When Jennifer Dechant saw a lost-looking kitten huddling in front of the Brass Rail on 11th Street after a bad storm this summer, she admits she took it in.
“She was pretty terrified, but I finally got her to come to me and I found her a home with some friends,” Dechant said, “and she is super happy.”
Dechant was among the dozen or so people at the Hays Public Library on Monday evening who had gathered to build cat shelters for stray and homeless cats on these cold, wintry days.
Some cat lovers were taking a shelter home for the cats in their neighborhood, while others were building them to donate to the Humane Society of the High Plains or the Western Plains Animal Refuge.
The library was supplying all the materials, namely straw bales, plastic totes and styrofoam, all gathered by Abby Artz, adult services programming coordinator.
“I am an avid cat lover,” said Artz, as she welcomed the roomful of people.
“Here, here,” responded a man in the gathering.
“Yes,” Artz laughed, “and I’m assuming that most of the people who came to this program are as well.”
With holes cut in the totes for doors, the evening’s builders were adding Styrofoam and hay to each plastic tub, creating insulation and a soft bed for a cat in need of shelter.
Dechant was putting the finishing touches on hers.
“I just figured for all those kitties that I don’t come across, that need homes, they can at least be warm, and not so scared and frozen like the other one was,” Dechant said.
Betty Hansen, manager of the Humane Society of the High Plains, said on Tuesday that she can use a few of the shelters at the facility on East US-40 highway.
“Out here, every once in a while, people dump their cats,” Hansen said. “They’re not feral, they’re domesticated, and the cat is scared out of its mind, which is why, for the winter, we are going to put a few of those out.”
Every animal that is outside needs some shelter from the cold, Hansen said.
“The guy who rents our ground around the shelter has hay bales on it and we have seen feral cats burrow holes into those bales to seek shelter,” she said. “In an ice storm, they need shelter and they need water.”
At the library Monday evening, Artz said she got the idea for the shelters when trying to figure out what to do with leftover hay bales from the library’s Frostfest float.
“I’m an animal lover, I used to work at Hillside Veterinary,” Artz said. “I have one cat, her name is Stevie. I’m a crazy cat lover.”
Cats need protection from the elements despite their fur coats, said Dechant.
“If it’s cold outside, they’re gonna be cold,” Dechant said. “If you’re cold, they’re cold.”
Their higher body temperature doesn’t help when it’s minus 10 degrees, said Ashley McKinley, of Hays.
Her shelter was finished and ready to go.
“It smells like people now,” said McKinley, pressing the hay in place. “If a feral cat makes a favorable association with people it can possibly overcome being feral and possibly integrate. But, if not, feral cats still want a place to be warm.”