Thursday, December 2, 2010

I volunteer for Toronto Cat Rescue and started making these double-walled shelters from two plastic storage bins of different sizes, Reflectix, and straw last year. The demand for them has been huge so I've made this blog to show people how to make their own.

My shelter model is very closely based on Mike's Shelter, which is easy to make and has good step-by-step directions and photos: The only real difference is that I use Reflectix panels for additional insulation. Reflectix is a foil-faced material I get from Home Depot that reflects 97 percent of radiant heat (meaning the cats' own body heat will be reflected back at them) and it's easy to work with.

The supplies and instructions below are specifically for making a large shelter that can fit up to five cats. The cost per shelter, buying supplies in the Toronto area, works out to approx. $50, taking into account that some of the supplies get you more than you need for just one shelter (e.g. a $24 roll of Reflectix can do up to four shelters). You might want to coordinate with another homeless/feral cat caretaker or a local cat rescue group to see if anyone wants to share supplies with you or buy any extra shelters you might make. Ideally you can find someone who wants to help you carry a stack of plastic storage bins and a bale of straw, and build a bunch of shelters all at once.

A few tips: Use only straw bedding (never towels, blankets or folded newspapers). Check on your shelter periodically to make sure it isn't getting wet, which could result in seriously ill cats. If you do find water getting inside, you can wipe out moisture and replace the straw, move/rotate the shelter so wind and precipitation don't blow directly into the tunnel (placing it alongside a building or another structure is a good idea). You can also drill a small drainage hole in a back corner and make sure the perimeter of the lid is sealed with duct or Gorilla tape.

Supplies (pre-tax prices in Toronto area as of Fall 2010):

-Rubbermaid 189L bin (exterior bin - $23 CAD at Walmart), tan colour is best for camouflaging shelter into landscape

-Sterilite 85L bin (interior bin - $14 at Walmart), clear

-Gorilla Tape ($10 at Walmart). This tape is very strong and weatherproof. I find regular duct tape is not weatherproof (rain will loosen it) and is too weak for this job. I can make about four shelters per roll.

-Reflectix 1.33' x 25' roll Staple Tabbed (item ST16025, $24 at Home Depot), foil-faced reflective insulation. Each large shelter will use about 6', so you can make about four shelters per roll.

-Tuck Tape (high tack red translucent Canadian Technical Tape, see Step 11's photo, I think about $10 at Home Depot), which is really good for binding Reflectix panels to each other and to the bins. I've made at least thirteen shelters with the same roll, with plenty left. 

Cutting 6"-7" strips from a laminated poster
I got for free from the LCBO to make tunnels
-Strip of laminated poster/dry-erase calendar OR an empty, clean & dry circular ice cream container, for rolling up/shaping into a short tube (6"-7" long) for the entry tunnel. You can also use thin cardboard (e.g. a cereal box) and 'laminate it yourself' (make it somewhat water resistant) with strips of overlapping packing tape. And I imagine a plastic circular flower pot could work too, with the bottom cut off and a slit up the side allowing the pot to expand/contract to the size of the tunnel hole.

-Linoleum knife

-Utility scissors

-Hair dryer

-Circular item of 6" diameter (e.g. small saucepan), for tracing

-Permanent marker

-Bale of straw (i.e., animal bedding - not hay, which is animal food and won't keep cats warm and dry). I get this from my cousin's farm outside Toronto but you can get straw from a garden supply or farm supply store, or horse barn. Call around. Interestingly, vendors in Oshawa and Mississauga have bales of straw listed on Kijiji for $2-3 per square bale. In my experience, one large rectangular bale yields enough straw for about six shelters. I don't know about square bales.

Step 2: Trace a 6" circle (easier when bin
is stood on one end - not horizontal as shown)

1. Stand large bin (Rubbermaid 189L) vertically on one end.

2. Draw a 6" circle. Using permanent marker and the circular item of 6" diameter for tracing, trace a circle onto top end, centred. This will be the entry hole, which should be large enough to allow cats in/out but too small for raccoons to squeeze through.

3. Cut out circle. Bin still vertical, use hair dryer, set to "hot", to soften plastic (I hold it in my left hand) while cutting (using my right hand) the circle with the linoleum knife, making many little downward cuts all the way around. Be patient for plastic to soften first to avoid making cracks.

Step 4: Large bin, flat on coffee table, lined with straw
4. Line bottom of large bin with 3" of straw. I find it helps to set the large bin horizontally on an elevated flat surface (e.g. coffee table) for the next few steps.

