I was so inspired by Karen Rose Smith's blog on how she helps ferals, that I decided to tackle the subject myself. Karen provided this terrific photo, I'd never thought of using bales of straw to make this arrangement, but it's very practical and I know outdoor cats would appreciate it.
Here's what my experience has been. (Be sure to click on the link above to Karen's blog, because she's been more successful than I've been and she has some really practical tips.)
I bought two igloos and for some reason, no one used them!! The occasional raccoon wandered in, took one sniff and walked away. No idea what the problem was. They were pricey and I won't make that mistake again. I'm going to donate them to a local shelter and perhaps they can give them to someone who manages a feral colony.
The next thing I tried was a homemade outdoor home out of a big storage tub, lined with insulation and blankets. I realized later that the blankets weren't a great idea, they got wet, and straw would have been a better choice. Also, I don't think the circular hole we made for an entrance was big enough. Maybe the cats are claustrophobic, but no one used it! My local shelter, Faithful Friends, devotes a whole day to making these and loads of volunteers show up. Here's a photo below that gives you an idea how to proceed. All you do is cut a circular hole and line the tub with squares of styrofoam and then put the lid back on. It costs about $20.00 for the supplies. You add straw to the bottom.
One of my friends swears by a "self-warming heated pad" that she uses for some outdoor ferals and for a couple of her indoor cats who have arthritis. I have to confess, I'd never heard of these, but they're inexpensive (some are under ten dollars) and it's an interesting idea. If anyone has experience with these I hope you'll share them with me. I'm always looking for new ways to help the kitties.
If you don't want to struggle with plastic storage tubs and styro oam insulation, you can buy a nice house for about $60.00. They come in heated and unheated versions.
I've had such awful luck with the igloos that I wonder if any outdoor critters would use the cute little house pictured above. Actually, I don't have any feral cats anymore, They've been taken in, neutered, vetted and become "Kennedy cats." But I do worry about the raccoons, rabbits, possums, etc who wander over from the state park, so I'll probably try to do something this winter.
Hope you stay warm and cozy this winter! And let's all do what we can for our outdoor friends.