Frequently Asked Questions
You certainly won't see anybody if it is feeding time :) Although we keep the food (and water) dish in the habitat well stocked with dry food we do feed them canned cat food. They are all neutered and live in a house that is outside on our deck so they do roam or come and go about a bit (particularily when the weather is nice). If the weather is nice they'd rather not be in their house and prefer to lounge around or play on the 12 X 36 foot deck. Of course if it starts to snow or rain it's a full house in short order. Just check back a little later or keep watching, they will be along sooner or later (on cat time). You'll see a lot less of them in the summer time also (for obvious reasons). I suppose if there was enough interest we could install a camera that monitors the outside area around the house. If you check the weather radar for this area and see rain or snow moving into the area you know they will all be home soon. You might also see (on the radar) that the area is currently receiving precipitation which explains why you are seeing so many of them. The habitat is also a duplex (two sides to the house with seperate entrances) and only one side has electric heat and the video camera. When it is cold the cats will choose the side with the heat but when the temperature permits they like to spread out a bit and use the other side of the house also.
When is the best time to watch the cats?
Oddly they seem to be most active at 2 - 5 AM local time. That's when most (often all) are home and they will groom each other and shuffle around to get that perfect sleeping position. You may also get a glimpse of the occasional late night (or early morning) "intruder" trying to sneak a meal from the food dish on the first floor through the passage way in the lower left.
Do the cats mind the light being on all the time for the camera?
Actually even though we are able to provide a pretty good (black and white) video image after dark (or on very cloudy days), it is total darkness (to human eyes) in the habitat after dark. It’s a miniature colour camera with IR LEDs that provides invisible after dark illumination. During the day most of the time (especially when it is sunny) there is enough ambient light coming in the window to provide a full colour image but after dark or with low light levels the camera automatically switches to night mode (black & white only) and uses IR LEDs that are outside the range of human eyesight. Cats have different eyesight than humans and they certainly know the camera is there (sometimes looking directly at it) or touching it with their paw. Although they may be able to see the light coming from the camera after dark a little more than we can (do to their different eyesight) it doesn’t seem to bother them.
How much does it really cost?
We’re not completely sure (I guess if we knew it would really scare us). The initial habitat cost about $400 in pressure treated lumber and supplies to build, perhaps another $100 to add the electric heat. We often spend $300 on a single trip to get cat food and kitty litter (which last only a week or two). Veterinarian bills are the most shocking; we have thousands of dollars in receipts for that but food is the biggest on-going and never ending expense. Between 10 and 15 thousand dollars a year wouldn’t be an unreasonable guess.
An electrically heated cat house? Are you crazy?
Perhaps but it gets very cold here in the winter. Stray cats are commonly found quite literally frozen to death in this part of the world. As well insulted as the habitat may be it is only a matter of time until it is as cold in there as it is outside as insulation only slows down the transfer of heat, it doesn’t stop it. We heat the habitat to +10C and the body heat from the cats is able to do the rest. Even at +10C, with their fur coats the cats are pretty comfortable compared to -27C outside. It’s a 500 watt heater but we run it at half wattage (250 watts) by using 110 VAC power. This means 1 Kwh for every four hours of operation. And when it’s cold or windy it can run 24 hours a day. So that’s 6 Kw/h a day, at $0.14251/Kwh or about $26/month to keep the cats from freezing. It costs a lot more than that to keep them from starving.
Why did you set up this video feed?
It seemed like a fun project and was something I hadn't done before. First it was only intended for us to be able to monitor the health and wellbeing of the cats (just like the remote temperature sensor that reads the temperture inside the habitat) but a picture is worth a thousand words. When we realized we could make it available on the Internet for the whole world to see, the idea was to just create a fun site that animal lovers could go to and see the cats in real time and how they are doing today; accepting donations to help with all the expenses was the last thing in our minds but also turned out to be a logical next step although we don't ever expect to recover our costs or for the level of donations to even cover our ongoing costs, if it ever did we would be able to do more to help with the problem as the area is really overrun with stray and abandon cats; most have a very hard and short life compared to the members this colony. We really learned a lot we didn't know about them since we installed the camera; see What have you learned from them?
Why bother? You could have evicted the cats when they first appeared.
Yes and that would have been a lot less expensive but these cats didn't ask to be homeless, abandoned by their owners or born in the neighborhood without a good home. While some people might choose to euthanize (or otherwise dispose of them) we couldn't in good conscience do that. They are kind, loving animals and we "know" they do understand and appreciate what we do for them. Living in a close-knit colony and with frequent contact with us they are never alone and have a pretty good quality of life for cats compared to many other stray and feral cats. They are all healthy and happy and content to return to the habitat of their own free will when the weather is not so nice outside. While it would be better if they had a real home (like our indoor cats do) they have a right to live and enjoy life.
The are cats house trained?
Yes, too much so. We have two kitty litters on the deck (separate from the habitat) that are regularly serviced. If they are out in the main yard (or even further away they will come back to the deck to use the kitty litter rather than making a mess in the outside world :) One of the first things we have to do after a major snow storm is to shovel a path from the habitat to the kitty litter stations. In the interim (e.g. during the storm) they will navigate several feet of snow and dig their way in to get there if they need to.
We have learned a lot since we installed the video camera. For instance we didn't realize they were such a close knit community (grooming each other so commonly) and also very tolerant of each other. If people could only get along so well. One really interesting thing is that they are rarely really asleep (to spite all appearances): While cats do spend at least two-thirds of their lives asleep, they’re not “asleep” in quite the same way humans are. They do experience both non-REM and REM sleep, but for cats, “asleep” is not “off the clock.” Cats are always on the alert, even when they’re dozing. If the slightest strange noise wakes them up, they’re almost instantly aware and fully operational. It’s an ability that cats (and wild animals in general) depend on to stay safe. While these cats are safe and well cared for, their instincts haven’t changed; they have the same genetic programming as fully wild cats. If you watch them long enough you will see them all react instantly to the slightest unusual noise. As the same 7 cats have lived there for over a year now, we thought they would be more territorial about their home but instead we often see the occasional stranger who may even spend the night. The deck where the house is located is fully surrounded by a 6 foot high wall on three sides and our three story house on the forth side: It's no easy feat for them to come and go but we won't do anything to make it easier for them as it does keep stray dogs (and people) out.
I just discovered this site. How long has it been around? How much has been donated?
We announced the site publicly via the Facebook social networking site on April 20, 2014 although it was there for a month or so before that in test mode so we could ensure there would be no technical problems. Quite a bit of time was invested in the problem of delivering streaming video to many different browsers and devices. We had to give up on the software we were using for this initially (unreliable) and finally found the right content delivery network (CDN) that can accommodate many concurrent viewers. Since the site went live there haven't been any donations so far but we are very grateful to some friends that helped initially. We are not disappointed in this, this isn't a business and we didn't expect anything. Someday somewhere someone will send a few dollars our way to help with the many expenses and that will always be a very pleasant surprise but the main purpose of the site remains to increase awareness of the problem and the plight of stray and feral cats everywhere as well as providing animal lovers something to watch for as long and as often as they choose to.