know whether they will be eating or not, they will have to venture out into the cold to look for food. That sport of defeats the whole purpose of what you are trying to do! Fresh and clean water is integral to a cat’s survival. Yes, snow is an excellent source for water, but please don’t forget to check the water bowl regularly to make sure it hasn’t frozen during the night.
If you find it in your heart to be a real hero to these homeless felines, you’ll be rewarded with not dealing with pesky rodents…and with the knowledge that you truly are making a HUGE DIFFERENCE to the ones you are sheltering. And that should warm you from the inside out!