Apartment with a Catio

Ever since I learned what a catio was, I’ve wanted one. I mean, look at this website. Catios EVERYWHERE.

They provide an enclosed, outdoor space. Perfect for city cat living. The longer I own cats, the more I hate keeping them cooped up indoors. But I also recognize the idiocy of letting them run free. My cats have only ever lived in buildings surrounded by concrete, and using a harness and leash to walk them doesn’t exactly improve my image of being a crazy cat lady. So, many years ago I made a promise (primarily to Smirnoff, as he loves going outside) that within his lifetime, he’d get a catio. I really hoped I could fulfill that promise. He was eight when I made that promise – so still some time.

Then, at the beginning of this year, my husband and I were forced to move apartments after ours was bought and torn down for condos. Not ideal, as we had been living there for three years. But it was a chance to find a better location for commuting to work and maybe get a few (pricey) upgrades. A catio was still a dream idea… until we saw our new apartment.

A non-street facing balcony with a roof and solid walls? Great potential. But there was still the issue of not owning the place. Landlords usually don’t take too kindly to their tenants building structures. And yet… I’ve never had a landlord turn me down for owning three cats (which is the legal allowance in Los Angeles, but doesn’t mean landlords are typically open to the idea). That’s been surprising considering how often cats are brought into shelters for the reason of ‘moving’. But besides that hurdle, I was so bold as to make it a condition of our tenancy – that we would turn the balcony into a catio. Again, surprisingly, it was a non-issue. We were given only two rules: it had to be a non-permanent structure (ie. we can easily tear it down if we move) and the neighbors couldn’t complain of it being excessively ugly.

My husband and I made a deal as we signed our year-long lease that we’d build the catio first thing, for fear that we’d otherwise procrastinate and it would never come into existence. So despite being exhausted from a whirlwind of packing and unpacking, we spent our first few weekends in the new apartment planning for and building our catio. An ambitious endeavor for two people who had never built anything in our lives. Certainly nothing involving carpentry. And it couldn’t be excessively ugly.

I won’t go into all the details of making the catio. There are plenty of resources on the internet if you’re interested in the details. But here are a few things we learned along the way:

  1. Home Depot doesn’t help you cut dozens of pieces of wood. So, for us apartment-dwellers with no access to a circular saw, that meant Jon and I (but mostly Jon) spent nearly three hours hand sawing cheap wood using a bent, dull tool that for some reason Home Depot allows any random person off the street to use in their store.
  2. They say measure twice, cut once. But really, it should be: measure, like, ten times at least. And then make sure both people got the same measurements. And plan for the fact that balconies aren’t perfectly straight. And then make sure every piece of wood is super well-labeled. And then be prepared to make a few, er, creative adjustments to the design along the way.
  3. Staple guns are kinda fun. But loud.
  4.  Buying a corner clamp for a project that consists mainly of building rectangular frames is the best decision you could ever make. DO IT.
  5. Hipster lights make everything look cooler.
  6. Be prepared to overhear snarky remarks from your neighbors because CLEARLY YOU’RE BUILDING AN ENCLOSURE FOR A PUMA, and like, there are four cats living in your apartment at least. But then a random visitor says, “Oh, a catio! That’s so cool!” and you think, finally. Someone gets it. I’m so cool.

To be honest, making this catio took some hard work. Like, 3 full days (from breakfast until tea time) with two people, plus another couple half days of finishing the wire mesh. But the cats now enjoy their sun-filled mornings. I love sipping coffee out there on warm days. Or writing out there. Or reading. Or snuggling cats. Smirnoff loves the occasional moth that wanders into his path and meets its untimely demise. And we all love having one of the litterboxes outside.

The catio cost about $350 in supplies, which included:

  • the cheapest 2x2s available
  • carpentry screws
  • wood glue
  • a staple gun & staples
  • work gloves
  • a corner clamp
  • a small hand saw (to fix some mistakes)
  • wire cutters
  • mesh wire
  • three cats (previously purchased)

Here’s the final product:

Have you ever built a catio, or dreamed of having one? If so, leave a comment and let me know how you made (or will make!) it happen.

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NEW EPISODE of Cat Chat with Liz and Marci: Learning to Love the Litterbox

Hello Alcohol Cat fans! Open a beer, pour a glass of wine, take a shot, and celebrate this week with a new episode of Cat Chat with Liz and Marci. This new episode is all about the litterbox—how to set it up, how to trouble-shoot issues… and we all laugh a little too much about poop.

You can download this episode, share it, like it, comment on it… let us know if you’re a fan of Cat Chat, and if there’s anything you’d like us to cover in the next episode! Enjoy!

5 Years’ Worth of Cats: Part 2

Part 2: The Acquisition of Cats

I am a crazy cat lady. And by that, I mean I love cats a crazy amount. I am now the proud owner of three adopted cats (which, I’ll admit, was more than I intended to acquire when I began cat ownership). But I will also admit that three is currently my limit. (Not only is it the limit for the City of Los Angeles, but also for the sanity of my current cats. And perhaps also my boyfriend.) But each time I adopted a new cat, it was the most terrifying and rewarding moment of my life. And here’s why.

Smirnoff

Smirnoff is my first cat and the one that taught me the most about cats. In the beginning, he was evil. Well, he was actually high arousal. And perhaps a bit younger than the shelter said he was. Basically, he was a teenager going through typical feline teenage stuff (read: biting). I like to tell people how I used to have to go to bed holding a spray bottle, because as soon as I turned off the light and climbed into bed, Smirnoff would pounce and sink his teeth into me. It was a fun game for him. But with the spray bottle, I would get into bed, wait quietly, and then as soon as he pounced, I sprayed him with water. He eventually stopped this behavior.

