Louise Vessey disliked cats until about five years ago, when a friend suggested a cat might help ease her daughter's anxiety. Even though Vessey is allergic to cats, the family adopted a purebred rag doll cat — and fell in love.
Now, the Charlottetown photographer is such a doting cat parent to her four cats — she laughingly shuns the title "crazy cat lady" — she's built them an $8,000 "catio." It's exactly what the word suggests: a patio for cats.
"I love sitting out here with the cats," Vessey said. "I'll have a nap and one will lay next to me and it's really nice."
'You feel guilty'
The family had a deck off the kitchen for years, but the cats wanted to come outside with the humans. They don't allow the cats to roam freely, for their safety.
"You feel guilty, like you're imprisoning your animals — you feel bad," said Vessey, who even even took steps to make the patio door open silently, because the cats would come running to get out if they heard it.
"I'd sneak out here... lay down on the sofa so he couldn't see me, and then I'd carefully look up and — dammit, there's his face! I can't even get out here and relax."
The family did sometimes harness the cats and put them on leashes, which was a hassle.
"Four cats on leashes is just a recipe for entanglement," she laughed.
'Why not spend it on a cat?'
Vessey came up with a rough plan for the catio, then contacted a builder who's done a lot of work on her home.
"He never called me back. I think maybe he thought we were a little bit crazy," she said.
She then found another builder, Rice Construction. Owner Nathaniel Rice said he thought it was "a cool idea."
"I had heard of it but not on as large a scale as Louise had," said Rice.
"I looked at it like — a lot of people spend a lot of money putting up fences for their dogs, so why not spend it on a cat?" Rice said, adding he's built fences worth up to $20,000 to enclose yards for dogs.
Rice said he had fun designing and working on the catio, which took about a week, and "looks like a fairly normal pergola," he said.
"We didn't want it to look like a big chicken coop, that was my fear," said Vessey.
Rice built a wooden pergola over the deck, then filled in the area on top of the railing with tall panels covered in wire mesh. The ceiling is more mesh panels, with an open space in the the middle. Rice added lots of shelves for the cats to climb and relax.
'A little crazy'
Now, Neko the rag doll, Mobi the 17-pound Maine coon, Serena the British longhair and Quinny the Siberian forest cat enjoy the outdoors whenever they want, coming and going from a pet door the family installed in a wall. One of their favourite things to do is try to catch moths after dark.
"They love it, they're out here all day," said Vessey. "It's an investment in our cat happiness ... they're more than happy, they're probably quite spoiled.
"We think it's pretty 'purrfect.' Some people think it's a little crazy."
The challenge now is enticing the cats to come in at night.
"Every night at 11 o'clock or so when I go to bed, we have to wrangle them all," she said. "It's quite a process."
Rice said he'd be happy to design more outdoor spaces for other cat owners.
"I'm sure there's lots of cat people out there!" he said.
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