It’s Time to Prepare Winter Shelters for NYC’s Feral Cats

Stray and feral community cats need protection from NYC's cold, damp winter weather. (Photo by Krista Menzel)

Stray and feral community cats need protection from NYC’s cold, damp winter weather. (Photo by Krista Menzel)

Winter is Coming…Are Your Colony Cats Prepared?

Cold, wet, wintry weather is just around the corner. So now is the time to purchase or construct outdoor cat shelters for your colony cats if you don’t have them in place already. It’s also the perfect time of year to replace the straw in the cat shelters you already use. Read on for information from the New York City Feral Cat Initiative on where to buy ready-made shelters and bales of straw to keep your community cats warm this winter.

Where to Purchase Winter Cat Shelters

We’re fortunate to have shelter-builders right here in NYC, and they have ready-made shelters currently available for purchase. These lightweight but warm and sturdy shelters come stuffed with an ample supply of straw. Consider the two different designs featured here. But don’t delay, as supplies are limited!

An insulated feral cat shelter crafted by Ian Henry. (Photo by Ashot Karamian)

An insulated feral cat shelter crafted by Ian Henry. (Photo by Ashot Karamian)

Insulated Feral Cat Shelter Design 1: Crafted by Ian Henry

These well-crafted, warm, durable, 100% waterproof shelters are made with minimum 1″ Dow Super TUFF-R commercial insulation, reinforced corners, and GE Silicone II sealant. The floor is covered with scratch-proof vinyl tiles. Dimensions: 38″ long x 16″ wide x 16″ high, with a 6″ round entrance. These shelters comfortably accommodate two to three adult cats.

Price: $60 each
Queens (St. Albans) Purchase & Pick-up: Contact Ian at or (646) 436-2301




Joe’s “fish box” insulated cat shelter. (Photo by Joe Rachiele)

Insulated Feral Cat Shelter Design 2: Joe’s “Fish Box” Shelter

Warm and durable, these shelters are constructed from recycled Styrofoam fish boxes. They are covered with two 2ml drum liners and strapped with heat-welded plastic straps, so they are fully insulated. They feature two drain holes on the bottom and come filled with straw. We recommend placing them on blocks so they are off the ground to allow drainage. They are currently available in two sizes. Large shelters are approximately 34″ long x 20″ wide x 20″ high, and comfortably accommodate two to three adult cats. Small shelters are approximately 34″ long x 10″ wide x 12″ high or 31″ long x 11″ wide x 15″ high, and accommodate one adult cat.

Price: Varies, please inquire
Long Island Purchase & Pick-up: Contact Joe at or (516) 322 5621.
Queens (Forest Hills) Purchase & Pick-up: Contact Mary of Friendly Ferals at or (917) 579-5718. Certified TNR Caretakers get a discounted price when they purchase these shelters from Friendly Ferals: $23 large, $12 small.

Please visit for more information.

Where to Purchase Straw

Straw is the best insulated bedding for cat shelters. Bales of straw are plentiful at this time of year in garden centers and home improvement stores, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. Even local supermarkets have bales of straw alongside the chrysanthemums! The small “decorative” bales are more expensive than the larger bales for farms, but a little straw goes a very long way when it’s fluffed up. And the small bales are more convenient to carry on the subway than the cheaper, gigantic bales you can purchase year-round from feed and grain stores and horse stables. To locate the nearest retail store that carries bales of straw, do a Google search for garden centers or stables near you, then call them to ask.

(Photo by Maureen Smith)

(Photo by Maureen Smith)

Note: Bear in mind that stores sometimes refer to it as “hay” when it’s actually “straw.” Straw, used as bedding for livestock, is the hollow, dried stems of harvested grain; it is shiny and yellow. Hay, used to feed livestock, is dried grass; it is duller and greenish. Hay may attract unwanted hungry wildlife and retain moisture in a cat shelter, so straw is the recommended bedding. Compare them side-by-side here.

You also can order straw online from FeralVilla. A bale of straw is priced at $17.95 and provides enough straw to fill two to three shelters. Additionally, several different brands of straw bedding are available for purchase and delivery through Amazon.

Before you put the straw in the shelter, separate it by hand and fluff it up in a clean garbage bag. Shake the bag until all the small pieces and the dirt have sifted to the bottom. Take out the fluffed-up portion and discard the chaff. Be sure you don’t over-stuff your shelter! The cats will want room to nest in it and pack it down themselves, and they’ll need a little room to move around. Make sure the straw doesn’t obstruct the entrance so the cats can get inside. If they pack it down, you can always add some more.

To read more about winterizing your colonies and creative ideas on how to make your own winter shelters, visit our Feral Cat Colony Care page.