5. Place small bin inside large bin, on top of straw.
Reaching through the hole in the large bin, trace a 6" circle on the small bin (Sterilite 85L) directly behind the first hole. 

6. Remove the small bin, stand it on its end, and cut out hole from small bin using hair dryer and linoleum knife.


Step 7: I've cut a hole in the small bin and
placed it back on top of straw inside large bin
7. Put small bin back on top of straw inside large bin.


Step 8: Make a tunnel

8. Make a tunnel connecting the bins with a 6"-7" strip of laminated poster rolled into a tube or an ice cream container or 'laminated' cardboard or plastic flower pot. Use long strips of overlapping Gorilla Tape to connect the tunnel to the interior bin and the exterior bin.

Step 8: Interior view of the tunnel-taping process

Step 9: Ensure a good seal to keep out enemy #1: moisture.
Go over any missed spots with Gorilla Tape
9. Go over any missed spots (often where the outside of the tunnel meets the exterior bin) with Gorilla Tape to ensure a good seal. This is key to keeping moisture out of the bins and holding the tunnel on securely. 

Step 10 & 11: Line interior bin with
panels of Reflectix
10. Measure and cut Reflectix to cover floor area of small/interior bin. Lucky cats will be sleeping on this, with a thick straw bed on top.


Step 11: Cut about 4" off the length of panel that will
cover bin walls. Affix panel to both sides of tunnel area
11. Measure and cut about 4" off a long panel of Reflectix that will wrap vertically around the walls of the interior bin. It needs to be short enough to fit under the lid. Affix Reflectix panel to the bin near the tunnel using Tuck Tape.

Step 12: Reflectix scraps made into rectangular
panel. I'll flip this panel over before
taping it to underside of lid
12. Cover the underside of the interior bin lid with a Reflectix panel. I use Tuck Tape to bind together a patchwork of Reflectix scraps for this, first adhering the pieces to each other to form a rectangular panel. I flip the panel over so the untaped side faces out and then adhere the whole panel to the underside of the lid. This will be a heat reflective roof for the cats.

Step 13 & 14: Another view
13. Make a thick straw bed inside the interior bin for cats to nestle in. Snap Reflectix-lined lid on. For weatherproofing, tape the perimeter of the lid down so no moisture can get in.
Step 13 & 14: Make thick straw bed in interior bin,
stuff straw down the sides, back and front for insulation



Step 14: Nearly done... stuff straw all around and
on top of interior bin
 14. Surround the interior bin with a layer of straw insulation by stuffing straw between the bins, filling up the front, back and side gaps. Cover the top of the interior bin lid with several inches of straw too.

Step 15: Patched holes in handles before snapping on
exterior bin lid
15. Patch any little holes, e.g. in the handles of exterior bin, to keep moisture out.

All done (with plastic cut outs capping tunnels
to keep straw in during transport  - not good for wind flaps, though)
16. Snap lid of exterior bin on over all the straw. Gorilla tape it down for weatherproofing. Once shelter is set up outside, and cats are already using it, you can experiment with making a vinyl or soft plastic wind flap for the tunnel (not shown).

For pointers on where to position the shelters and how to get the cats to start using the shelters (catnip, treats, dry food), please see Chapter 6: Winter Shelters (pages 28-32) of the Neighborhood Cats TNR Handbook, which is an excellent resource that I go back to again and again for all my questions about feral cats:

 Other Shelters
To make a shelter of a different size, using my model, you can adapt the instructions for any two plastic storage bins that fit together in a way that leaves room for several inches of straw under, above and surrounding the interior bin (all six sides). You don't want the fit to be too loose (you will need to use a lot more straw to fill the gaps) or too tight (not enough room for straw insulation, and pent up pressure from wedging bins together/causing bulges might make plastic crack in freezing temperatures). When I make small shelters that fit up to two cats I use 55L Sterilite bins (clear, $9) embedded in 114L Sterilite bins (gray, I think approx. $15). It took a lot of experimentation in the bin aisle at Walmart to figure this out!

For other models of winter shelter you can make yourself, see this Neighborhood Cats page:

Here's a simple and affordable shelter that has great instructions and uses one plastic tote, a Styrofoam cooler (which you might be able to get for free from a restaurant [meat and fish are delivered in these] or grocery store, or buy at a hardware store) and straw:

Thanks for reading & good luck to you and your kitties.