Come on in and cover me – Got the Jimmy Legs

Come on in and cover me

I am obsessed with shelter. Mine and the feral cats we watch over. Luckily, my house, however unkempt and run-down, is pretty sturdy. I get antsy when I worry that the skylight may not be watertight, or the cellar may be taking on water. But so far we've been lucky (well, we did have a bunch of plumbing work done to ensure the cellar won't flood).

So my attention ends up mostly being about the cats' shelter.We already have a number of shelters out back, but some are starting to fall apart and will need to be replaced. I built most of them, so I'm always trying to figure out how to build a shelter that will last forever and need zero maintenance.  In the past couple of months, I built a few types of cat houses, as well as purchased a ready-made shelter.

The ready-made one is a FeralVilla, a particularly handsome and resilient shelter. Made of plywood and shingles, it looks good in the yard and last years without much maintenance. We got one several years ago and it's still going strong, so we thought it a wise investment to get another one (they cost around $100). It's probably overkill, but I like having some houses to spare in case others need them.

I built a few shelters out of Rubbermaid containers I bought from Sears, these containers are great for shelters, they have  a rounded roof which is latched for easy opening. The inside is lined with rigid insulation and Styrofoam, the floor is covered with vinyl tiles to protect the foam, and a 6" hole is cut for entry using an unwieldy drill attachment. I'm able to grind these out pretty quickly; ultimately I'd love to be able to sell these to other feral cat advocates to use with their own colonies, but it's hard to have enough time to build up an inventory.

Last month I purchased a bunch of plywood and rigid insulation and set about building my own shelter inspired by the FeralVilla. I didn't really know what I was doing, I just started cutting the panels and figuring it out as I went along. Now that it's complete I can take the measurements to make them with greater precision. But all told it's not a bad start.

Like the FV, my shelter has a pitched roof to drain water (a serious issue for flat-topped shelters made out of storage bins), has 'feet' to keep it off the ground, and has 2 levels inside. The FV's ground level has no floor and is really more of a wind-break. I decided to build an actual ground floor to give cats the opportunity to stay there if they don't want to brave the penthouse. The house has 2 entrance doors, although there's only one entrance to the upper level. I would like to add a second entrance to the top but this will compromise its insulating abilities.  Each level is lined with rigid insulation and I included one of our Holofil cat pillows to give the cat something to nest on.

I covered the top in roofing material and painted the whole thing with gray exterior paint. I would have like a more jazzy color but the neutral gray is good for not attracting attention. When I set it up my neighbor thought it was a compost bin. I think that's a good thing, since I don't want anyone messing with it. I put the shelter out front since we didn't have any there (and it looks better than a plastic storage tote). So far there's only been one regular visitor, a new cat to us. She's a tuxedo cat with a collar on, and has outsmarted our every attempt to catch her thus far. She's probably an abandoned pet, so we're hoping to win her over soon.

I know most of our regular ferals have roosts elsewhere but I hope they use this house if they need it. I think it will last us a long time so in time I hope the cats will see it as just another part of their landscape and not suspect it's another type of trap like they fell for before! Next up: building an incognito cat shelter out of our old garbage cans!

See all the shelters I've been building in my flickr collection: Feral Cat Outdoor Shelters


  1. Posted January 17, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Nice work! I like the Adirondack style bedding and can't wait for the trash can renovation! Galvanized trash cans, or anything galvanized for that matter, are one of my favorite urban icons.

  2. Posted January 17, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    i love the metal cans but the prototype will have to be one of the ragged plastic cans you can see next to the shelter at the top. we've been meaning to get rid of them forever so this will be a good opportunity to recycle them!

  3. Millie Martinez
    Posted January 24, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    I just discovered your blog and have been glued reading your posts. Thank you for the work you do with such love. I want to suggest that you try Companies and individuals list surplus materials supplies for either free or low cost. You do so much for the cats, a little help goes a long way.

  4. Posted January 25, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Mille, Thanks that is an amazing resource! We have always dreamed of using wood pallets as building materials and I see they have them here for free. This will really come in handy, thanks!