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The ogre that wasn't

I finally got my catio built, and my cats couldn't be happier

My cats, including 17-year-old Monroe who had never shown interest in going outdoors before, now spend the majority of their time in the catio.

A few years back I attended a panel discussion at Animal Care Expo where Barbara Carr, then director of the Erie County SPCA, talked about the Ogre of Procrastination. You know—that big ugly monster of an incomplete project that looms over you, causing you to lose sleep and remaining undone? It’s the thing that, no matter how simple or how complicated, has morphed into a mythical creature of such proportions that the task seems impossible.

I keep the button with a cartoon ogre that Barbara handed out that day at my desk as a reminder to not let important projects be delayed and transformed into monsters. So it seemed fitting that the week after this year’s Animal Care Expo, I took some time off to tackle an ogre that has been hanging out at my house for the last year—building a catio for my five indoor cats.

I’ve been promoting catios for a while now and was inspired by the catio experts (as I hope you were) during last year’s Curious About Catios webinar. I have a Pinterest board full of ideas and pages of sketches of how a catio could be incorporated into the existing features of my backyard. But when it came to actually building something, the ogre showed up. That’s probably what happens to a lot of folks when you suggest a catio as a safe space for their cats to enjoy the outdoors. They are on board with the idea, but the implementation is another question.

One of our jobs is to make solutions easier. We work to make it easier for people to get their animals spayed or neutered, easier to adopt animals from our shelters and easier to help animals in need. We also want to make it easier for folks to solve conflicts with wildlife and their indoor-outdoor cats, or just to provide protected outdoor enrichment for indoor cats. Part of that is being able to see the challenges from the perspective of the people we are trying to help.  So here I am in a position to see things from both angles. Silver lining!

Back at Expo 2017, I found more inspiration. Just down the road from the Broward County Convention Center is a billboard with a Nelson Mandela quote: “Everything appears to be impossible and then it is done.” And that’s kind of how it was with my catio.

With the help of a former colleague who aspires to start a catio building business and a few friends, within a few days, a bunch of 2x4s and a few rolls of welded wire fencing were transformed into a safe outdoor cat enclosure. The catio consists of half the space under an existing second-floor balcony and an 11-by-11 foot section of the back yard. It took another week of evening and weekend work to add perches, plants and finishing touches. By enlisting volunteer labor, borrowing tools from neighbors and using reclaimed materials whenever possible, I kept the costs down.

Once the structure was secure, I let the cats assist with setting perch height and landscaping tasks. Mr. Meowgi tested the strength of the walls, verified that there were no escape routes and determined that the base for a water fountain was just as good as a bed. My cats, including 17-year-old Monroe who had never shown interest in going outdoors before, now spend the majority of their time in the catio. Gigi, who spent a decade as a community cat before moving inside a year ago, is showing a level of confidence I’ve never seen in her. The benefits are much greater than even I imagined. In fact, it was the first time I’ve seen all five of my cats in the same room at the same time. Spats between cats have decreased and seem to mostly now be focused on the catnip plant (which may have already been eaten to death).

It was a lot of work, but it wasn’t the ogre I’d imagined. And it helped that before it was finished, I signed up to be on my neighborhood garden tour to show off the new catio. My community, like many others, doesn’t (yet) have enough catios to field a full-fledged catio tour like those in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, so a local home and garden tour is an opportunity to inspire and give a little how-to talk on catio building wherever you live. It spurred conversations about keeping cats indoors and humanely managing our local community cat colonies. Of course, it helped that another stop on the tour also hosts a very nice outdoor cat shelter. (Check out photos from last weekend’s Seattle Catio Tour.)

One unexpected benefit of the catio? My friends and neighbors want to come by to visit even when I’m not home. I’m grateful to have the ogre off my back and plan to pay homage to him with an ogre statue in the catio garden.

What’s your ogre? How are you going to confront that sucker this summer? Tell us below!

About the Author

Danielle Jo Bays is the Community Cats Program Manager for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), utilizing her skills in public policy, hands-on TNR, networking and resource development to expand The HSUS’s community cat work nationwide. Prior to rejoining The HSUS, Danielle served as the Program Manager for the community cats program at the Washington Humane Society in Washington, D.C. and continues to be a strong and passionate voice for community cats in her neighborhood and city.