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Create warm, safe spaces for pets outside in the winter

November 25, 2016
By ANNOEL KRIDER , Lake Placid News

I remember when my husband and I adopted our dog Molly 13-plus years ago. It was mid-February and we were having consecutively 20-plus below zero nights. It was a cold, cold winter.

We walked through the gates of this shelter and there she was, tied up to her dog house where she spent those cold nights and days, waiting for someone to take her home. It was difficult to imagine that these small shelters were protection against this severe weather but with a little insulation they served their purpose. I'm guessing the dogs (as there were many more at this shelter all tied up to their own dog houses) weren't toasty warm but they didn't freeze to death either.

So what happens to all those stray and feral cats we sometimes see congregating around our neighborhoods in mid-winter? I'm guessing, even though they develop a heavy coat, that some of them don't survive. We can help these cats in a variety of ways and we can start by giving them shelter. You can probably find scrap lumber from a local contractor or lumber yard.

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Creating the correct size shelter is important for if it's too large the cat's body heat won't be able to heat up the space. Placing straw (not hay) or pillow cases stuffed with newspaper inside will give the cats a place to burrow and if you're really motivated you can insulate the interior with Mylar which would help reflect the cat's body heat. Surprisingly blankets, towels and flat newspaper are not good sleeping materials because they absorb the cat's body heat. It's important, once you commit to this project, that you keep the shelter clean.

Now that you have created an inviting space for these cats you'll probably want to feed them so put out some food and water close to their shelter. There are appropriate containers you should use so that nothing freezes too quickly. If the shelter is insulated you could carefully put the food inside but not the water which could spill over.

Of course, if you do see an untended community of feral cats, reach out to local rescue groups or shelters for help and advice about how to trap, neuter, and return the cats back to their territories. TNR is an effective method of halting the reproductive process so that community cat populations can be more easily managed. This way you won't have to spend the rest of your life building shelters for what will end up being thousands of descendants of the few unaltered cats you were initially caring


As a final note you want to make sure your own dogs and cats have shelters, too, when they are left outside. In the case of dogs it is the law but that shouldn't be the reason you do it. They're family and you do what you have to do to protect them.

As far as Molly was concerned we couldn't untie her from that dog house fast enough and took her home where she never had to worry about freezing, or starving or being alone again.

Some of our homeless animals aren't as lucky so in the event you see a cat or cats roaming around homeless and who aren't interested in joining you in your home you can still be their caretaker by building them a shelter of their own.

You can get more information about How to Take Care of Outdoor Cats in the Winter at



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