How to Make Your Cats Happy and Keep 'em Safe

Cats love the Great Outdoors. However, not every place is safe for them to enjoy the freedom of being indoors-outdoors cats. For example, my house sits right on a rural county road and I've lost track of how many times I've had to pick road kill out of my front yard. It's never a pretty sight, and I most certainly don't want to find any of my beloved cats dead on the street one day!

So what to do? Keeping your cats strictly indoors is one option, of course. It worked fine until the day I taught Mikesch to walk on a leash and took him out into the yard. Once he had smelled the Great Outdoors, he became a door-dasher and wanted out all the time. And who could blame him? He really loved the sun and hunting bugs amongst the flowers, and he even learned how to hunt and kill shrews before I knew I had any in the yard! But now I couldn't safely open the basement door any more without putting his harness and leash on or removing the cats from the basement first. And once outside, I was stuck watching him carefully or he'd wriggle out of his harness and try to dash off after a bird, a neighbor's cat or just because he could.

So I needed a better solution to letting them out while keeping my hands and attention free for other things such as yard work. Looking around the internet for cheap and quick do-it-yourself solutions for outdoors cat enclosures, I came across a great idea on the Kittycouch site: How to build an enclosure using wire shelving and zip ties. I already had some wire shelving in a basement closet that I could take down, so this seemed a perfect use for it. I decided to give it a try. Results are below!

I built a window/balcony box for the cats to catch the morning sun. It took about three hours to do so. They have constant access to it, unless the weather is so nasty that I don't want to leave the window open all the time. Next, I built an enclosure that leans against the house around the basement door. That one took me a day on a weekend to complete and, thanks to a shelving sale at the store, less than $100. Now I can open the basement door again, the cats can sit on the lawn and enjoy the weather (and yes, Mikesch will enjoy even rain and particularly digging in the snow out there!) and I can do yard work without having to keep a close watch on a cat on a leash.

(Binky had recently had surgery to remove a lump between his shoulders, hence the shaved spot on his back.)

The verdict: The cats LOVE it! Now that they know they can go outside whenever I open the basement door, they're more relaxed again and no longer dash and try to force their way out. The enclosures are easy to customize to the space you have available and to put up (or take down, if needed) and to expand with additional shelving pieces. If you watch for sales, it becomes easily one of the cheapest ways to provide your cats with some fresh air and sunshine while keeping them safe from harm at the same time.

More Pictures

A picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a couple more images of my creative wire shelving & zip ties endeavors!

Window Box and Balcony

Basement Door Enclosure

The front middle two shelves are held together by removable ties in the center so they can be opened up like doors. This allows access to the backyard without taking the whole enclosure down. I originally intended to screw it to the wall for more stability, but it is actually astonishingly stable just leaning up against the house. I've only had to replace one zip tie during the year that it has been out there. Since it is south-facing, I've added old doormats to provide shade and the cats appreciate it during the summer.

This page last updated on: March 21, 2009

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