In the parking garage under the Humane Society, Bill Howes organizes workshops for the construction of winter shelters for Toronto's feral cat population.
Howes is a member of the volunteer-run program Toronto Street Cats, and through his workshops helped build more than 2,000 shelters. Each shelter is deployed to a feral cat colony, where it's generally one cat per shelter.
But this winter — just like every winter — there are more homeless cats than shelters. So the Toronto Street Cats is moving from making single-unit dwellings to developing cat condos.
Howes explains it's a first-of-its-kind pilot project in Toronto.
"All five of the initial condos were assembled, and most were painted with a primer coat. We hope to place the prototype condo in a community garden where we expect the feral cats in the area will be welcomed," he says.
A typical shelter consists of an insulated Rubbermaid box with an entrance hole cut into it. In the workshops, the shelters are filled with straw and shipped out to alleyways, parking lots and backyards where the feral cats live.
"The condos are made from plywood with Durofoam lining," says Howes. "They have two levels and are divided into four units. They could house anywhere from four to eight feral cats."
Condos house more cats, but Howes says there are more benefits. "The purpose of the condo is to provide a more permanent shelter for feral cats," he says. "It differs from individual shelters in at least three ways. One, it is less likely to be vandalized than a small individual shelter that can be thrown or kicked. Second, it provides the opportunity for feral cats to share their body heat. Third, because the shelters will hold from 4 to 8 cats, they will be better able to deal with intruding animals which may be predators."
There are an estimated 200,000 feral and stray cats in Toronto. The remaining workshops to finish building the condos are this Saturday, March 29, and on April 12 and 26.