Cat rescue provides cozy digs for feral felines

·3 min read
Cat rescue provides cozy digs for feral felines

A local cat rescue group that finds rural homes for feral cats is turning donated coolers into warm, winter shelters.

"What's nice is that they're weatherproof, they're easy to clean [and] they're already insulated," said Laura Clark, the driving force behind Barn Buddies.

Clark uses a 15-centimetre drill bit to create a hole in the side of a plastic cooler. The container is stuffed with straw, and when combined with the cat's body heat, provides a space safe during frigid temperatures.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Untamed or homeless cats are at risk in winter, unlike coddled felines with access to warm laps and cozy couches.

"With the temperatures getting colder, they run the risk of frostbite. Their ears will start to chip away at the tips. They ... end up with these awful curled ears," said Clark, as she prepared to drill a hole in yet another donated cooler.

Barn Buddies is a volunteer-run charity based in Greely, Ont., that acts as a middleman between animal shelters and people willing to accept feral cats. In many cases, these cats are destined to be euthanized, because they aren't candidates for adoption.

"The rescue groups make efforts to try to socialize them. But the cats are too overwhelmed. They spend six months in a foster home hiding under a bed," said Clark. "We're trying to give them kind of a similar environment that they're used to, but in a safe way. They have food. They have shelter."

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

Clark, 33, established Barn Buddies after the family moved to their Greely, Ont. farm in 2017.

"We essentially inherited 30 plus cats that were rapidly procreating. There were kittens everywhere. It was very overwhelming and very sad," she said.

Barn Buddies asks barn owners to commit to keeping the cats in a large crate for a two-to-three week transition period.

"It's not just show up, let the cat loose and hope for the best." said Clark. "They have to imprint on their new space."

To date, Barn Buddies has placed more than 500 cats, including one at the RCMP barn in Pakenham.

"Playing the matchmaker and seeing the cats go from a really bad scenario to a safe barn … is just so rewarding," said Clark.

Hallie Cotnam/CBC
Hallie Cotnam/CBC

But even warm barns or heated garages can use a cat cooler.

"They have … lots of nice warm places for the cats to go," said Clark. "[But] sometimes the cats are too freaked out to go where the humans hang out."

So, the coolers are placed in a quite spot in the barn or garage.

"The cats will use them. It's a sense of security. They can hide in them," said Clark.

"You'll see the cat has formed a little nest in there."

Clark is always looking for barns or garages willing to provide a home for a feral cat, whether out of kindness or for more practical reasons.

"They will hunt mice, rats, and chipmunks. We've placed a lot of cats in shops in granaries. It's a really good alternative to poison," said Clark.

All the cats she places have been neutered and immunized. The idea is to control the population without resorting to euthanasia.

"You have a couple of cats in a barn. It's cute. But suddenly two or three cats grow into like 30 cats. So it can be very overwhelming."

Barn Buddies helps with the final step of the trap-neuter-release process. Releasing cats into supportive environments, with food to eat, mice to chase and a cooler-turned-home.