Monday, August 17, 2015

The catio is open

I finally finished a project I've been wanting to do since I moved into this house: Create an outside space for the cats.

I've always felt kind of bad about keeping Keaton inside. I know that indoor cats live longer lives and aren't at the same risk for disease, fleas, etc. as outdoor cats, but Keaton was kind of a free spirit, and it kind of made me feel like I was depriving her of that by not letting her out.

But on the other hand, I was worried that if I let her and Alex out, they might try to go back to the old turf, and — for a cat — that's a long way to go. Even if they didn't, this part of town has more traffic, and I've noticed a few dogs that run loose. Plus, there's probably some cats that have claimed this territory and would fight over it. So I know they are safer indoors.

But that doesn't mean they can't ever go outside. I did get (as Christmas gifts from my brother) harnesses and leashes for them. I have used them and probably will in the future, but it's kind of a hassle. Cat's don't like having harnesses put on them. Imagine that. And one time when I had Keaton out, she managed to wriggle out of the harness and I had to chase her down and crawl under the neighbor's deck to get her. But I think they might come in handy for trips to the vet or if I ever need to travel with them.

So my next step was to create an outside enclosure for them. You can buy such things already made or in sets, but they seemed like a lot more than I wanted to spend. So I thought I'd see if I could do it myself, and I came across this site, which describes how to build a cat enclosure from wire bookshelves. Seems like a great idea — you can design it how you want it, and it would be easier to disassemble and transport than some of the commercial ones.

So I finally got around last month to ordering the supplies. I found some of the wire shelving cubes (there are sets with four cubes available, but for what I needed the six-cube set was more of a bargain) and this pet door designed to be used with screens.

The first day's work. I at least had the layout set up.
I started on it this weekend. I was really only able to get an hour of work on Saturday and Sunday before it got too hot (and Sunday I didn't drink much water before or while working, so ended up with a headache that lasted most of the day). But today wasn't quite as hot, and I had the day off, so I set about getting the thing done.

Day Two: I put some garden netting around the edges to help keep them from trying to dig outof the enclosure, and also to keep things like toads from getting in (and maybe ending up in my bed. Eww.)
All in all, it probably took me eight hours total to get it completed. I was just kind of winging it, too, so I had to make a couple of runs into town for supplies (like replacing the bag of zip ties that I bought over a week ago and wasn't able to find. Grrrr.)
Another view after work on Sunday.

Zip ties are your friend on a project like this!
The pet door snaps together through the window screen.
The entry tower needed some extra support.
Today, as I progressed with building the entry "tower," I thought it would be a good idea to add a little stability to it. So I headed to the hardware store for some six-foot wooden garden poles. Those were just what I needed. They also help provide some support for a plank I found in the garage that acts as a "step" for the cats to use in getting in and out.

I drilled some holes through the garden stakes and put the zip ties through them.
The finished "catio"! It's not the prettiest, but it's sturdy.
Once I had it finished, I propped open the pet door with a stick. Then I went inside and opened up the bedroom window; Alex followed me in there, so I hurried back outside to wait for her to try it out. It didn't take long before she stuck her head out and started investigating. It only took her about 10 minutes to actually hop out and start checking out the "catio*." Before long, Keaton stuck her head out, and once she saw Alex out there, cautiously hopped to the ground, too.

They explored, nibbled on some grass that I had planted in that area a few weeks before and looked all around, wide eyed. After awhile, they were even able to relax and just lay around for awhile.

Keaton relaxes in a corner. I had to slip the milk crate in so they could get to the step a little easier.
For now, I'll just let them out while I'm around to supervise. I want to make sure they don't find a way out of the enclosure. And I'm not totally sure I'll just let them come and go when I'm at work anyway, especially if the AC needs to be on (if it's going to be hot enough for the AC, then I leave Buster inside).

I do still need to do a few things to make it really work. One of the comments on the pet door noted that after awhile, the snaps that keep the frame together would come undone, but the commenter was able to fix that with some screws and bolts through the frame. Also, I need a good way to keep it closed when I don't want them going out but want to keep the window open. I have a block devised so they can't push it open, but after I had that set, I found Alex at the window trying to PULL it open from inside! So for now, I'll just have to leave the window open a couple inches if I don't want them going out.

Alex really seemed to like it, which surprised me. Keaton, after all, was the feral cat. And after we moved to this house, she would at times sit in an open window or peek out the storm door and meow in a way that just sounded soooooooooo saaaaaaaaaaad. And yet, she only went out once today. It was Alex that I had a hard time getting to come back in this evening!

I'm sure Keaton will like it eventually. She's probably just pretending to not care.

All told, I probably spent about $170 on this project. Most of that was for the storage cubes. The green garden netting was already here; Mom had placed it in the same location, I assume to help keep the weeds down. I just had to pull it up and cut it into strips. And that milk crate, I've had that since college. I didn't steal it, I inherited it from a roommate.

* I really have some mixed feelings about using the word "catio." It is one that is frequently used to describe an outdoor cat enclosure, but I guess the editor in me shudders at using "trendy" made-up words. But it's better than what my neighbor said — "Oh, a cat house, huh?"

They seem to enjoy it!

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