With the kittens out of the house I have more time to obsess over whether or not our feral cats are warm enough. It just started snowing this morning so I'm glad I spent the weekend working on our new project: reusable insulating beds for the outdoor shelters. Or, "Sleeping bags for cats."
I have been thinking of alternatives to straw for a while. Straw is the go-to insulator for cat shelters, but I had a hard time finding it this year. Not to mention, it's messy in use and hard to clean up in the spring. So I tried to find something reusable to replace it.
I wanted something that would insulate as well as straw, be pliant and water-tolerant like straw, but allow for easy cleaning and reuse. In my Boy Scout days we learned Hollofil, the synthetic material used to stuff sleeping bags. It purported to feel like down (not really), was as warm but unlike feathers, didn't lose insulation ability when wet. I looked around online and found a place to order a roll of Hollofil. At first I thought about just stuffing the raw batting into the shelters, but I quickly realized we would need fabric to cover it. Not knowing where else to go, we visited Mood Fabrics (you know, that place they always go to on Project Runway).
Mood was pretty cool (the building still uses an elevator with an old dude controlling its movement with that maritime-type lever thingy), if overwhelming. We didn't buy anything but we left knowing we would need a synthetic fabric that would be strong enough while allowing the finished product to hold its shape somewhat.
I went to Rite Aid (across the street from the house) that night and saw they were selling those not-quite-big-enough-for-practical-use fleece throws; they were on sale for a dollar each! The fleece fabric is thin and a bit suspect in the longevity department. But I couldn't argue with the price (about 50 cents a yard)! Plus the dimensions were nearly perfect to what we had in mind: wide enough to creep up the walls of the shelter and long enough to cover the floor.
We broke out the sewing machine (which we admittedly bought specifically for this project, but we think we'll use it for other stuff, eventually) and once we figured out how to use it, we started stitching. We just sewed the fleece together, cut off enough Hollofil to fill it, then sewed up the open end. We fit the resulting 'pillow' into the cat house and prodded the indoor cats to test it out. Decatur went inside and didn't come out for an hour. Success!
We made several more, including one variation on the theme in which we cut the blanket into 14 small pillows. We're hoping that if we pile these inside a shelter, the cats will figure out how to burrow underneath, but it's hard to know how we'll be able to tell what they do with it. Several houses now have the Hollofil pillows in them, so we'll try to monitor their use to see which ones get the most traffic. Despite the logic and thought we put into all of this, the real challenge is getting all the cats to use the houses properly. We're distributing catnip to increase traffic, but it's too early to to tell yet what the adoption rate will be. At least I feel a little better that they will be covered when it gets really cold.