Thursday, November 29, 2012

How to Build a Feral Cat House with Few Tools and Having Practically Failed Shop Class

In case you haven't noticed, Old Man Winter is staring down at us, getting ready to pounce.  We try very hard to take care of all the cats that run around the neighborhood, and sadly, since we live next to a forest, there are a lot of people who abandon their animals near our property, and those poor little creatures wind up hungry and cold on our deck (there is a special place in hell for people who abandon a domesticated animal in the forest).

I was looking for a simple and easy way of providing some shelter to the outdoor feral cats.  It warmed my heart, seeing all the many pages of articles and videos from creative people who built creative cat shelters. Rubbermaid even got in on the action by letting people buy their storage containers at wholesale prices. All of it reminds me that there are lots of good people in the world who care for the neighborhood animals.  

So I was looking at some of these shelters thinking, "but they look like they require tools, and I nearly killed myself in shop class..."  (I was particularly drooling over these from the Urban Cat League.)  J has tons of tools, and knows how to use them, but I am not so gifted in the ability to handle a screwdriver.

Here's my few-tools-required, very-little-measuring-required, doesn't-require-scary-materials, and can-do-in-an-afternoon shelter, modeled by Polly, before it went outside.

Materials needed:
18 gallon storage containers (I used two, since I was making a two-story condo).  About $8/each at Home Depot.
2 sheets of foam insulation, though if you do it right, you only need one.  I bought the heaviest stuff, and it was about $9/sheet.  
Boxcutter or knife for cutting plastic
Hair Dryer to heat up plastic before you cut it
Liquid Nails (about $5)
Duct tape (because if you're me, you will spill the Liquid Nails and need to reinforce it all with duct tape anyway.  About $5)
Tarp, if you live in a place that gets a lot of rain (About $10)
Bedding: most sites recommend using straw or hay, which won't hold dampness when it rains.  I just used old blankets and clothes.  

So, the gist is, you're going to use the insulation to build a little condo, and put the storage containers inside.  The insulation will hold the heat from the storage containers, and if you make them long enough, you can slide the storage containers way back so that rain won't splash in, and there will be protection from wind.

So, step one is to cut out the pieces.  I am notoriously awful at measuring, so I just sat the storage containers on top of the foam, and did it all through eyeballing it.  I don't recommend this way.  If you're smart, you'll take a measuring tape to Home Depot, measure the storage bins, and then, with that information in hand, give the measurements to the nice man next to the cutting machine, and he will make the cuts for you.  They generally charge a dollar or so per cut, but if you look like a sweet ditzy girl, they won't charge you.  At least, that was my experience.  One other note of caution; that foam insulation makes a Godawful mess, so keep a shopvac nearby.  

So you've cut out your pieces, and then you want to glue them together, into a little box.  Have the silver sides facing in; that's the side that will hold the most heat.

If you're me, you will totally mess up one side, have to take it off and do it again properly, leaving a stripe down the side.  But whatever, this is the no-brainer way to do it, so you can manufacture while watching Love Actually and it will still be ok.

Big Boy is checking out the new box.  I put the storage container inside to make sure it fit.  Lucky for me, it did.  Barely.

Next, you do this all over again, to make a second level.  And glue on pieces for the back, too.  While the Liquid Nails is setting, I went around and used duct tape all around all the seams, just to make it solid.  And I have to say, I'm quite proud of how solid it is now.  When I shake it, it barely moves.  Mama Cat, who is now about 18 pounds, jumps up and sits on the top of it, and it just barely shakes when he lands on it.  It is a solid unit.

When you have both pieces glued together, you should have a two-story condo that looks like this.

Now, the fun part: cutting entrance holes in the storage bins.  Heat will make the plastic softer and easier to cut.  You can use a hairdryer to soften it up a bit.  You want to make the holes small enough so that the cats can get in, but predators (ie raccoons or coyote) can't.  It's better to start with a smaller hole and make it bigger if you need to.  You can always cut more out.  You can't make a big hole smaller, though.  So cut it out, and check to see if the cats will fit inside.

Make sure you use duct tape around the edges, because they are sharp, and you don't want your little one to scratch their belly trying to get in and out.

The best part is filling up the storage bin with blankets and bedding for them to get comfy.  They will create their own little nest, so don't worry too much about making it perfect, but give them the raw materials and they can decorate how they'd like.

The storage bin will look like this:

Then you put the storage bins in the condos - one on the top and one on the bottom.  The insulation surrounding each one will keep the cats nice and toasty.  Slide the bins back pretty far.  The other thing I've done is place an old bath mat in front of the storage bin.  It acts a bit like a doormat.  The cats get all the water and dirt off them before they go into the storage bin, so their inside home stays warm and cleaner.

Now take it outside, and see how the cats like it.  You may want to create a little foundation for it to go on - I just used a couple of 2x4's that were lying on the deck and put them underneath, spaced out evenly, to keep the unit off the ground, and also to add some additional protection against splashing.  Depending on how comfortable and trusting your ferals are, you might have to feed them a few times inside the home so they get used to it, and associate it with goodness.

