On a recent Wednesday in Bucksport, the midday breeze was just right. Birds were singing and the sound of distant chimes carried on the swaying grass.
It was a splendid day to be outside.
Perched like a king behind Bonnie Brennan’s home was Titus, her six-year-old long-haired cat. With feline immunodeficiency virus, Titus isn’t able to enjoy the life of a traditional outdoor cat. The risk of infecting another cat through a bite, paired with the stress that exploring the outdoors would put on his immune system, has confined Titus to a life indoors.
But last summer that all changed thanks to some mesh screening, a few pieces of lumber and a touch of handy work from Brennan. Now, on these nice summer days, you can find Titus lounging in a window box that juts out from Brennan’s first floor bathroom, where he can enjoy the breeze and nap in his own sanctuary.
“He loves it. It’s a way for him to be closer to nature and it’s kind of like his little space,” Brennan said.
Among feline enthusiasts, these screen window boxes, and in some cases large-scale outdoor enclosures, have been dubbed “catios.” Brennan said she first saw the idea for a catio online and was inspired to make her own. Premade catios can be pricey, and Brennan figured all the do-it-yourself lessons she learned from her brothers growing up would pay off in this instance.
The six foot-by-two foot catio box that Brennan constructed is mounted to the exterior of her home so Titus can access the space from the open bathroom window as he pleases. Because the walls of the catio are made with screen, Titus is kept inside while bugs and pests are kept out.
Equipped with a bed and a few cat toys, Titus spends much of his time on decent weather days enjoying the labors of his adoptive owner. Brennan took on Titus as a foster cat about five years ago when a friend in Florida found him being taunted by some neighborhood children. Having cats in the past, but none presently, Brennan agreed to foster Titus.
In Maine for the past five years, Titus has never been an outdoor cat, though he has escaped a handful of times, Brennan said. Knowing that Titus has a space to look at birds and feel the fresh air ― while still being safe ― gives Brennan satisfaction as a pet owner.
While Brennan has weatherized her catio with insulation and plexiglass ― which she removes during the warmer months ― so Titus can enjoy the space into November, just up the street, Chester Seidel has taken the catio concept to the next level.
Seidel and his wife have retired to a quaint white home in Bucksport, and aside from a cat statue that greets visitors by the side door, you would assume that Seidel has invested an average amount of time into caring for his indoor cats.
But if you follow him around the back of his garage, a three story catio ― equipped with carpeted ramps, multiple levels and a tree limb for maximum activity ― will show you just how lucky Seidel’s two cats, Blackie and Rascal, are to have him.
“They have the run of the house,” Seidel said. “It was their demand, I just went and did it.”
Like Brennan’s catio, Seidel also constructed his catio himself. Using two perpendicular exterior walls of his home’s attached garage, Seidel built two additional walls to make the area a perfect square using scrap wood he had on hand and chicken wire he purchased to create an enclosed square space that runs the height of the garage. His cats have two entryways into the catio from the garage, one on the ground level and one on a higher level of the catio.
While neither of Seidel’s cats have health problems that prevent them from living the life of a traditional outdoor cat, he doesn’t want to risk the cats being injured by a predator. Even in the more populated area of Bucksport where Seidel and Brennan live, coyotes and other animals that pose a threat to small pets have been spotted. By having a catio, cats are able to enjoy the experience of being outside without becoming lost or hurt.
“I think anyone that has animals, dogs or cats, should have an enclosed outdoor area for them to do what they want in,” Seidel said.
Neither Brennan or Seidel worked with a specific template when building their catios. Instead, they constructed units that would fit their cats’ needs. Brennan gathered inspiration online, where you can find ample information on catios as well as websites where you can purchase premade structures.
In their respective catios, Brennan’s and Seidel’s cats sure looked like they were living the life. Looking content from their perches, they raise the point: If humans can enjoy a nice summer breeze, why shouldn’t an indoor cat?