cat on railing


By Lisa Nelms

[Editor’s note: This is the full article referred to on page 7 of El Tecolote June-August 2020.]

Sobered to learn that three billion birds have been lost in North America in the past fifty years, I wondered how individual citizens can help mitigate this rapid decline. I learned that, along with habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides, free-roaming cats are implicated in the loss.

The good news is that we can save the lives of countless birds by not letting our cats run freely outdoors. But how do you take an outdoor cat used to roaming free, and sequester it indoors without it driving you crazy? And how do you expose your indoor cat to the fresh air and sights, sounds, and stimulation of the outdoors, without putting its life and the lives of vulnerable birds – at risk? By creating a Catio!

The Catio, or cat patio, is a safe (and often stimulating and enriching) enclosed environment that allows cats outside without the risks and dangers (coyotes, cars, cat fights, etc.). With their infinite configurations – freestanding, built-in, pre-fab, portable, custom – these enclosures are embraced by enlightened cat owners who find themselves torn between letting their cat “be a cat” and their sensitivity to the plight of birds.

cat on railing

Jeffrey Sturnick, a Santa Barbara carpenter and cat lover who has donated time, materials and skills to building an elaborate outdoor space for ASAP Cat Rescue in Santa Barbara, emphasizes that a catio is not a kennel, but a controlled environment that allows cats to freely do what cats do – play, explore, investigate, jump, climb, perch, get sun – all under their guardians’ protection.

cat by window

I recently visited a few local catios and found them creative, unobtrusive, and aesthetically appealing. John O’Brien and Marsha Macdonald, local Audubon members and EITS volunteers, have designed a catio that encloses their patio, allows access from two different rooms, and provides a peaceful, sunny space they can enjoy along with their cats.

Pat Woodruff, another EITS volunteer, has a 2-story catio that encloses her balcony and the space beneath it. A trap door with a ramp between the two stories is in the works. Creatively furnished, the space includes cat-friendly plants and grasses.

Cat lover and accomplished bird photographer, Daryl Metzger, has constructed a catio within the dense foliage of his backyard. A kitty-door allows his cat to sun herself, play to her heart’s content, and observe the birds that visit the nearby feeder.

Whether a window box or a cat-mansion, there is a catio for every space and budget, to provide cats space to exercise, play, nap and daydream about being a fearless hunter in the wild, all while protecting the welfare of our remarkable local wildlife.