It’s hard to believe the photo (above) taken four years ago is our former feral Domino, who lived on our porch for seven years. This was his choice not ours. He had a cozy shelter with an electric heating pad but it was no picnic braving storms and having to trek through snow to do his business. It’s bitterly cold as I write this with temperatures dipping into the single digits. Domino is draped on the pillow across a warm radiator but old habits die hard. He insisted on sitting on the porch as he does most days but today he wisely came in after a few minutes. I couldn’t help but think about all the cats who don’t have the luxury of an open door.
There are vestiges of his old life in his battle-scarred and winter-weary face and every time he returns a slow blink of love and trust I melt. As I was writing this the lyrics from an old Bob Dylan song: Shelter from the Storm came into my head.
…”Not a word was spoken between us there was little risk involved
Everything up to that point had been left unresolved
Try imagining a place where it’s always safe and warm
“Come in” she said
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm”…
Did you know pet parents in the U.S. spent a whopping 5 BILLION dollars this holiday season on gifts for their pets? I’m not about to tell you what to spend your money on but please consider the homeless ones who won’t be getting cozy sweaters or cat beds this winter. They’ll be lucky to get food and shelter.
How You Can Help Make A Difference For Feral or Indoor/outdoor Cats This Winter
- Anti-freeze is deadly. Clean up any leaks or spills. A cat may be tempted to lap up a puddle especially when everything is frozen and there’s nothing to drink. Even a teaspoon can be lethal.
- Rock salt is toxic on tender paws. If you can, use gentler ways to keep walkways safe like sand, non-clumping cat litter or non-toxic ice melt. I like Safe Paw.
- Cats seek shelter in cars under the hood. Before starting the engine, knock on the hood to wake-up any occupants and maybe save a life.
This is how Domino looked during his last winter outdoors. He rarely looked me in the eye but I think he was trying to communicate: Can you help me? This is getting old.
Tips for making or buying homeless or feral cat shelters
- The easiest and cheapest ‘instant’ shelter is simply a sturdy cardboard box with a trash bag taped over it. Elevate the box above the ground by securing it on wooden blocks or bricks. Add insulation like straw.
- Inexpensive shelters can be made with one plastic storage bin placed inside a smaller bin with styrofoam pieces in between as insulation. Stuff with straw, place the bin on its side facing a wall or tree to act as a wind break.
- Mylar, the material used in emergency ‘Space Blankets’, helps retain body heat and can be cut in pieces to cover the shelter.
- DIY creative types can make shelters out of wood and other materials but this video explains how to easily make a shelter.
We have Katkabins on our property which are cozy and weather-proof for any furry wayfarers passing through. We also leave the side door of the barn open a crack for small critters to ease their way in and find shelter. One year we had birds, chipmunks, rabbits and a feral cat. Snow is great for tracking pawprints but be sure to shovel areas near shelter access.
- K & H has a great selection of options for outdoor tents and heated feeding station. I wish I’d known about their heated, outdoor tent when Domino lived outdoors.
- A covered feeding station is a must. If there isn’t a heated shelter feed the cats only dry in sub-zero weather winter. Wet food freezes solid. Do not use metal bowls to avoid a cat’s tongue sticking to it. Fill with hot water which will freeze less quickly. Adding a pinch of sugar will slow freezing. If there is an electrical outlet available, there are heated bowls are designed to keep water above freezing.