Building an outdoor area for the cats

This week we have completed a project we’ve been deliberating over since we first decided to bring home our cats almost a year ago now, and built them a secure outdoor area in the garden they can access from the house. They are absolutely loving it and thought I’d do a wee post just with the progress of it in case it helps anyone else doing something similar!

We live in quite a rural setting but on a really busy road that we’d never be happy letting a cat free roam on, so when we’d first started looking for one to join our family, we’d been looking specifically for a rescue who had already been used to living indoors and who would also be happy living with our young family. This turned out to be a bit of an ask however, and after a couple of months we started looking at whether it might be possible to have a kitten introduced to an indoor-only life from the off (and then ended up with two, but that’s another story 😬).

Theo looking out the front window over the road

I wasn’t too sure at first, always having cats freely accessing the outdoors growing up, but we found some really good articles and forums online with a lot of people who had chosen for various safety reasons to keep cats indoors, in cat-proofed gardens or with enclosures, and we started to explore it. Interestingly, we found out, this is pretty much the norm in some countries, either to protect cats and or to protect birds and wildlife; so when we started reading further we found lots of options on ways to let them out a little without letting them on the road.

Ideally we would have loved to cat proof our entire back garden, but although it’s a good space in many ways, and already had fencing we could definitely have worked with (when the kittens were little enough it was secure without us trying due to the height of the fences); the different levels in the garden and various extension and shed roofs made it too big a challenge once climbing was mastered; so we decided to go with a smaller “catio” enclosure in space just at our back door that leant itself to door and window access.

The kittens playing in the garden at a few months, before they figured out the scaling the fences thing!

We looked at a few different options – buying some panels with cat-proof mesh (which we found was recommended to be 16g) to put together, buying the mesh and posts seperately and doing it ourselves, or buying a ready-built enclosure; and in the end settled on the Omlet Cat Balcony Enclosure which fitted the space we had almost perfectly, and which we’ve made some adjustments to to attach it to the house and let the cats access freely from a small window in the kitchen.

I was worried that a small space would be too little for our Rosie, who is a big adventurer, and had already been trying to make a break for an open door at any opportunity; and also that Theo, who likes human company and is quite the opposite in terms of adventuring, wouldn’t particularly like it at all; but a few days in we are amazed at how much they love it!

Our space (spikes are next door’s and not part of our cat proofing!!)

On Thursday, we began work (overseen by the cats of course!) and started to get the enclosure itself put up. It was relatively easy to build between two of us and we were pretty impressed with it. We do plan to move in the next few years and it will be ideal for shifting to a new place, not being too permanent, and if we have a bigger space in the future it can also be added to with extension panels to any size.

By Friday morning, it was up, decorated with help from the kids and standing with all panels on and door access only; and Rosie and Theo had their first morning’s exploring – which they really enjoyed. Theo took a wee while to settle, but Rosie just sat as if all her dreams had come true chirping to the birds and enjoying the fresh air!

Later in the day, my husband did his handyman bit and began the DIY modifications to secure it to the house wall and remove a panel so that they could get in and out through the window.

This was huge hit with both of them and a game-changer for Theo who instantly warmed to it much more when he could come and go as he pleased – they have spent the entire weekend going in and out like a pair of little yo-yos and just loving their freedom.

Today some final additions have been added – a shelf to make access easier as the window was a bit awkwardly high (not that it stopped them!) and a ramp to make getting down easier too.

The result seems to be two happy cats and we’re so pleased to have done it. I’ll keep my fingers crossed the novelty doesn’t wear off and they start protesting to get further, but at the moment just having that little bit of the outdoors and their choice of in or out is making them very happy!

Theo flits between being in with us and having an explore out there, and Rosie can be found sitting out for hours on end just watching the world go by, between the deepest sleeps she’s ever had inside! (She’s also not diving for the door anymore as she knows she’s got her own route out which is a big relief!)

So far our little corner of Scotland has given them a crash course in just about every type of weather, and they’ve enjoyed zooming about in the wind and shaking their wet fur on their way back in out of the rain. One thing they’ve not yet got to do is lie in the sun, but I’m sure they’ll enjoy it when spring does come!

I still don’t know where I would land on contained vs free-roaming for them long-term – if we lived somewhere that felt safe enough in the future (and when they’re less reckless teenagers and more sensible grown cats!) I’d maybe like to see them finding their own territory, but I’m kind of a convert now to the idea of knowing they’re definitely safe, even if they could have a bit of a bigger space, and I’m relieved that for now it’s working, so we’re sticking with this for the time being!

