GLOVERSVILLE – Many stray and feral cats have found homes in cat shelters dotted throughout the greater Capital Region thanks in part to Angel Mariani.
The Gloversville resident has made several hundred of the shelters over the years, using blankets and bins filled with straw. She often gives them to people who reach out to her on Facebook.
“They are life-saving. [For] cats out there that don’t have a warm home, it is a very rough winter,” Mariani said.
Mariani has had a passion for animals since she was a child and remembers her father bringing home stray cats when she was growing up. While the work that she does with the cat shelters is independent, she volunteers with animal organizations like Kitten Angels and runs a Facebook group called Kitty Connection dedicated to educating people about cats and how to care for them. She also runs fundraisers on the social media platform for those who can’t afford to pay for their cat’s medical bills, or for injured feral cats she comes across that need medical attention.
When it comes to taking care of themselves, feral cats are fairly resourceful, however, living outside in the wintertime does come with a cost.
“If they’re outside all the time, they do acclimate to that colder temperature,” said Holly Baker, the director of veterinary services at the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society. “So they’ll likely build up some natural insulation, their own fat stores, a thicker fur coat. It doesn’t mean though that they won’t have issues, where frostbite might get their ears if they don’t have the best shelter. That’s where us building some for them can help out. Cats are definitely resourceful but it depends on the environment that they’re in and what they have around them.”
Throughout the last decade of making these cat shelters, Mariani said she’s seen many cats with frostbite.
“I have personally found cats and have seen cats that had frostbite so bad their limbs will literally rot right off their bodies. Infections start and if they don’t have treatments, antibiotics or vet care, the infection just flares out of control,” Mariani said, “I’ve found cats out there in the dead of winter so wet from freezing rain they had icicles hanging off their body. It’s horrible. It’s heartbreaking. Sadly, there’s not enough people out there that will care or make any effort.”
It’s part of the reason why Mariani has continued to make the shelters. By her estimation, she’s made several hundred of them over the years and has given them to people in at least five counties across New York State.
Adrienne Allen of Johnstown is one such recipient. For the last five years, she’s maintained two shelters, and regularly provided food and water. She estimates that the shelters have been used by at least half a dozen cats.
“I have a side porch and under that porch is a storage area and I have straw for any cat who wants to go in there. Right next door to that, it abuts that part of the porch, that’s where I have the two shelters. They’re very sheltered, so they’re right against the house,” Allen said.
While Mariani works independently, some organizations are known for caring for cat colonies and that support “Trap-Neuter-Release” (TNR) or “Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return” programs.
“There are a lot of arguments on both sides of the issue as far as if it’s a good idea to do it or if it’s not,” said Nancy Haynes, the director of behavior and enrichment at Mohawk Hudson Humane Society. “If somebody does have quite a few feral or stray cats in their neighborhood, we do encourage them to reach out to a TNR group but if they are already handling a colony in their neighborhood, obviously, the shelters are going to be a good idea for cats in the wintertime.”
One such organization is SCRUFF (Spaying Capital Region Unknown Feral Felines), based in Guilderland. The non-profit aims to humanely reduce and stabilize the community cat population, providing low-cost spay and neuter services, along with vaccinations. In the past, SCRUFF has also held classes to help people make the cat shelters.
While Mohawk Hudson doesn’t have a TNR program, it has worked with groups that support it in the past.
“I think it’s really community-based because if you are going to have a TNR program you have to have community input, you have to have a caregiver who’s committed to taking care of these cats. You have to have an area that’s not going to cause a lot of strife with your neighbors or community. So it is really community-based and has to be the right decision for everybody involved,” Haynes said.
One concern that most people have when considering whether or not to feed feral cats or host these cat shelters is attracting other wildlife.
“You always want to be monitoring these shelters, checking to make sure that you’re not encouraging a family of wildlife instead of cats. Normally, if a cat or cats are residents of a specific area you’re not going to see necessarily a lot of wildlife trying to get into that same spot,” Haynes said.
From Allen’s experience, wildlife is mostly interested in the food that she leaves out, not so much the shelter.
Over the years, according to Haynes, these cat shelters have become more popular.
“I do think that the knowledge of TNR and feral cat colonies has grown over the years, so therefore [the number of] shelters and feeding stations . . . has grown over the years,” Haynes said.
Mariani and Allen hope that more people will provide these resources for any feral or community cats they notice in their neighborhood.
“Instead of just saying ‘I think I saw a stray cat or feral cat,’ . . . please put food out because they need it desperately. They have no one to take care of them and I wish people would just do that for them, especially in the winter. It’s tough for them out there,” Allen said.
It’s part of the reason she admires Mariani’s work.
“She’s not only got a heart for cats but she’s an educator on her Facebook page she will have information which is educational which many times people don’t know about cats and taking care of outdoor cats, etc.,” Allen said. “I’ve known her for several years now and she’ll go way out of her way to help cats, even if she has to give her own money, which, we’re all the same we don’t have much money but she’ll do that because she has such a good heart.”
Tips for building a cat shelter:
- “When you make cat shelters, you do not use hay. You have to use straw. Straw repels moisture and straw has a coating on it, also works as an insulator, helps to keep the cat warmer. Hay is not good at all,” Mariani said. To help people remember she uses the phrase “Hay is for horses, straw is for strays.”
- Place in a dry spot, protected from snow and rain.
- For a low-cost shelter, take a large plastic tub and cut out a hole in the side that is just big enough for a cat to fit through.
- For more information on building cat shelters, visit alleycat.org.