Protecting community cats in winter

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Best Friends-Utah provides warm, cozy shelters for outdoor feline friends.
By Denise LeBeau

Helping community (aka feral or stray) cats has been a staple of Best Friends-Utah’s efforts since 1999. Besides providing trap/neuter/return (TNR) services, which includes free spay or neuter for community cats and a trap loan program, Best Friends-Utah distributes cozy shelters to keep the cats warm in the cold months.

While many community cat caregivers arrange comfy areas in their barns, garages and sheds for their freewheeling charges, other caregivers rely on community cat shelters from Best Friends-Utah. Winter in northern Utah is pretty cold, so providing enough shelters to ensure that every cat has a cozy spot of his or her own is critical. Over the last seven years, Best Friends-Utah has given out more than 1,500 shelters. “During a community cat outreach day, we can easily distribute over 100 shelters,” says Ashley Wing, Best Friends-Utah community cat coordinator.

Sheltering community cats

The community cat shelters provided by Best Friends-Utah are fairly easy to build. Large Styrofoam coolers, thick plastic sheeting and Gorilla Tape are all that’s needed. Best Friends-Utah staff recently conducted a community cat shelter-building workshop, which take place when supplies are available.

Earlier this year, Maliheh Free Clinic, a nonprofit medical facility, donated a windfall of coolers, but the demand during the harshest months exceeds the supply. “We keep a waiting list for the winter shelters; it’s up to 60 people requesting them right now,” says Ashley.

All hands on deck for DIY shelters

David and Susan Trussell began volunteering for Best Friends-Utah in 2003. They became aware of the plight of community cats when they met Holly Sizemore, Best Friends national programs director, during a situation involving community cats in a local park in Ogden. They were soon on their way to becoming a lifesaving duo on a mission to help the often-misunderstood felines.

David and Susan maintain a few colonies of community cats in Weber County, but they also find it incredibly rewarding to help other caregivers by building community cat shelters. “When we retired in 2006, the call went out to build shelters out of pieces of Styrofoam using glue and nails,” says David. When an acquaintance recommended using Styrofoam coolers, they ran with it. They have since been helping Best Friends-Utah staff build community cat shelters with coolers donated from local businesses, such as pharmaceutical companies.

The Trussells not only build and share the community cat shelters with their colleagues, they hold “wrapping parties” where they finish 25 to 45 shelters on a Saturday afternoon and also train folks how to do it themselves. Over 100 volunteers have been trained in the right way to make cat shelters, thanks to the compassionate couple. “The process has been refined, and the finished shelters are made to last for years,” David says.

Help the helpless

Ashley says this is the time of year when Best Friends-Utah really needs cooler donations. “They should be at least 1.5 feet long and tall to make a shelter,” says Ashley. Volunteers are at the ready to start production, and while it might not be the most glamorous job, it’s satisfying to know that community cats will have a warm and safe place over the winter.

“When someone comes to pick up a cat shelter filled with straw, we know that at least one more cat will be comfortable,” says David. “Those cats deserve it just as much as we do.”

Get involved

Best Friends-Utah needs donations of the following community cat supplies:

- Styrofoam coolers (1.5 feet long and tall)

- Gorilla Tape (35 yards)

- Six mil black plastic sheeting

- Dry cat food

Donations are accepted at the Best Friends Pet Adoption Center in Sugar House, Monday through Friday, 11 am to 7 pm.

For more ways that you can help, click here. 

For more information on building community cat shelters, click here.