It was also during that first lonely summer, working a terrible summer job, and having to go home to a terrifying cat, that I clicked “submit” on an application to volunteer at the animal shelter where I acquired said terrifying cat. It was an impulsive decision. But sometimes quick, impulsive decisions can have a huge effect on one’s life.

At the Animal Rescue League of Boston, I started out volunteering with the dogs. And that was simply because it was the first species-specific orientation I was able to attend. But the interesting thing was, I didn’t really enjoy going to spend with or walk dogs. I’d sneak in and look at the cats instead. The only real volunteer position I did was chop hot dogs in the kitchen, to be used as dog training treats. (Which, for anyone who knows me, is super hilarious considering I hate hot dogs.) But it was during these months of looking—but not touching—the cats that I met Halibut and fell in love.

Bacardi

Halibut was a one-year-old black cat with white flecks in his fur and big, yellow eyes that stared unblinking at me from his kennel. It was love at first sight. In the fall of 2010, Smirnoff’s behavior had been slowly improving, and I caught the cat bug. I really kind of wanted a second cat. And a voice kept nagging me—the voice of a staff member at the ARL when I adopted Smirnoff: “Just so you know, people who adopt cats like this usually come back for a second one.” (Cats like this aka. crazy ones.)

Around October of that year, I went on a date and brought him to the ARL to show off where I volunteered. And even though I was still not a cat volunteer, I opened Halibut’s cage and brought him into a meet-and-greet area. Halibut was so nice, and enjoyed being petted, and I thought to myself, what a cool cat. From that moment on, I made sure to visit Halibut every time I went in to volunteer.

The guy I went on a date with didn’t amount to anything. But Halibut sure did. And months later, he was still there in the same kennel, staring at me with those piercing eyes. He also seemed to be developing a skin issue, and I was worried as it got worse and worse. (The shelter seemed to think it was stress. It turned out to be simple food allergies.)

So I wrote to one of the other volunteers about how much I wanted to adopt him after the holidays (if he was still there), and she arranged for the cat to go into foster care for a couple weeks. In early January, I picked up a freshly neutered, reeking of cat urine, bald and oozing with sores, cat. I named him Bacardi.

The Alcohol Cats

Smirnoff and Bacardi were pretty quick to become friends. It was especially lucky as I didn’t really know much about having two cats at the same time. But they played together, and slept with each other on occasion, and groomed each other. They got into trouble together. One time I came home from work to find the entire contents of the freezer defrosted, and a steak and several hot dogs (belonging to my roommate) having mysteriously disappeared beneath their wrappings.

And for a long time, two cats seemed just the perfect number. They were a dynamic duo. Party cats. In fact, they loved large numbers of guests that came over my apartment. They would sit among the people, ready to steal the chair of whoever got up to refill their drink.

And I became more and more involved at the animal shelter. I found friends there (my “crazy cat lady crew” as I call them). I spent Saturdays helping other cats get adopted, and Mondays working with cats on their social skills, and Smirnoff’s original behavior made so much more sense the more that I learned. And now that he had a friend, he was much better behaved.

Warlow

In 2013, I suddenly found myself (and my cats) in a new city. I had a new career. I got to spend all day surrounded by cats and dogs, which was way better than sitting in a cubicle. Although I worked in the main adoptions area of the shelter, I always sneaked into the kitten nursery whenever I got the chance. (Who doesn’t love adorable kittens?) And a year into my new job, that’s where I met Warlow.

Warlow was the tiniest kitten. He had arrived with his mom and siblings. They all ended up in ringworm quarantine. And when they came back out, nearly two months later, Warlow was just as tiny as when he had entered. He looked like a gremlin. He was hunch-backed, with dilated pupils, brittle fur, and giant bat ears. I would go up to all the staff up front and ask, “have you seen the freak kitten in the nursery?”

It was hard not to fall in love with him. Everyone who met him did. The shelter vet carried him around in her pocket. He did nothing except purr if you so much as looked at him. (Whether he could see with his huge abnormal eyes, I do not know.) The medical staff never figured out what was wrong with him, and they ran dozens of tests. And even though most of the seasoned nursery staff were hesitant to say he’d live very long, Warlow grew. Slowly, but surely.

Then, at four months old when he was finally big enough to get neutered, I couldn’t let anyone else have him.

And even though I had adopted cats twice before, my hand still shook as I signed the paperwork. Because it never fails to hit me that I am not just taking home an animal, but that I am committing myself to taking care of another living being for the rest of its life.

A Three Cat Lady

So now here I am, five years from where I began. And I have not only Smirnoff, but Bacardi and Warlow, too. Some people might call me a crazy cat lady—and I agree, but based on way more than the number of cats I own! Certainly, when I have one black cat, one tabby cat, and one slightly smaller tabby cat piled on top of me, all snoring and purring away, I am quite content about things.

Smirnoff is no longer evil, but the best cat I will ever have in my life (perhaps more on that later). Bacardi is a mamma’s boy and mostly uses his hypnotizing stare to get more food (that he’s not allergic to). And Warlow is a slightly smaller than normal, but still pretty normal-looking cat that keeps the other two active in their middle age. And he flops down next to anyone and purrs like crazy.

Every day I see many cats at the shelters that I would love to bring home. It can be tough sometimes knowing I can’t personally help them, only encourage other people to. But I wouldn’t trade my three for anything. ❤

Trapped under a pile of cats. A crazy cat lady's dream.
Trapped under a pile of cats. A crazy cat lady’s dream.