Thanks to a woman’s love of animals and moment of creative inspiration, feral cats in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, have a place to come in from the cold.
Vinessa Campbell is the head of Cape Breton Animal Band-Aid Sanctuary, a nonprofit that helps abandoned and abused animals.
As she was pondering what her organization could do to help these cats during the area’s harsh winters, her grandfathers design for a doghouse gave her an idea.
“When he passed away, I had all his paperwork and I just came by [the design] by accident, actually,” she said. “And I just said, Granddad, Im just going to redo your doghouse, OK? I hope you dont mind. I have a wonderful idea. “
Now Band-Aid Sanctuary has sold 17 of the shelters. Some people have nicknamed the multi-story shelters “cat condos” because they can hold about 10 animals at a time.
These shelters are designed to keep feral cats warm and safe. Theyare insulated, so that the cats’ body heat can reflect back and raise the temperature inside to a survivable level.
The shelters also give the cats a home base, which makes it easier for rescuers to trap them, neuter them and then put them back into their colonies.
“A feral humane shelter is not new,” Campbell said. But “I think the design of this shelter in particular is new. Feral cats have been around [for many] years, but as long as they have food and shelter, they can actually have a very luxurious life in these condos.”
But the shelters don’t just help the cats. They help the people who build them, too.
Campbell contracts out the work for the shelters to Pathways to Employment, a community organization that helps adults with mental health issues develop job skills.
Rob Fay suffered a brain injury several years ago.
He said constructing the shelter not only gives wild cats a home, but it helps him.
“It helps me with my sight because I’m legally blind,” said Fay. “It helps me show up for work every day, where I was sitting in a hospital for two years, so it’s just starting my life over again and it has given me a chance to do that. It makes me feel good because they’re not out there freezing to death, like [the cats] actually have a home to live in.”
It costs about $140 to make the shelters, and she sells them for that price.
Clare Larade, the owner of Simeons Family Restaurant in Sydney, bought one of the shelters. He said about nine feral cats pile into the little house on most nights.
Larade and his employees have fed the cats for years. Now, he knows they have a warm place to sleep.
“This time of year if you have in your heart please give and please supply a shelter to someone that you know who is feeding feral animals if that person is unable to do it themselves,” Campbell said.
While her idea may not eliminate the stray cat population, Campbell hopes it will decrease the number of feral kittens born in the wild.