Hope you all have a great start to the week! X

The Adventures of Pidge ❤️

This week we unexpectedly added a new “pet” to our little family here, though we don’t quite know how long she’ll stay, and we are very much winging it!

Last weekend brought some very stormy weather here, as we’ve been used to every few weeks over the winter – and this time we weren’t brought some slates from next door’s roof or a flyaway trampoline, but instead found this lovely little lady (best guess female, she may yet be re-gendered!), a racing pigeon, in Charmer’s barn, sheltering and not keen to fly off.

We weren’t quite sure what to do at first, so she spent the first night in the barn in a little makeshift corner some of the girls set up for her. We were all delighted she was still there in the morning, so having done a bit of reading the night before we agreed I would take her for some food and shelter and read her ring numbers to find her owner. She was such a good wee soul travelling and absolutely fell on the food and water I gave her in her little makeshift cage at home, so really must have been starving. We’d discovered it was very common for racing or homing pigeons to become exhausted in high winds and need food and shelter to get back to full health. She was obviously used to being handled and I managed to read her ring number easily and trace her owner within a few minutes with the Scottish Homing Union which was absolutely amazing, so I thought we would just be feeding and sheltering her for the day until they could come to collect.

However, our wee Pidge (as we’re now calling her! 😬) had an interesting story, as she’d been lost from the owner we traced since 2016 where she’d not returned from one of her first flights as a youngster, and where she’d been since then is a mystery! Her registered owner was very nice, and was willing to come and collect her, but some of the other girls at the farm had read that often older pigeons don’t have a place in a racing loft any longer when past the age for flying and when I checked with him if he would be able to welcome her back it did seem that at six years old, and away from his loft so long it wasn’t a home for her, it really wasn’t an ideal place for her to go back to.

She seems in such good health, and I could already see was such a great wee character and so tame, that I wanted to give her every chance to recuperate and live a full life… and so we agreed with her owner that we would keep her here, make sure she got her rest and recovery and take it from there. He believes she must have been with another loft nearby us all this time (though not registered so no way of knowing), which makes sense with her tameness, and there is a chance she’ll home back to there when built up enough to make the flight, but he also advised she was likely to stick around with us if she knew where to find food and water.

And so began a week of learning about these beautiful and interesting birds and finding our feet with how best to look after a pigeon!

For the first day or two we kept her in our old rat cage – the closest to a pigeon loft we could manage at short notice – but as we’re really lucky to have a very sheltered little area by our back door, the last couple of days we’ve released her by day and shut her away again at night, a routine she’s settled into beautifully. She is wandering around happily exploring her food and water and finding corners she likes to settle in but as yet no attempts at flying.

The general consensus from those that know a lot more than me still seems to be that she’s just tired and recovering. She’s bright eyed and doesn’t show any signs of pain or distress, but we do have an appointment with an avian vet booked for Wednesday if she’s not up and flying by then to check if there’s anything underlying. We really have no idea how this will pan out – if she takes off for her home then we’d have to trust she’ll make it and that’s a happy ending for her. If she turns out to be injured we can make the best decision for her at the vets, and if she sticks around – well we’ll just have to play it by ear. We know she’ll need a mate so we’ll either have to find someone with a small loft who could take her, or maybe instead of being “that time we adopted a pigeon for a couple of weeks” it’ll be “how we got into our lifelong hobby of pigeon-fancying”!!

For the time being, I am loving learning what I can, getting to know her and seeing her enjoy her food and her little space. She’s a hit with the whole family, the girls loving measuring out her seeds, visiting her in the mornings and tucking her away at night.

I’m never happier than when I’ve got a rescue animal project on the go – our pets have pretty much always been rescues (except the cats who were just farm kittens) but our Sparkle hamster and our last hamster Sandy were such well adjusted wee souls when they came to us from the hamster rescue near us that they adapted so well and it’s been years since I really had to put the work in! I’d forgotten how passionate I get about actually having to nurse and coax a wee one, it takes me right back to those wonderful days when I first started this blog when our house was full of cages and I had pet rats at various stages of warming to us and recovering from their past lives all the time, and I’m just never happier than when seeing those little faces get more and more relaxed and settle to home and routine.

We don’t know what the future holds for wee Pidge – part of me hopes she takes happily to the skies, part of me doubts she’ll make it past her vet appointment if she’s bravely hiding a wee injury, but whatever happens we’ve given her a chance and for now we are delighted to welcome her to the family. ❤️