It’s January in Chicago, which means its cold. Not just cold, but COLD. Bitter–need to put boots, jacket, hat and mittens on just to take the trash out–cold. I hate this time of year. Not just because I hate the cold, but because I feel so bad for my ferals. I was out feeding them last night without my gloves on, and in the few minutes I was outside my hands started to ache they were so cold; I can only imagine what it must be like for the kitties, sure they have thick fur coats, but they still have to walk on the cold, snowy cement. Factor in the windchill last night, which was below zero, and it was miserable. Last night, Thursday, it was a high of 15 degrees, during the day and a low of 5 without counting the windchill. It is a little better today, in the low 20’s.
Caring for feral cats in such inhospitable temperatures is a challenge, especially since none of my cats actually live in my yard. With my six in the garage I at least know they are sheltered from the wind and snow, and have each other for staying warm. I like to imagine they are just one big pile of kitty warmth at night. But my girls, I don’t know where they live. Since they spurned the shelters I set up for them, I assume they have someplace better to go to stay warm, but I can’t know for sure. Fluffybutt in particular worries me, as she can often be found loitering in my neighbors yard at 10 am or 3pm or some other random time when I am not feeding. I have three shelters set up for them, but they don’t seem overly thrilled with any. One is a simple styrofoam container on my deck. It is warm but small and doesn’t provide the best means of escape should an enemy come by. There is also a smallish (8qts?) storage container on my deck, my dad and I put a tarp over the top of our deck furniture so it is a little more protected from the elements. The design for the shelter says to cut a small hole in the lid of the container so the cat can get in and out but rain and larger animals cannot. My girls did not want that, so it is just an open storage container under some tarps.
Fluffybutt seems to be thrilled with this, it allows her to snuggle up while still being close enough to hear if I come out with food, and it provides two exit routes (she refuses to sleep in it if I pull the tarp down on the back side, which would block out more wind, as it impedes her exit from the side of the deck). They have one other shelter in the yard, between the garage and the pool. A traditional shelter, storage bin with a hole cut in the side and lined with styrofoam. It is more out of the way and no one would know there is a kitty there unless he/she/it walked past the shelter. They also have one to keep their food dry if it is snowing or raining, but they don’t sleep in that.
The point is, that I provide some shelter for them, since they seem to spend their nights here, but its inadequate shelter, and it only works if they actually use it. They seem to take a liking to my neighbors yards, hiding under their lawn furniture and lord only knows where else. (My on going battle to keep the cats out of the neighbors’ yards will be another post). It seems to me that if all three of the girls are hanging around in the yard no one uses the shelters, but if it is only Fluffybutt or Mommy than they will use the one storage bin on the deck. Since they don’t use the shelters it is hard to keep them warm. Even though it is a bad idea to line feral shelters with towels, blankets or other linens, since they absorb water and freeze (much better to use straw, styrofoam or wool since these repel water), I use towels and blankets for their shelters. They spurned straw last winter, and it was impossible to clean the container after my impossible to catch male sprayed it. So they have containers with linens, which I check daily to ensure they are dry and unfrozen, and styrofoam, as well as a wonderful invention called Snuggle Safe. The Snuggle Safe is a medium sized disc about the size of a Frisbee that you pop in the microwave and it acts like a heating pad. Much safer than trying to have an electric heating pad outside. But not much good if they don’t actually sleep in their shelters.
The second the problem is trying to keep their food and water from freezing. Keeping canned food and water from turning into blocks of rock hard ice is difficult at the best of times in winter, but it is even harder when the temperatures barely crack 20 degrees. They freeze in what seems like a matter of minutes, even when placed inside a styrofoam container. They mostly get dry food when the temperatures are this cold, because at least this way they can take their time eating. This is a particular problem for the six garage kittens, since they all eat out of one dish and some refuse to eat when I am around. I also don’t always see them all, and can’t sit around for half an hour or so while they eat. So if their food freezes they are out of luck for the night and I won’t know until the next night.
I wish I had a place to put an electric heated water dish for my girls or some other item to keep their water and food from freezing. But I don’t. There simply is no good place to put any of it. For a list of other winterizing tips visit this site . Instead, I make do with what resources I have available to me, and do what I can to make their lives just a touch better. After all, it really is all I can do. And it seems to be acceptable to them, or they wouldn’t keep coming ’round.