Monday, December 4, 2017
This past Saturday was the first ever Austin Catio Tour put on by the Travis County Audubon Society. They did an amazing job of showcasing 10 catios that varied in size, style, and number of contented cat customers served. One "certified cat lady" had a screened porch built for her herd, but hers wasn't even the largest structure featured. A stop by the home with that honor came with a side of barbecue and refreshments.
One homeowner added style to her catio by planting a clean, modern border of foxtail ferns along the outer wall. Her catio was basically a screened-in porch, and its construction included building a wooden deck, exterior paint to match the house, and plenty of cat perches clustered in favored spots to avoid squabbles over the perfect vantage point.
For this inaugural tour, all but one were built by The Cat Carpenter, David Murphy. David is a cat lover and customizes the structures with the cats' safety and needs in mind. By noon on Friday, 800 people had registered for the free tour, and optional donations had netted around $1700 for Travis Audubon.
A number of other cities such as Portland have also hosted Catio Tours. But if you don't live in such an enlightened place, have never heard of a catio, or simply wonder why anyone would need such a thing, well find a comfy chair and read on.
Catios are safe outdoor havens where cats can safely spend their time outdoors, watching the bird channel or simply lounging on a cat sized perch. To quote Travis Audubon, "A cat patio or Catio lets frisky felines exercise, play out hunting instincts and snooze in the sun safely. They can’t kill birds, and cats are protected from dogs, cars, coyotes, and other outdoor hazards. The screened spaces can be elaborate, freestanding structures outfitted with sunbathing perches, ramps and spiral staircases or a series of inexpensive wood and wire cubes."
Wondering about cost? If you're handy, there's help and building plans available online. There are also quite a few ready made structures you can order for under $1000. But if you're looking for someone in Austin to do the work for you, David's creations are so perfectly crafted to suit the cats and their owners' homes, you may find it worth the extra cost and the wait. He already had nearly a month long wait prior to the tour. When I spoke with him Saturday afternoon, that wait list had turned into job security.
Although I'm a member of Travis Audubon and share their interest in birds, the real reason I went on the tour is my formerly feral cat, Kinky. He went from untouchable neighborhood ghost, a little black head popping up briefly from the storm drains, to my own personal schmoo. You can imagine it took time to build that trust. A huge step was getting him to spend a night in the garage, even if he couldn't yet be contained during the day. When a number of aggressive cats moved in with new neighbors and Kink was sliced open from an ear to his eye, he finally had to come in full time regardless of his protests. Now he's comfortable enough with containment to use a catio, although he'll no doubt serenade the neighborhood all day. He's a real yowler!
Having worked hard to transform my yard into a welcoming habitat for birds and pollinators, it's also my responsibility to protect those visitors. Anoles, squirrels, rabbits, and yes, birds, easily fall prey to outdoor cats. A catio would benefit all involved, and the vet bill for that last cat fight would've paid for it! There's really no limit to the imaginative ways you can incorporate a catio into your yard. On David's website, there's enclosed tunnels and bridges (catwalks, right?), some giving cats access to nearby trees while still being safely contained.
For Kinky, we're looking for something that snugs up against an exterior wall, using the existing pet door for access. At the home of Jeff and Kate Baker, I found one exactly like what we're hoping to build.
Their cat has access through a pet door that was installed in the lower part of a window, and there's a small exterior door to aid in cleaning. A galvanized panel covers the roof, and the roof extends far enough to keep kitty shaded in mid-day sun and dry in a light rain. This catio used poly deer fencing which is sturdy enough to stand up to cat claws, but it also has openings large enough to allow insects (and the occasional unlucky anole) to drop by for the cat's amusement. I've had enough "presents" from the cat, and will opt for something with smaller openings. Other catios on the tour were built with screening or hardware cloth, depending on what best suited the location and owners' preferences. Here's the detail of the material, as well a close-up of the little door and handsome hardware. You can also see the way the perch corners are finished nicely.
If you've got a catio of your own, or are thinking of building one, don't just lurk there - please leave a comment. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
All material © 2017 by Vicki Blachman for Playin' Outside. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.