DIY outdoor cat shelters, plus Alley Cat Allies to host conference

Cold weather bringswith it concerns about housing for anyone caring for outdoor cats.

If you don't have a barn or suitable outbuilding what are the alternatives for keeping feral cats warm?

We once used a wood dog house stuffed with straw and a plastic curtain pinned up over the door to keep the wind out. We added insulated pads and discs we popped in the microwave to keep our feral cat family cozy.

Those cats are now inside living in what was a former chicken coop above our garage. When the temperature hits freezing they retreat to the heated, out-house-sized boxes we built inside the uninsulated room.

Alley Cat Allies, the national leader in feral cat advocacy, has a webpage dedicated to do-it-yourself cat housing with some fabulous, inexpensive ideas for cat colony caregivers by cat colony caregivers.

There are dog house conversions and various coops and boxes. But nothing beats a large Rubbermaid container with a door opening cut in it in a pinch. Or how about a camper topper or truck cap?

They also offer suggestions for turning the underside of your porch or deck into a cat condo with a little lattice and a lot of straw.

I can vouch for one premade outdoor housing structure the group recommends: the K & H outdoor cat shelter.

It's made of heavy duty 600-denier nylon with waterproof vinyl backing that's easy to assemble and break down. It has two openings to provide a quick exit if the cat inside feels threatened. They also make a heated model. The two cats at the barn where I keep my horses are snuggling in mine tonight between mouse patrols.

Want to learn all the tricks of the feral/stray cat care trade?

Sign up to for Alley Cat Allies annual conference. It's this weekend (Nov. 7-9) in Arlington, Va., just outside of Washington D.C.

All the cat ladies and gents in the know will be there, including veterinarians, humane law enforcement officials, shelter operators and John Fulton, host of Animal Planet's Must Love Cats program.

Among the topics covered in the three-day conference: How to be an advocate for cats, expanding resources for cats in communities and new developments in health and sheltering policies.