Event Showcases Architect-Designed Shelters for Feral Cats

These designs are imaginative, for sure. But it doesn’t take much to build a simple outdoor cat shelter using materials from around your home.

Two examples of the fancy cat shelters.
Two examples of the designer outdoor cat shelters.

A few weeks ago, a crowd of New York City’s most dedicated cat lovers gathered in the Steelcase Showroom at Columbus Circle to ogle the latest creative designs for outdoor cat shelters from 9 architecture firms at the annual Architects for Animals: Giving Shelter event.

Most New Yorkers probably aren’t aware of the hundreds of feral cat colonies scattered throughout the city. But they’re out there, many thousands of cats — some born on the street, some abandoned — living in alleyways, parking lots and backyards.

And if you consider the winter storms we’ve had this year, you’ll realize that just staying alive can be a challenge.

“Dogs run in packs. Cats form colonies from within,” says Mike Phillips of the New York City Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals. “Within 2 years, you can easily go from just 2 cats who were thrown out and found each other to a 50-cat colony.”


But when well-meaning people start feeding these cats, and the cats breed, it doesn’t take long to realize they’re over their heads in terms of time and money. That’s where TNR comes in.

Trap-Neuter-Return is designed to control the feral cat population — and the number of cats being euthanized every day in shelters. It not only ensures that these feral colonies are manageable, but it also makes the cats much pleasanter residents.

“When you can neuter all the cats, you stop the reproducing and nuisance behaviors like yowling under the windows, fighting over territories and spraying,” says Phillips. “And then suddenly the neighbors that may have been very resistant to the cats find they’re no longer bothered.”

10.  Francis Cauffman in place garden 3
2013 design by Francis Cauffman Architects.

The Feral Cat Initiative

The Feral Cat Initiative is a group of services to help those who want to be caretakers of feral cat colonies. They have a trap bank to loan traps to people and transportation to deliver the traps. They also train people to do mass trappings and TNR, which covers how to take care of the cats before surgery and after, how to care for a colony and how to set up a feeding station.

The Mayor’s Alliance’s Wheels of Hope transport vans and the Feral Cat Initiative can pick up the trapped cats, and the ASPCA provides subsidized neuter surgery and rabies vaccination, which includes a left ear tip incision to identify already neutered and vaccinated cats.

At Event, Innovative Cat Shelters Emerge

Leslie Farrell, director of client development at Francis Cauffman Architects, launched Architects for Animals and the Giving Shelter event 4 years ago after she became aware of the city’s feral cat population.

“I thought it was something people might be interested in,” she says. “If the architects design some cool shelters, maybe other people might realize that they could do it too.”

Housing insulation surrounds this “standard” winter shelter.

Build Your Own

Though the shelters at this year’s event featured some remarkable designs that would feel right at home in an art gallery, it’s easier than you might think to build your own outdoor cat shelter.

For example, IndyFeral demonstrates how to create a winter shelter from common materials such as a large plastic tote, a Styrofoam cooler and some straw:


Check out Neighborhood Cats for more suggestions plus detailed instructions.

Jillian Blume

View posts by Jillian Blume
Jillian Blume is a New York City–based writer. Her feature articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers including New York Observer, Marie Claire and Self. Jillian received a master’s degree in creative writing from New York University, has taught writing and literature at the School of Visual Arts and is working on a novel. She passionately supports animal welfare and rescue.

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