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How to Make Thermal Boxes to Save Feral Cats’ Lives in Winter

A New York group called the Guardians of Rescue offers expert tips.

Julia Szabo  |  Dec 20th 2012


Knowing how our indoor kitties love their nice, warm sleeping spots, it pains cat lovers to see strays and ferals out on the mean streets in the bitter cold of winter with nowhere to curl up and hibernate — especially when it rains or snows.

In New York City, the Guardians of Rescue have decided to do something about this sad situation. The Guardians have proven their love of animals many times over, with words as well as deeds, rescuing and rehoming stray dogs and cats. They designated Sunday, December 23 as National Feral Cat Caretaker Day. And one Guardian member, carpenter Joe Caz, devised a simple, inexpensive way to help freezing feral felines by fabricating cold-weather cat shelters.

The beauty of this crafting project is that anyone can undertake it — and many have, as the positive feedback on the Guardians’ Facebook page indicates. Plus, it’s a lifesaver for homeless cats.

Guardians of Rescue has deployed about 1,000 of these outdoor boxes for the benefit of homeless cats all over New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, says Robert Misseri, the group’s founder. “600 of the boxes were for cats displaced by Hurricane Sandy,” he adds. Way to go, Guardians!

For those who want to follow the Guardians’ exemplary, cat-compassionate lead, Misseri shares how-to pointers in this Catster exclusive.

First, acquire “fish boxes,” which are Styrofoam boxes designed to keep fish frozen for 20 hours. “The insulation value is tremendous,” Misseri explains. Visit your local fish store or supermarket and ask them to give you the boxes, or ask your friendly neighborhood veterinarian to give you the coolers used to ship medicines and vaccinations.

Insulation works both ways, of course, so if a warm, purring creature enters a Styrofoam box, she’ll stay warm and protected against the cold. (Plus, you’re recycling and upcycling, so it’s win-win all around.)

Using a box cutter, carefully carve a half-circle into the side of each box, so that when they’re put together, the circular hole is just big enough for a cat to pass through — you don’t want to make the opening too large, or it’ll get drafty in there.

To construct the cat shelter, “Take the two boxes, match up the cutouts, and wrap them together tightly with shrink wrap,” he says. Then, use duct tape and heavy-duty black plastic trash bags to make it waterproof.” Where the hole is, cut into the plastic to create a flap as a baffle.

After that, place a handful of straw — not hay — inside as bedding material for kitties to nest in; purchase it at an Agway or similar type of farm-suppy store.

Misseri doesn’t recommend using a blanket, because unless you’re in an area where the climate is dry, once the blanket gets wet, the insulation will keep it wet indefinitely. Obviously that would defeat the whole purpose of this project, because no cat would ever want to nest in a box that’s cold and wet.

Finally, you’ll want to weigh down the structure, since styrofoam is so lightweight that the wind can easily carry it away. “We always secure ours with bricks and any kind of wood,” Misseri concludes. Voila — your cold-weather cat shelter is ready to be deployed!

Have you ever crafted something to help a homeless animal? Please share in the comments!

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