When it rains, I throw a tarp over the entire thing, again, just as some additional protection.  If you leave it hanging over a bit in the front, like in my picture below, it will deflect the water from the homes.  All day today Mama Cat sat on the upper floor cuddled into a blanket, looking out at the rain.  I think he really enjoyed feeling like he had a porch, and could watch things, while still being warm and dry.  I feed him in there when it's raining, too, so he never has to come out and risk getting wet, which is the worst thing for cats to be (can lead to pneumonia, for example).

And even when he's outside his storage bin, the insulation still keeps a lot more heat in than if he was sitting outside.  When I reach my hand in to pet him, it's a good 5-7 degrees warmer when he's just sitting on his porch.  His storage bins get downright toasty when he's in one.

Spending an afternoon and $50 in materials can make a huge difference in the life of a cat, or two,  stranded outside with no shelter this winter.  And anyway, how else can you build a two story home for $50?

EDIT 2/27/13: We've been having crazy winds here - up to 60mph - and the cat house, with the cats inside it, is intact.  The cats are snuggled and warm, and only slightly freaked out about the wind because they have such a cozy spot to rest.  I'm definitely building another one next year!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Well that was nice...

I got an unexpected treat yesterday when I walked into my office.  Some anonymous nice person sent me a bracelet from The Fertile Garden on Etsy.  There was no name; just an unsigned card.  What a lovely surprise.  

In case you hadn't noticed, I've been a bit depressed lately
.  Plus, I'm on Letrozole now.  It's actually a medicine that's used to treat breast cancer, but it helps with fertility because it lowers your estrogen level, and makes your body think you're going into menopause, so you release a bunch of eggs all at once in some last-ditch effort to procreate while you still can.  The downside?  I have a bunch of menopause symptoms.  I'm a cranky mess, and I cry at every tiny thing.  

The upside?  I could get away with just about anything and blame it on the meds.  Sadly, J has been in Amsterdam for a week, and hasn't been here for me to milk the situation with the way I'd like.  Lucky for him.  Not so lucky for me.

(Have I mentioned that I'm seriously over this whole being infertile thing?)

Anyway, whoever sent me this, thank you.  It made me smile.  I will wear it and feel a warm anonymous hug.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In which I grumble about the inequities of the world

I've been avoiding blogging lately for a couple of really good reasons (travel for work, NaNoWriMo come to the top of the list) and a really lame one.  My thoughts, my world, and thus the things I would write about, have become darker and deeper lately.  Maybe this is a product of growing up, but I don't like it very much.  It is now filed into the folder of Grown Up Things I Don't Like, along with visiting a financial planner, writing a will, and remembering to get regular physicals.

Reason number one: Infertility

Maybe it's because, after over three years of trying, and two years after having a stillborn son, I'm still not pregnant, and approximately $6000 has gone to the Loma Linda Center for Fertility when I could have spent that money on another trip to Iceland.  And this fertility merry go round could go on forever if we let it.  I had originally set a deadline of the end of the year for us to decide what next steps to take.  But at my last appointment, the doctor decided on a new drug to replace Clomid, and wants to continue for a few cycles on that, so the ride could continue.

I don't like this ride, and I want off.

The drugs arrived today from La Jolla Discount Pharmacy (a bright spot in this ordeal - they are really great, and if you ever need meds, I highly recommend them.  They're cheap, and really friendly.  And I haven't been paid to say that.)

I notice that it says I'm supposed to take them at night because they could make me dizzy.  What kind of drugs am I putting into my body, I wonder?  I google them, and the penny drops (duh) that all of this is medication messing with my hormones, which is similar to the hormone therapy that women going through menopause get.  Which has a lot of risks associated with it.  I found out today that use of my drugs for a year can seriously increase my chances of ovarian cancer, among other fun facts.

So wait.

I'm risking ovarian cancer so I can possibly go through pregnancy, which may or may not lead to a baby.  Really?

I'm so over it at this point.

So that's reason number one why this blog could take a really negative spin.

Reason number two: I am becoming disgusted by humanity.  

I always suspected this day would come, and I'm hoping that I can shift it at some point in Seminary so that, if I ever have my own church and congregation, I can, you know, preach to them without being disgusted.  But people are making it very tough for me to love them right now.

First, the day after the election, I get facebook defriended by a girl whose status was: "I pledge allegiance to the Koran of Iran, and to the Communism for which it stands."  Later in the comments, she compared Obama to Hitler, sharing that she had been to the Holocaust museum and was blown away by the similarity of how Obama came to power and the rise of Hitler.  I pointed out in the comments that a) we weren't lugging around barrels of money to buy bread because of horrible inflation like my grandmother in Leipzig did, b) as someone whose father and grandmother risked everything they had to come to this country, I found it disgustingly offensive that she would make such a comparison.  And finally, I pointed out that she had mixed her metaphors.  Iran is a theocracy and Communism, from everything I always learned, isn't big on religion.

Why have we all become so venomous to each other?  Why is Fox News (aka Bullshit Mountain Network for those who watch Jon Stewart) allowing people like Bill O'Reilly to say that Romney lost because over 50% of Americans want something, and the white majority is dead.  Fuck him.  But really.  Fuck him.  How do people like that live with themselves?  How do they sleep at night?

