This story was originally published in 2017.
On a Wednesday in Bucksport, the midday breeze was just right. Birds sang and the sound of distant chimes was carried across the rolling grass.
It was a lovely day to be outside.
Sitting like a king behind Bonnie Brennan’s house was Titus, her six-year-old long-haired cat. With the feline immunodeficiency virus, Titus is unable to enjoy the life of a traditional free range cat. The risk of infecting another cat from a bite, coupled with the stress that exploring nature would put on his immune system, has been limited by Titus to an indoor life.
But that changed a few summers ago thanks to some mesh screens, a few pieces of wood, and a little handwork by Brennan. Now, on those lovely summer days, Titus is lounging in a window box protruding from Brennan’s first floor bathroom, where he can enjoy the breeze and take a nap in his own sanctuary.
“He loves it. It’s a way for him to be closer to nature, and it’s something like his little space,” Brennan said.
Bucksport resident Bonnie Brennan built this Catio for her cat Titus. Photo credit: Gabor Degre / BDN
These viewing window boxes and in some cases large outdoor enclosures were called “catios” among cat lovers. Brennan said she first saw the idea for a catio online and was inspired to make her own. Pre-made Catios can be expensive, and Brennan thought that if they did, all of the do-it-yourself lessons she learned from her brothers would pay off.
The six foot by two foot Catio box that Brennan constructed is mounted on the outside of her home so that Titus can enter the room at will from the open bathroom window. Since the walls of the Catio are screened, Titus stays inside while bugs and pests stay outside.
Equipped with a bed and a few cat toys, Titus spends much of his time on days with good weather and enjoys the work of his adoptive owner. Brennan took Titus in as a foster cat about five years ago when a friend in Florida was ridiculed by some of the neighborhood kids. Having had cats in the past, but currently none, Brennan agreed to foster Titus.
In Maine, Titus has never been an outdoor cat in the past five years, although he escaped a few times, Brennan said. Knowing that Titus has a room to bird watch and feel the fresh air – and still be safe – gives Brennan satisfaction as a pet owner.
While Brennan has made her Catio weatherproof with insulation and plexiglass – which she removes in the warmer months – so that Titus can enjoy the room well into November, 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 greeting visitors at the side door, you’d expect Seidel to spend an average of time caring for his indoor cats.
But if you follow him behind his garage, a three-story catio – furnished with carpet ramps, multiple levels, and a branch for maximum activity – shows you how lucky Seidel’s two cats, Blackie and Rascal, are.
The resident of Bucksport, Chester Seidel, built this elaborate Catio for his two cats Blackie and Rascal. The Seidels have window seats and other accommodations for their cats throughout the house. Photo credit: Gabor Degre / BDN
“You are in charge,” said Seidel. “It was their request, I just went and did it.”
Like Brennan’s Catio, Seidel also constructed his Catio himself. With two vertical outer walls of the attached garage of his house, Seidel built two additional walls to make the area with scrap wood that he had on hand and wire mesh that he bought into a perfect square to create an enclosed square space that is the height of the garage. His cats have two entrances to the Catio from the garage, one on the ground floor and one on a higher level of the Catio.
While none of Seidel’s cats have health problems that prevent them from living the life of a traditional free range 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. Catio allows cats to enjoy the experience of being outside without getting lost or injured.
“I think everyone who has animals, dogs or cats should have an enclosed outdoor area where they can do whatever they want,” says Seidel.
Bucksport resident Chester Seidel built this elaborate Catio for his two cats Blackie (pictured) and Rascal. The Seidels have window seats and other accommodations for their cats throughout the house. Photo credit: Gabor Degre / BDN
Neither Brennan nor Seidel worked with a specific template when creating their Catios. Instead, they constructed units that met their cats’ needs. Brennan took his inspiration from the Internet, where you can find plenty of information about Catios, as well as websites where you can buy prefabricated structures.
In their respective Catios, Brennan’s and Seidel’s cats sure looked like they were living life. Satisfied from their perches, they look at the question: If a person can enjoy a beautiful summer breeze, why shouldn’t it be an indoor cat?