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Helping Paws unveils new 'catios'

Helping Paws Animal Shelter volunteer Cheryle Homuth (cq) keeps an eye on one of the cats in the new "catio" at the facility in Woodstock on Thursday. Helping Paws is having a Cat Enrichment Fair on Sunday to celebrate the opening of its two new cat patios.
Helping Paws Animal Shelter volunteer Cheryle Homuth (cq) keeps an eye on one of the cats in the new "catio" at the facility in Woodstock on Thursday. Helping Paws is having a Cat Enrichment Fair on Sunday to celebrate the opening of its two new cat patios.

WOODSTOCK – A kitten conundrum recently solved at Helping Paws Animal Shelter: How do you avoid an outdoor cat-tastrophe without shutting off your felines to fresh air?

Catios, of course.

As in: cat patios.

As in: caged-in outdoor quarters that attach to the indoor shelter through a kitty-door in the window. With tunnels in and out and shelves to climb and a – possibly torturous – peak at a nearby bird bath. Maybe the size of an average bedroom. But with no real shot at escaping onto nearby Route 14 or of getting lost.

"They love it," said Cheryle Homuth, a volunteer at the shelter who, by profession, is a certified animal behavior consultant. She's standing on a walkway beneath the cat tunnels, which run between the building and the two caged catios. "Some just stay out here all day long."

Not today. The air is misty and chilled on a late spring Wednesday. The kitty-doors are sealed. No catios for you, Tom.

Still, the additions have been welcomed by the shelter and its inhabitants, both feline and human.

Helping Paws is hoping for better weather when it puts the new catios on display and holds a seminar on cat enrichment and cat health Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m at the shelter, 2500 Harding Lane, Woodstock.

A couple years ago, Helping Paws set out to boost "cat enrichment," and won a $10,000 grant from Pepsi. Much of that money went toward the catios. The shelter also has added a variety of toys for the cats, and it threw a little money toward its more-fortunate shelter friends, the ones with floppier ears.

"That was a small portion, because the dogs have quite a bit," said Ravelle Schwab, Helping Paws' board treasurer. "It was all enrichment-based, and the catios are a big part of that."

Those catios will be on display Sunday. The Cat Enrichment Fair will feature refreshments, activities for kids, a raffle and a tour of the cat areas in the shelter.

Homuth will talk about cat enrichment and share shelter techniques that people can bring home to their own felines.

"Cats are so independent that frequently they're on their own, but they want to do other things, too," she said. "We're going to show a lot of different things they can do with their cats."

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