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AnnaBell Washburn: Elder Stateswoman of the TNR Movement


NYCFCIPhoto-AnnaBellWashburn-06-800by Mike Phillips, NYC Feral Cat Initiative

Seemingly overnight in July 1990, AnnaBell Washburn became a face for the fledgling movement advocating humane care for feral cats in the United States. That month, an article recounting her Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) work at Martha’s Vineyard, MA, was published in Cat Fancy magazine. Although the article also mentioned the work of many other groups and individuals around the country doing TNR (some already for 20 years), the focus of the article was on AnnaBell, whom the author, Ellen Perry Berkeley, described as “capable, determined, enterprising and charming.” Though TNR was already a proven-effective method abroad, in America, the neutering of street cats to humanely reduce their numbers was relatively uncommon, without a name, and had no standardized approach. The Cat Fancy article was a watershed moment, fostering clarity on why and how TNR works, and showcasing what one person with conviction could do to implement it. Via this one article (in a magazine primarily devoted to pet cats and celebrating purebreds no less), others sharing the same quest that had driven AnnaBell were provided with information about TNR.

AnnaBell had begun to “consider it my calling” after hearing TNR (then known as the WSPA Method) described by British cat expert Peter Neville, at the 1984 World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) international convention in Boston. AnnaBell immediately recognized TNR as the humane solution she had been seeking to help the cats reproducing exponentially on Martha’s Vinyard. Over the next four years, she and a handful of volunteers completed TNR on 200 feral cats. The TNR project on Martha’s Vineyard was overseen by P.A.W.S. (Pet Adoption and Welfare Service), which AnnaBell had already founded there in 1980. During her tenure as its president, P.A.W.S. saved more lives of unwanted or lost cats and dogs than any shelter in the state through adoptions promoted by dramatic advertising.

NYCFCIPhoto-AnnaBellWashburn-01-800Reaction to the Cat Fancy article and the momentum it created resulted in AnnaBell being awarded a Presidential Citation for her outstanding record of community service in 1991. In the citation, then President George H.W. Bush wrote: “Many of America’s most pressing social problems can best be solved through a renewal of the values on which our nation was founded: duty, acceptance of personal responsibility, commitment and a respect for every individual that expresses itself in direct or consequential action on behalf of others. Efforts such as yours are evidence that these values remain firmly embedded in the American character. I commend you for making a difference in the life of your community.”

This capable heroine to forgotten felines was born Anna Bell Leinbach in Reading, PA, on February 22, 1927. Before cats occupied her thoughts and actions, AnnaBell’s family was primarily oriented to the appreciation of canines. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1948 with the class motto, “Forty-eight, we are great,” AnnaBell showed her inherent mettle by moving alone to NYC to seek her fortune. As fellow residents of International House, AnnaBell and the yet unknown superstar of the opera world, Leontyne Price, became great friends and even sang duets in I-House performances. After graduation from >Teachers College, Columbia University with a degree in Speech Pathology, AnnaBell was hired to join the elite teaching staff of the legendary John Robert Powers School. A credit to her own unique and effortless charm, the school had the reputation of turning out the most interesting, articulate, and appealing young women to be found anywhere.

With this sterling endorsement on her resume, AnnaBell was subsequently recruited by the quickly expanding Pan Am Airlines. Her assignment was to devise an enhanced training program to imbue their growing number of international stewardesses with poise and refinement. Pan Am executive Stanley Washburn fell in love at first sight as elevator doors opened one day to reveal the delightful AnnaBell, and they were married on March 26, 1966.

NYCFCIPhoto-AnnaBellWashburn-07-800Feral cat advocates couldn’t have dreamed up a more eloquent spokesperson to champion their cause. Over a lifetime of service, AnnaBell’s ebullient enthusiasm has served well to motivate and elicit support from others for her many charitable and philanthropic pursuits. With husband Stanley, they became a dynamic team, and even vacations were devoted to benefiting animals. After learning that feral cats inhabited three large resorts on Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands, they enlisted Tufts University’s Chairman of the School of Veterinary Medicine, James N. Ross, Jr., and raised the funds for an annual TNR pilgrimage there starting in 1986. During the first four years of the project, the TNR of 361 cats was completed on the island, while also providing invaluable training for Tufts’ senior veterinary students in spay/neuter surgery.

The legacy of AnnaBell’s work includes so many wonderful results, some singular and others immense in magnitude. Perhaps most poignant was the validation that her visibility gave to so many isolated individuals who had already been neutering street cats, even before any kind of organized movement. Many others were made aware for the first time of a proven-effective approach they could present when lobbying for the humane treatment of free-roaming community cats. In 2015, 25 years after the article featuring AnnaBell’s work appeared, Alley Cat Allies lists scores of groups around the United States currently devoted to the implementation of TNR. AnnaBell demonstrated to all what the determination of a single person can achieve when they set their mind to improving the world. Today, AnnaBell continues to enjoy the revered status as America’s most visible elder stateswoman of the TNR movement. She shares her UN Plaza apartment of many years with a delightful and devoted tuxedo cat named Sally. AnnaBell has two devoted nephews, Thomas, Jr., and Tyler Leinbach, residing respectively in Norfolk, VA, and New York City.