The other day at 7-11, I was getting the sunday newspaper (since I'm a coupon queen now).  The guy in line ahead of me was buying cigarettes.  The girl behind the counter asked to see his ID.  That pissed him off and he said, "how about if I call immigration on your Mexican ass?"  She calmly responded that she had been born here, so he could call anyone he wanted.  I asked him what world he lived in that he could be such a douchebag to a woman.  He told me to shut my mouth.

Look, I know the world isn't made up of douchebags.  I know the other people in line were as appalled as I was by his outburst.  But has stuff like this always happened?  Because I don't remember it.

I'd like to blame guns or video games or something obvious like that for our collective move towards douchebaggery.  And who knows, that might be part of it.  Maybe it's the food we eat.

I think I'm becoming an animal rights activist in this process.  A hundred years ago, people killed animals that they knew, and they ate them, and you knew that when you ate beef, you were eating a cow.  You probably knew the cow.  It had been your cow, or your neighbors.  You had respect for the life cycle.  You weren't all tree-huggy about it, and you didn't see the cow as a pet, but you still had some respect for the fact that humans were at the top of the food chain, we killed animals, and we ate them.

Now we go to the grocery store and buy ground beef wrapped in plastic and we have no idea what that cow went through so that we could eat it.

If you eat pork, this is the pain that you are ingesting into your body every time you take a bite of yummy bbq:

"A breeding sow spends her entire life confined in a crate made of steel bars where she cannot turn around or stretch her limbs when she lies down. The floor of the crate is slatted, but she still ends up standing and sitting in her and her piglets' own filth. She has litter after litter of baby pigs until she is considered spent, and then sent off to slaughter. Confined sows exhibit neurotic behaviors such as chewing on the bars of the crate and rocking back and forth."

No wonder we're all stressed out.  Factory farming like this didn't exist a hundred years ago.  Or even fifty years ago.  For the first time in human history, in the past few generations, we have started consuming food farmed not by individual farmers, but by enormous conglomerates who are more concerned with profits than our health.  I firmly believe that you can't put that much pain and disrespect into your body and not be affected by it.  

Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that everyone who eats meat is a douchebag.  I know plenty of non-douchebag meat eaters.  My husband is one.

But the fact that we as a people are ok with millions of creatures, who did nothing but be born into the wrong place, suffering in horrific ways so that we can get some cheap food, which we don't even need anyway given the obesity epidemic going on - the fact that we can just sit by and not even care about those fellow creatures with whom we share the planet...and we have pets, and we walk our dogs, and we ride horses, and we give money to the humane society, but we don't give a damn about those animals...I can't reconcile it.  Are we just numb to it?  If we actually really got present to the pain and agony that they experience so that we can get a cheap chicken with a huge breast, would that pain and guilt just overwhelm us?  That's what I'm going with, because the alternative - that we really just don't care - seems too depressing to think about. 

HR2606 passed in the House today.  It's a gas "enhancement" line, according to the bill's title.  What it really does is allow a "natural" (from fracking) gas pipeline to go through Gateway National Recreation Area, the world's oldest national park.  Fracking has, by all accounts, proven to be dangerous.  Pipelines destroy wildlife.  When are we going to learn that short term profits aren't any good if they destroy the planet in the process?  When I graduated from high school I got a Geo Metro.  It got 40mpg.  That was in 1994.  Are you seriously going to have me believe that in 20 years, we could figure out a new and dangerous way to get gas from places in rocks that we couldn't get before, but we couldn't figure out how to make all cars get 40mpg?  Or more?  Really? I smell bullshit.

Look, there are plenty of people out there doing good, fighting fracking, caring for animals, and making the world a better place.  Most people try to do this every day.  But why does it still have to be such a struggle?  Have we as a people not evolved any further than this?  Will humans just always chase profits at the expense of pain, squeezing workers, destroying the planet?  Is that just the human condition?  

I know that we all see life through the glasses we're wearing, and right now I'm wearing depressing glasses.  And I keep seeing things to reinforce that. 

The good news last week was that we as a nation stood up to the Koch Brothers and showed them that, despite their best efforts, our democracy couldn't be bought.  That's good news.  

But overall, it's looking a bit dark to me right now.  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The 80's really were that bad: or Fun with Google Images

You know what's great?  Remembering the really bad hair that people had in the 80's.  How were these guys considered hot and/or sexy?

Air Supply:  "I'm all out of scissors, I'm so lost without them..."

Hall & Oates:  "oooh here it comes, watch out girls it's my my badass mustache..." 

Def Leppard:  "Pour some hair gel on me..."

REO Speedwagon: "I'm getting more split ends then I ever thought I would... but
I can't fight the home perms anymore..."  

It's not just a thing of always looking back on the past and thinking things looked silly.  The whole big hair fad of the 80's was just terrible.  Heartthrobs and singers in other eras were still hot.  Exhibit A:

David Cassidy: dreamy vacant expression, hair that's long, but not too big...
oh, I think I love you, David Cassidy...