Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The winter of our discont-cat

Roaming and feral felines -- and house pets, too -- need help to survive winter's brutal conditions

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Let's take a look at what is necessary to get free-roaming outdoor cats ready for cold and wet winter weather.

Forget about hungry predators, cars, diseases from other animals and fights with other felines, now outdoor cats will be at the mercy of cold weather and have to find warm, dry places to live.

Although I still think it's inhumane to allow "owned" pets to roam, the reality is that some people will continue the practice no matter what I, or their neighbours think. Then, there are the truly "feral" cat colonies full of animals that will suffer from exposure to the elements.

A compassionate society would view these "community" cats as having the same basic needs as our indoor pets. They need protection from cold as well as food and water that is just as available in December as it is in June.

If you have decided to feed a stray animal, you have also assumed the responsibility to help it comfortably survive outdoors during winter weather. Make no mistake, the animal became yours the first time you fed it, whether you brought it into your home or not.

Frankly, a week never goes by that I don't get a call from someone imploring me to "come and get these cats," because they are tired of feeding them or they don't want them to freeze.

Show some compassion. Realize before you start feeding them what your role will be in their lives. Community cats could be abandoned, lost or put outdoors to stay each day until their owners return from work. Through no fault of their own, they are stuck out in the cold and could use a helping hand.

Jonathan Harvey and Laurie Haven shared their story about cats they adopted that either sprayed or urinated so frequently inside their Wooster, Ohio, home they had to replace two floors. After having tests run to make sure the problems weren't medically related, they tried drugs, isolation and herbal remedies to no avail.

Not wanting to have the cats euthanized, the couple looked for advice.

"Our veterinarian in Wooster asked us if we considered building a cat pen and keep the cats outside. We looked into this and found that feline cat houses are very popular in the U.K. and Australia," Harvey said.

Kits are available in those countries, he said, but shipping fees make it impractical. He had a friend create a modular feline pen that is detached from their home and includes a fenced-in completely modular run. The house has a door, two windows and a cat door that goes to a garage kitty condo, shelving and a cat stand inside the house and a fenced-in area in the garage with a cat tube.

"The entire project was less than $500 with which 60 per cent of the building supplies (were) purchased from the Habitat Store. It can be dismantled and moved, as there are no screws, nails or hinges that are attached to our house," he said.

The couple, who have three indoor cats, have been able to keep two cats safely and comfortably outside.

"It has worked out very well and has allowed us to keep all of our felines without destroying our house or the cats," Harvey said.

These tips, provided by the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, will also help you get your pets winter ready:

-- With the exception of just a couple of breeds, dogs and cats all have fur coats. But not all fur coats are equal when it comes to keeping your pets warm outside. Short-haired dogs require more coverage than long-haired ones; cats that are outside risk exposure to their ears, tails and toes which are especially vulnerable to frostbite. Coats and booties help to keep animals warm while outside.

-- Check your pet's paws and pads, which need to be in good condition to take on winter sidewalks and ice. Look for any scrapes, bumps or marks.

-- Reduce an indoor pet's calorie intake if its walking and exercise regime is abbreviated.

-- Provide a shelter for outdoor dogs that is at least 15 centimetres off the ground and insulated with Styrofoam; know that your outdoor dog will also require more calories to generate body heat during colder months.

-- Invest in a tip-proof, heated bowl for water -- frozen water won't help your pet.

-- Remove ice balls and snow from paw pads that can cause frostbite; always remove de-icer and salt from their paws before your pets can lick them off.

-- Bang on the hood of the car where cats often like to heat themselves on car engines -- you don't have to own a cat to have one under your hood.

-- Clean up anti-freeze; this sweet-smelling substance is toxic to dogs and cats if ingested.

-- Maintain medications such as flea and tick preventative.

If you are concerned about a true "feral" cat community in your neighbourhood and want to do something for them, contact a local agency like the humane society for advice and/or help.

-- Akron Beacon Journal

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2012 C5

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