By Christine Mallar
The Feral Cat catio tour in Portland has sold out again this year! What’s a catio? It’s an enclosed outdoor space for kitties that keeps them safe from harm’s way and protects much of the wildlife that is harmed by outdoor cats every year. Between 2-4 billion birds a and 7 -20 billion small mammals are killed by cats in the U.S. alone. The introduction of cats has caused the extinction of at least 33 endemic species on islands throughout the world.
We of course adore our cats here in the U.S. and want them to be happy. I personally deeply respect their natural behaviors, and Mike and I try to meet Otis’ needs for interactive prey/predator simulation via interactive play every day. When we first adopted him at 10 years old, we were dedicated to turning him from an outdoor cat to an indoor cat – he had already been hit by a car in his lifetime, disappearing for a few days before showing up on the lawn and needing $5,000 in emergency surgery. He’s a fancy looking Himalayan with a laid back social nature, so he was stolen twice from his previous owner, and luckily recovered (one time by a friendly uniformed officer that was willing to mediate).When we met him he lived right near Green Dog, and started coming in our back door during the daytime and spending time socializing with all of us and our customers. Unfortunately, when he was outside, he was showing us how little he had learned about car safety by laying down for a bath right in the crosswalk on our busy street, or sprawling in the middle of a parking space along the side of the building. When he’d spot someone he wanted to visit, he’d just trot right through traffic to get to them. We felt like we had to save him from inevitable trouble with cars and luckily his owner was worried too and thrilled we wanted to take him.
We committed ourselves to daily environmental enrichment for him (regular introduction of piles of paper to play in, boxes with holes of different sizes, bags, etc rotated through his play area). Being food motivated, he also enjoyed learning tricks for treats (he learned about 16 of them over time). The most important part of the puzzle was daily interactive play. Using toys to simulate the movement of prey animals that he could chase and hunt was key to keeping him satisfied as an indoor cat. The best interactive toy remains the “Da Bird” toy with its various attachments (sparkle, mouse and of course the spinning flying feathers). For really energetic catches, we’d give him a treat. For his very best most spectacular catch of the evening, we ran upstairs and gave him a 3/4″ piece of bony meaty raw chicken neck, which allowed him to “hunt”, “catch” and “eat a bird” in a a fairly awesome simulated way. It was truly satisfying to him. It also supercharged our play sessions, making him ultra-motivated to play every night and to run harder and faster. He knew that there was something in it for him! What we haven’t done for him yet but we aspire to is to build him some sort of catio.
A catio is a structure (Cat Patio) that allows cats to be outdoors yet remain enclosed. It can be the simple modification of an existing porch by adding screening or mesh, it can be a structure built off of a window, or a tunnel system that they can travel through above the ground. It gives them the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors, minus the risk. Even a small enclosure attached to a window can bring an indoor cat a lot of pleasure.
Can you imagine letting your dog out the door and into the city in the morning and saying “Have a good day! See you tonight! Hope you don’t get into trouble out there”? I can’t tell you how many stories we hear regularly in the store about losing their cats to coyotes, cars, infections due to fights, etc. Check out different catio designs online – you might be inspired!
Cats Safe At Home