Last winter was pretty cold here in New York. There was that whole polar vortex thing, which brought the temperature in Central Park to 4 °F on January 7, 2014. That was the lowest temperature recorded for that day since 1896. Also in January, New York City received over four feet of snow, a record breaking amount. So when I say that last winter was pretty cold here in New York, I mean it was basically a reenactment of The Day After Tomorrow every day.
But while we have space heaters and holiday sweaters at the PolicyGenius office, our feline friends in the neighborhood do not. We noticed three feral cats (also called neighborhood cats or community cats) near our office in Williamsburg, New York a few weeks ago. As the weather got colder, we realized we wanted to do something to help take care of the feral cats in our neighborhood.
After some research, we made some crucial discoveries. First, we realized that the cat shelters that already existed in our neighborhood were not insulated, and thus poorly set up for the winter season. Second, we noticed that materials we might think of as insulating (blankets, hay, fake sheepskin) actually do more to take away a cat’s body heat, especially if the material gets wet.
With this in mind, we scoured the internet for instructions on how to build the perfect winterized feral cat shelter. Check out our feral cat shelter build process in the video below:
We got our feral cat shelter instructions from Alley Cat Allies, a national advocacy organization dedicated to the protection and humane treatment of cats. Check them out below:
Rubbermaid‐style storage container with fitting lid (18 gallon or larger ‐ use dark, earth‐tone colors) [Amazon]
1 roll Reflectix Insulation [Amazon]
1 sheet Foam Board (optional ‐ adds extra layer of insulation on bottom) [Amazon]
1 pair scissors
catnip (optional, but very helpful) [Amazon]
Carefresh Natural Bedding [Amazon]
Step one: the front door
Using your sharper, trace a 5-inch square entrance on one of the storage container’s long sides. The bottom of the entrance should be about four to five inches from the bottom of the container. The entrance should be large enough for a cat head, but not big enough for a raccoon or fox.
With your hairdryer, warm up the container where you drew your square. While warm, using your box cutter to carefully cut out the two sides and bottom of the square, creating a flap. Fold flap upward to create space for cat to get under and inside. Alternative: Cut the square out completely and create a hinge using gorilla tape.
Cut off any sharp corners and tape the edges of the flap.
Step two: floor insulation
Cut the foam board to the size of the bottom of the container and securely place inside. While this step isn’t necessary, it does add an extra layer of insulation between the outside world and the cat’s nest.
Step three: more insulation
Cut the Reflectix insulation and completely line the inside of the storage container (bottom and all four sides), as well as the inside of the lid. Use as much Gorilla or insulation tape to securely attach insulation to the container. Cats may not use a container with a sloppy lining and it’s not as warm.
Trim the insulation from going over the edge of the container. You want the lid to fit tightly.
Cut insulation where the entrance is located and place tape completely around the edge of the entrance, securing the insulation to the container all the way around.
Step four: pour bedding
Pour four inches of the Carefresh bedding into the container, completely covering the bottom.
Step five: place & bait
Place the lid on top, making sure it fits tightly onto the container. Put a few pieces of Gorilla tape to keep it in place, but make it easy for you to remove the lid so you can refresh the bedding yearly, seasonally, or as needed.
Place the finished shelter in a hidden location in the cats’ home territory. You can put a brick or rock on top of the shelter to help keep it in place.
Sprinkle a large pinch of catnip in the entrance of the shelter to entice feral cats to check it out.
Make sure to check on your cat shelter occasionally to see if the bedding needs to be changed. After a particularly bad period of rain or snow, the bedding may need to be changed. Otherwise, change the bedding annually or seasonally. If you notice other issues or wild animals have made their homes in your cat shelter, you may want to move the shelter to a new location.