This is a cold, cold winter. This kind of prolonged cold and snow is dangerous to stray and feral cats. Strays and ferals can act like wild animals. Most of their behavior emanates from fear of being trapped and/or hurt...by humans, by other animals, by nature. When trying to help them, you need to get into their heads if you can and set up situations that they're comfortable with or would be attracted to rather than repelled from. Their natural instincts kick in and you have to play into those to help them.
We have several shelters on our property. Two of them have electric heat pads. (I use K & H specifically made for the outdoors that heat up to the cat's body temperature when the cat is sitting on it. There should be an area within the shelter that the feline can lay beside, rather than on the pad.) This winter they are saving the strays lives. Our temperatures are dipping below zero and we've had continuous cold for about two weeks now that intends to stretch through another.
We have one stray, Sunnybud, who came throughout the summer. He would eat and leave. He doesn't usually hang around our property. When he first began coming, he was straggly, scruffy, malnourished with fleas. Sunny is a strange stray in that after a while, once he was used to my voice, he would come when I called. After the summer, he would also let me pet him. But if I made a sudden move, he would be off like a shot. So I knew winter would be a challenge.
We had an "igloo" style shelter ( Igloo style with entrance
) from two years ago when we took care of a hurt stray. It was near the patio and we put a heat pad inside. However, another stray comes around who bullies Sunny away and that wasn't working. So we moved the igloo farther from the patio into the tomato garden. We got an outdoor extension cord and still managed to put the heat pad inside. Instead of just setting the igloo in the garden, we camouflaged the front of it with hay bales. Those would also give it more insulation. The first thing Sunny did in the fall was to lay on top of the hay bales in the sun. Then he began marking the pampas grass beside it. I was hopeful.
Throughout this winter, Sunny has used the shelter often. He will come just inside the basement to be fed, but runs if he thinks we're going to shut the door and trap him inside. We've tried it several times and had to build trust all over again each time. The one time we managed to shut the door, he freaked out and tried to climb the walls and dig at the door. He was only going to hurt himself. So we had to accept the fact (my husband helps with all of this) that we had to accept and help him on his
Bad weather days, he will sleep in the shelter all afternoon, wait for supper and then return to the shelter. Some times he takes off for parts unknown and disappears for a while. It's difficult to detach from worrying about him, but we have to do that. Feeding him helps his body temperature. We have to hope the shelter with the heat pad will be enough.
We have another stray who has been spending some nights in our unheated sunroom attached to the basement. We leave it open and there is a heat pad in there, too.
Our four inside cats are rescued cats. Last summer we took in a pregnant stray who had kittens. We gave two to friends and kept mom and one of the babies. They are a joy each day.
I've given links for the other shelters we have on our property which are used now and then. We put straw--not hay--in those. Towels and rugs hold moisture and attract mold. The straw stays dry and reflects some body heat. (The Ark Workshop Shelters
) We also have straw spread under our deck near the feral shelter. Sunny often sits on the straw in the sun.
I really believe that this year the shelters are saving cat lives.
This shelter has a lower level with two entrances and an
upper level insulated loft.
USA TODAY Bestselling Author Karen Rose Smith is an only child who delved into books at an early age. She learned about kindred spirits from Anne of Green Gables, solved mysteries with Nancy Drew and wished she could have been the rider on The Black Stallion. Yet even though she escaped often into story worlds, she had many aunts, uncles and cousins around her on weekends. Her sense of family and relationships began there. Maybe that's why families are a strong theme in her novels, whether mysteries or romances. Her 87th novel will be released in 2015.
Readers often ask her about her pastimes. She has herb, flowers and vegetable gardens that help her relax. In the winter, she cooks rather than gardens. And year round she spends most of her time with her husband, as well as her four rescued cats who are her constant companions. They chase rainbows from sun catchers, reminding her life isn't all about work, awards and bestseller lists. Everyone needs that rainbow to chase.
Karen looks forward to interacting with readers. They can find her at the links below.