ROCKINGHAM — Pets are often considered family members by the people they live with, and are cared for, fed, and protected from the elements — but for many stray and feral cats, having a warm, safe home is out of reach.
Thanks to one animal-loving family, anyone who watches over homeless cats can now have a free cat house to provide shelter and a sense of protection.
Kim Hutchinson came up with the idea.
“I had seen something similar on Facebook and they had put an actual cooler inside a tote and put hay around it,” she said.
The totes are plastic storage tubs with lids.
“It depends on the size of the cooler and the size of the tote,” she explained. “But if you put just the cooler, you’re able to put it out into the sun and it will absorb the heat during the day and will hold the heat into the hay and help keep the cats warm at night.”
Greg Hutchinson said his wife is the visionary, and he and their son, Conner, are the engineers and builders.
“She said we’re going to get some Styrofoam coolers and totes,” Greg Hutchinson said. “And she said, ‘You’re going to make them and create these little cat houses so that the cats will have somewhere to go if it’s cold, raining or if there’s inclement weather outside, so they’ll have somewhere to get out of the weather and stay warm.’ Over the past few years we’ve made quite a lot of these. Kim does a great job getting some people to donate stuff. Actually, the items here were donated by a friend of hers.”
Kim Hutchinson said her friend drove all the way up from Georgia to drop off a batch of coolers and totes.
“We usually buy the hay ourselves,” Greg Hutchinson said. “Sometimes it’s donated and sometimes we purchase it for it ourselves. And it’s just really simple items, it’s just the basic Styrofoam cooler you can get from Food Lion. Basic tote you can get from Walmart or Lowe’s, and it’s duct tape and cutting a hole in it and then adding some hay. It’s a pretty ingenious idea and simple to make.”
The cat houses are built and given away freely to anyone who wants one.
“They serve all types of cats,” Conner Hutchinson said. “Mainly, they’re for those who might not be able to afford a nice house to put in their yard for an animal. For someone who’s taking care of a stray cat, or possibly for a business that has a cat that sticks around their building they can put it in the back.”
“Just about anybody who needs it or wants it is welcome to get one,” Greg Hutchinson said. “We don’t have any criteria. We don’t stop anybody from getting them, if somebody wants it we’re glad to help. Kim cares very greatly for animals. She has a big heart for animals, and that kind of bleeds over to us and we just love seeing her dream of taking care of the animals come true.”
Getting a dog or a cat to enter a small, unfamiliar space takes a little time, he explained.
“What I tell people and what I try to teach people is that just because you put it out there, even with a dog, if you put a dog house out there, they aren’t going to just go into it,” he said. “You have to kind of coax the animal into it, show them that it’s a safe place. We tell people whatever they’re feeding the cat or if you’re giving the cat treats, put those treats at the entrance, and put some further back in there.
“Cats are very cautious about going into a small space like this,” he continued. “Normally they like it, but they have to get used to it. So they’ll come up, eat the treats at the door, venture in and get the other treats. It works them in slowly and then they know it’s a safe place and they’ll start going in there and make it their own little house.”
“We gave away four big ones this afternoon,” Kim Hutchinson said Thursday. “Actually, Greg had made four out of the totes because a lady called and said that she was feeding seven feral cats, and she knew that the storm was coming, so she wanted some shelter for them. And she was also asking for help to get them spayed and neutered.”
Conner and Greg Hutchinson often participate in rescue networks that Kim is involved with remotely. She doesn’t get out much, but likes to stay involved with Richmond County Animal Advocates and animal rescues. She fosters dogs and cats in the family home.
“Sometimes if a mother cat or a pregnant cat gets in one of the cat houses, they can have their babies safely,” she said.
Greg Hutchinson said it takes only about five minutes to construct one of the foam cat houses, but the plastic ones take a little longer.
“It’s a little bit more involved trying to cut it and getting the edges good so they’re not sharp and won’t hurt the animal,” he said.
To request a cat house, reach out to Kim Hutchinson through a Facebook message.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.