Thank you, AnnaBell!

Posted in Cats, Feral Cats & TNR, Spay/Neuter | Leave a comment

Mia: An Adoptapalooza Love Story

When Tiffany and Andrew saw Mia at Adoptapalooza on May 31, 2015, they knew they had found the right dog for them. (Photo by Tiffany Yu and Andrew Mak)

When Tiffany and Andrew saw Mia at Adoptapalooza on May 31, 2015, they knew they had found the right dog for them. (Photo by Tiffany Yu and Andrew Mak)

Tiffany Yu and Andrew Mak had wanted a dog for a long time. Both lifelong animal lovers, the couple’s busy work schedules had previously prevented them from adopting a canine companion. But, when Andrew switched from a corporate job to a career in real estate, he found he had a much more flexible schedule, which allowed them to begin to think seriously about adding a furry friend to their family. The duo attended the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals’ mega-adoption event, Adoptapalooza, on May 31, “just to look.” They found themselves looking at Mia.

Mia, a young German shepherd mix with Animal Care Centers of NYC, immediately impressed Tiffany and Andrew. “We liked how alert and bright she was,” recalled Andrew, “and were enamored by her sweet disposition.” They also liked Mia’s relatively small size. “She had the best of both worlds,” they recounted. “The intelligence and personality of a shepherd in a dainty 40-pound package — with big, soft ears; a cute smile; and pretty, brown eyes.”

Tiffany and Andrew did more than just look — they adopted Mia. According to Tiffany, Mia has “adapted beautifully to her new home.” Mia is, reportedly, “non-destructive, playful, and quiet.” She enjoys helping out during meal preparation by sitting close by and “watching diligently for anything that falls on the ground.” She is particularly fond of carrots, celery, and steamed chicken.

Mia also loves her squeaky squirrel, Kong ultra balls, and rope toys. She is apparently always ready to play, not only at home, but also with every dog she meets outside. Tiffany and Andrew take Mia to their local dog run to make sure she gets the exercise she needs and canine companionship she craves.

Ahhh, life is good! Mia, a young German shepherd mix, relaxes in her forever home after being adopted from Animal Care Centers of NYC during the Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals' mega-adoption event, Adoptapalooza. (Photo by Tiffany Yu and Andrew Mak)

Ahhh, life is good! Mia, a young German shepherd mix, relaxes in her forever home after being adopted from Animal Care Centers of NYC during the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals’ mega-adoption event, Adoptapalooza. (Photo by Tiffany Yu and Andrew Mak)

While Tiffany and Andrew have loved looking at Mia from the moment they met, it seems Mia likes looking right back at them. “She makes a lot of eye contact with us,” they explained,” which makes us feel like we are communicating without saying words.”

Tiffany, Andrew, and Mia plan to be at the next Adoptapalooza, which will be held in Union Square Park on September 20. For the potential adopters who may be attending, Tiffany and Andrew have this advice: “Do your research and realize the commitment you are about to make. A good pet owner will need to devote a large amount of time, money, and energy toward their new pet. Furthermore, one should realize that a pet isn’t something you can toss out when you get tired of or bored with it. It can very well be a 10–15-year commitment.” That is a commitment they are absolutely delighted to make to Mia. “We are the luckiest people in the world to have Mia!” they both stated unequivocally.

Are you considering adopting a cat, dog, or rabbit? Come to the next Adoptapalooza mega-adoption event on Sunday, September 20, from noon until 5:00 p.m., and take a look — you can change a pet’s life and your own!

Adoptapalooza - Union Square Park - Sunday, September 20, 2015

Posted in Animal Care & Control of NYC, Dogs, Events & Campaigns, Pet Adoption | Leave a comment

TNR Education Goes to Camp

Campers at Animal Rights Camp are encouraged to create art with their own messages about animal welfare. (Photo by Kathleen O'Malley)

Campers at Animal Rights Camp are encouraged to create art with their own messages about animal welfare. (Photo by Kathleen O’Malley)

Earlier this summer, Kathleen O’Malley, the Director of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Education for the NYC Feral Cat Initiative, a program of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, took a TNR trap to Park Slope, Brooklyn. She wasn’t headed to trap a community cat. Instead, she visited Animal Rights Camp (ARC) and captured the attention of its young campers by speaking to them about TNR and colony management.

