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Give Me Shelter uses the tenets of the open-source maker community and pairs it with the get-it-done can do attitude of non-profit organizations. By creating a set of simple designs for feral cat shelters this project hopes to help and inspire feral cat caregivers to create low cost shelters that are durable and visually appealing.
Caring for feral cats is often a clandestine effort with little thanks. This project evaluated the needs of both the caregivers and the cats they care for determining that providing winter shelters was the area of greatest need. Through this project, caregivers can use simple designs and off-the-shelf materials to create purpose-built and attractive shelters for less than any shelter they currently create. The plans are open to the public and freely available to use as is or adapt as desired.
Corokitty.com was created to host these designs. It has been visited by people from countries all over the world and has hopefully provided many people with new ideas on what a feral cat shelter can be. The site is currently referenced in the shelter gallery of Alley Cat Allies for anyone researching feral cat care to find.
Give Me Shelter is a project aimed at providing useful feral cat shelter designs to animal rescue organizations and individuals. By following the tenets of the Creative Commons and the growing open-source community, the goal was to create a design that is easy to make and assemble, functional, and expresses the care these groups have for the cats they care for.
The direction of the project was dictated primarily by a feral cat I began to care for in my back yard at the beginning of this project. I started feeding the cat and became interested in researching the feral cat issue. It wasn't long before I was volunteering at the local animal rescue group's facility and conducting interviews with many groups and individuals involved with helping feral cats.
After digging a bit deeper I discovered a micro-community of caregivers that spend a great deal of time and money tending to these homeless cats by providing them with food, sterilization, and veterinary care. This practice, known as TNR (trap-neuter-return) is considered the most humane way to repair the homeless cat issue. The TNR cause is a tireless cause with many obstacles, hurdles, and few rewards or pats on the back. Those that have taken up this issue do it purely out of love and care for the cats.
Because of the time and cost to feed the cats many of the caregivers do not have the resources to provide shelters for the cats. These shelters are not necessary all year, but are often life saving during the winter months. Some feral cat care websites even suggest that shelters are often more important than food because without a warm place to retreat a cat can become sick or freeze to death during the winter.
It's important to note that feral cat caregivers are industrious and find DIY solutions to many things they do. For a typical shelter they act as product hackers turning Rubbermaid containers into winter shelters. Two holes are cut on either side and some form of insulation is added. It is a very simple and economical solution costing roughly $15.00 to $20.00 to make. Other shelters can be purchased at various websites, such as Amazon and Etsy, from $70.00 to well over $100.00 each.
There were three main challenges in designing the shelters. They include cost, durability, and ease of construction. Cost and durability go hand in hand as a low cost shelter that will fall apart has little value. To increase the value and lower the year to year costs the shelters needed to be able to survive for many years. Many organizations have a talented pool of volunteers that are willing to help build shelters. They typically host shelter building parties in the months leading up to winter. Therefore, the shelter construction could include some creativity without hindering the ability to actually produce them.
With cost being the greatest factor finding a suitable material was the first goal. The material had to be able to withstand rain and provide some level of insulation. While out doing research I noticed old four foot by eight foot corrugated plastic political signs hanging up on fences around the city. The next day I went around and started harvesting them as a potential free material to use for creating mock-ups.
It turned out that the corrugated plastic was very strong and became even stronger when rolled into a cylinder. Once that was discovered it became clear that it was the right material. Political signs typically go up in the summer and are left as trash in the months just before winters. They are a very convenient choice for up-cycling into feral cat shelters. Most of the designs presented here use purchased corrugated plastic, as it is very cheap and comes in a variety of colors. However, using political signs is an easy way to reduce the cost even further. Corrugated plastic offers some insulation, having an air gap along the fluting, it can be printed on, it's food grade, it's easy to work with, and it's recyclable. It made the perfect material for this project. Supplementing the corrugated plastic shell with straw or pine shavings creates a warm dry place for the cats.
The shelters need a strong support structure and weight to make them rugged and keep them from blowing away in the wind. Therefore, it was determined that plywood would make a great structure material as it can be made waterproof and is very easy to cut. With these two materials in hand the design began to take shape. Because the shelter needed to be easy to assemble it was designed so that the plywood could be inserted into the plastic in a way that allowed each material to support the other. This allowed the feet and ears to take shape eventually leading to a design that looks a bit like a cat.
The cat design was well received by the local animal shelters as a way to create an iconic shape for the efforts put into caring for feral cats. Though feral cats do typically play with toys or enjoy the luxuries of indoor cats they are cared for in a similar manner when they have a TNR caregiver. This shelter is a much more presentable way to showcase their care for the cats while also serving as a beacon for others to know the cats are cared for. If the shelters are to be placed in a hidden location the small form factor can accommodate that as well.
The Corokitty cat design was developed into three designs offering various total costs and build complexities. During this process the hexagon design was also created as a way to build small community homes from cats that are willing to live together. In general feral cats are solitary creatures, but will at times, especially if they are spayed and neutered will live together in a small community.
The primary goal of this project is ensuring caregivers can produce as many shelters as possible with the least amount of money. It seeks help from the open-source maker community to get the shelter kits created allowing the care organizations to easily assemble and distribute them to feral cats living outdoors. The main method for delivering the shelter plans is the website www.corokitty.com. This website has been visited by people all over the world who have hopefully found something they can build for their local feral cat colonies.
They very nicely demonstrated what the problem was and how their solution can help with that.