Creating a safe shelter

There are many shelter solutions available for dogs. Not so much for pregnant cats and new litters, unless you choose to invest in one of those multi-level cages on wheels, the ones you typically see in pet-store adoption centers. How do you decide which one meets your needs in terms of available space and the kind of critters you need it for?

We went with the advice of our rescue group Ninth Life Cat Rescue Ontario: we bought an Extra Large Dog Crate (by MidWest) via a local pet store. It looked HUGE in the store, but once I had set it up in our basement, it seemed to have shrunk! Usually it is the other way around, I find: you see, for example, a couch in a store, buy it and find out at the moment of delivery at your house that it is much bigger than you anticipated….

The crate, which we named Basecamp, easily held the pet carrier that was to become Mitsy’s Nest. Right next to it we were able to fit a litter box that was one size up from the smallest in our local pet store. It was 15 / 18 inch and we could JUST squeeze it in next to the Nest. We had food dishes in holders that were attached to the sides of the crate, so that there would still be space underneath. That came in really handy, because Mitsy quickly found she could comfortably stretch out completely with her head underneath the holders. It looked big enough for her last days of pregnancy. We covered the lower part of the crate with carton and cloth, just in case a kitten would go walkabout with the risk of falling out. See the exact set-up in the ‘Feral/stray cat project’ pages on this website.

We changed the first setup a couple of times. The picture below shows our starting situation, with pregnant Mitsy cast as photo-model. That gives you an idea of the available space. She is a small cat, probably no more than 8 lbs and had she not been pregnant this would have been far too small a space. She would need a room of her own. But the space turned out to be just right for her to own it and feel safe.

Post script:

The ‘owning’ process of the cat space ultimately required some changes in our set-up. The right side of the cage, in the picture above, was the front door of the crate. The far side (in the top of this picture) is the side door. That is the one we used for refreshing the litter box once a day. As long as she was in Basecamp on her own, that worked fine. But once she had delivered the kittens, she got annoyed each time we tried to refresh the box. It was probably too close for comfort. I would not call it aggression, more like annoyance.

As you might have already read elsewhere on this site: we had anticipated that it would be good to perform our ‘service calls’ with food, water and litter as quickly as possible. So we doubled up on everything: we had 2 sets of food dishes and 2 sets of litter boxes. All we had to do was open the door, refresh the item(s) and close it again. We did the cleaning upstairs, with as little interference of Mitsy’s world as possible.

But whether it was out of protection of the little ones, or just irritation, she started to come at us hissing, teeth bared every single time we wanted to exchange the soiled litter box with a fresh one. Even with bite-gloves on and working quickly, it gave us a fright regularly. We realised it was more fear than aggression, but we were duly impressed. Even if we waited until she was in the back of her Nest, feeding the kittens, it was becoming a bit of a gamble. We did not like leaving a soiled litter box in her Basecamp for more than a day, so we had to find a solution.

It came to us when the kittens were growing fast and entered their third week. We decided that they would soon outgrow Basement and that Mom might appreciate some more space as well. So we bought a second Extra Large Dog Crate (by MidWest). We took out the front door, then opened the front door of Basecamp and pushed the two together. Secured it with a lot of zip ties and called in The Ensuite. Now, the cats had double the space and we could not only move the litter box to the very back of the Ensuite, we could even add one of the same size, in anticipation of kittens pooping!

We placed an open bed in the space formerly taken by the litter box. We took all food dishes out and attached them to the side door of the Ensuite for easy reach, creating even more space in Basecamp. Which was now just for lounging and playing. There: job well done. No more aggression. We created added functionality to Basecamp and the Ensuite was good prep-work for the growing kittens. It took a few days for Mitsy to own the new square footage, but all things considered it was a good move. We all felt better. As the kittens were growing older, it turned out to also be an excellent entry-way to play with them and build a deeper bond with the mother. Just hang into the Ensuite with our upper body and play with everyone without any risk or aggression or annoyances.

Here is a spoiler of the set-up in mid-August, as seen from our Cat Cam cockpit. The kittens are now 5 weeks, and Basecamp is where they sleep with or without Mitsy. The Nest is often empty, but the youngest kitten likes to sleep there. And Mitsy can take some alone time in a litter box. We think the ‘Yesterday’s News’ paper pallet litter material reminds her of the mulch she used to like to sleep on outside… Looks peaceful and roomy enough, huh?

But more of that can be read in our more recent blog posts…