ARC, the brainchild and labor of love of Shoshana Perry, is a weeklong camp for kids from 2nd grade on up. This year, the camp’s third, campers ranged in age from 10 to 14. What all attendees to ARC have in common is an interest in learning about animal welfare issues. Part of the way Shoshana fuels that interest is by inviting representatives from a wide variety of animal welfare organizations to spend a few hours with the group.

During her visit, Kathleen explained TNR and colony management to the campers and showed them how the trap worked, by using a plush cat she also brought with her. “The girls asked a lot of good, thoughtful questions,” recalled Kathleen, “such as ‘Do cats remember being trapped?'” The answer, she told them, was “yes.” Most cats apparently do become trap-savvy after being trapped.

Kathleen’s visit coincided with that of Marcie Frishberg and Natalie Reeves of Rabbit Rescue & Rehab — and a bunny they brought with them. With Shoshana guiding the discussion, the group talked about local laws protecting community cats as well as a new local law that bans the sale of rabbits in pet stores.

One of Shoshana Perry's cats was particularly interested in the trap divider and newspaper liners that Kathleen O'Malley of the NYC Feral Cat Initiative brought for her presentation to Shoshana's Animal Rights Camp campers. (Photo by Kathleen O'Malley)

One of Shoshana Perry’s cats was particularly interested in the trap divider and newspaper liners that Kathleen O’Malley of the NYC Feral Cat Initiative brought for her presentation to Shoshana’s Animal Rights Camp campers. (Photo by Kathleen O’Malley)

A particular desire of this summer’s camp group was to find a way to get pet stores to bring in animals from shelters instead of from puppy mills. “Animal Rights Camp,” said Shoshana, “is an opportunity to empower kids to stand up for what they believe in.” In just one week, the campers managed to raise $3,000 that they donated for this cause, all by speaking out to residents in their community.

Kathleen also encouraged the campers to consider lobbying their local and state representatives in government about their animal rights issues. She distributed TNR handouts to the group, who could not wait to hit the streets, hand out the materials, and share what they had just learned about the needs of community cats.

Next year, the camp session will be two weeks long. For those interested in learning more, e-mail Shoshana at


Posted in Cats, Events & Campaigns, Feral Cats & TNR, Policy & Legal, Rabbits | Leave a comment

NYPD Officers Get Certified in Trap-Neuter-Return

Cops and caretakers came together over community cats at a NYC Feral Cat Initiative TNR Certification Workshop held on April 25 at the 33rd Precinct in Washington Heights. (Photo by Maureen Smith)

Cops and caretakers came together over community cats at a NYC Feral Cat Initiative TNR Certification Workshop held on April 25 at the 33rd Precinct in Washington Heights. (Photo by Maureen Smith)

This past spring Kathleen O’Malley and Mike Phillips of the NYC Feral Cat Initiative (NYCFCI), a program of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, along with Sheila Massey, a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) advocate, taught a NYCFCI TNR Certification Workshop to two dozen participants in Washington Heights, eleven of whom were police officers representing seven area precincts.

According to Kathleen, “the workshop grew out of the positive relationship built between Sheila and the 33rd Precinct’s Officer Chris Stoll, who is in charge of Community Policing.” Prior to this workshop, Sheila had regularly attended numerous Washington Heights community board meetings. She used these public meetings to inform local police and area residents about community cats and their needs. She addressed meeting participants in a prepared, polite, and concise manner and distributed handouts with basic information about community cats.

(Photo by Maureen Smith)

(Photo by Maureen Smith)

As a result, several officers at the 33rd Precinct gained a new understanding about community cats and Officer Stoll became very receptive to the idea of the NYCFCI holding a TNR workshop at the precinct. A few weeks before the workshop, Kathleen addressed the Precinct Community Council meeting to briefly explain TNR and to invite people to attend.

The workshop presented a unique opportunity, said Kathleen, to “foster a better understanding between community cat caretakers and the NYPD.” Members of the force assigned to the 19th, 23rd, 25th, 28th, 30th, 32nd, and 33rd precincts attended. As Kathleen explained to the workshop’s “civilian” participants, “Even if they don’t go forth and do TNR themselves, the police are learning about the process of TNR, the behavior of community cats, and the challenges faced by their caretakers.” All of which, she pointed out, is bound to make them, and their precincts, stronger supporters of the caretakers and their efforts. Officer Stoll added that the officers were taking the workshop on their own time and that had each taken on the role as Animal Cruelty Liaison for his or her precinct.

(Photo by Maureen Smith)

(Photo by Maureen Smith)

At the end of the three-hour workshop, the two-dozen attendees became the area’s newest Certified TNR Caretakers. The host precinct, however, has evidently been caring for at least one cat for a while — an orange male cat has taken up residence on the premises.










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