Why Don’t Americans Build Cat Gardens?

This is a simple question. Nothing clever. There are no underhand intentions here. I just want to know why, in a land of space and relatively low house prices for an industrialized country, there are very, very few cat gardens when something approaching half the population keep a cat or cats.

By “cat garden” I mean a cat enclosure. As I said, this is just a question but I’d bet I get very few responses. The reason why I am back onto this well discussed subject is because Sir Patrick Moore had a cat garden. He was smart, kind and he loved cats – a lot. He has a chapter about his cat garden in his book “Miaow!”. The enclosure was built by him for his two cats Jeannie and Ptolemy.

Sir Patrick's book Miaow!

Sir Patrick’s book Miaow! My cat Charlie holds the page open and washes at the same time.

There are very few cat enclosures in Britain too. There is less space in Britain and smaller gardens or no gardens but there is still the possibility to build a cat enclosure.

If Sir Patrick recommended them I happy take his advice. Not that I have to because I have promoted this topic for years on PoC. I live in an apartment so I can’t build an enclosure. I have a garden but it is a communal garden. I have no right to build an enclosure on it.

I know that in suburban America a lot of homes are detached and a lot of gardens are fairly large. A good sized cat enclosure is a distinct possibility and very workable. But….almost none exist. Why do Americans prefer to keep their cats inside rather than give them some safe space outside?

There are many dangers facing the domestic cat outside. In the UK the dangers include; traffic, dogs, poisons and infectious diseases. Giving cats a large enclosed garden eliminates these dangers. A cat can get some sunlight and some weather on their backs and smell the big outdoors, be stimulated and all in safely. A good enclosure will cure a lot of what I call “grey illnesses” caused by boredom and stress. These are uncategorized or undiagnosed illnesses. What is the big objection to them by Americans when there is oodles of space.

Domestic cats have a natural urge to wander over a space much larger than a home. But if allowed to wander they face health risks because they have lost the skills to survive and in any case it is dangerous out there. Most dangers for cats are human created.

If I had a chance I would jump at the opportunity to build a cat garden. They are relatively cheap and provide peace of mind for the cat owner and safety and stimulation for the cat.

What is the barrier to building one in America? Answers on a postcard…or a comment.

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Why Don’t Americans Build Cat Gardens? — 23 Comments

  1. I dont live there so I can’t say. It is true that where I lived in Canada people generally had much more space and materials were much cheaper so an enclosure was more accessible. Why not? A whole slew of ‘reasons’ no doubt. I would say one of the biggest ones is that people who are renting can’t because thay don’t own the property. Otherwise I can’t imagine why not if you are keeping a cat indoors always then you really should try to build one if you can (?)

  2. The point I am making is there is no good reason. I really feel it is time people did something about it. Not only are cat gardens good for cat welfare but also good for neighbors who don’t like cats and good to stop cats straying. There are multiple advantages. They have to be a sensible solution and a compromise that suits most people and the cats.

  3. Very good question; however, I can give you two reasons right off the top: renters’ rights and building codes. Before I explain, I’d just like to mention that we have similar dangers here in the USA, traffic, cruel kids, hawks, falcons, dogs, poisoning, skunk, possum, raccoon…the list is endless. Being that the USA is so massive, each state has their own laws and the federal government allows states to dictate local law.

    That being said, I live in a small city about 10 miles south of Boston in an 8-unit apartment building. We share a long porch with my neighbor and we cannot build anything on the porch. We have a small postage-sized communal backyard shared for our building and the adjacent property, with a right-of-way public walkway along the attached communal driveways. We also cannot build anything by virtue of law and apartment leases.

    As for private homes, it also depends on the local building codes. Even a child’s TREEHOUSE is subject to permits, fees and stringent building codes. A homeowner’s tax rate may increase with an added structure on their property. Someone may create a cat garden, but the moment they enclose it, it’s considered a “structure” by ordinance. Silly? Of course, but that’s government for you.

    Of course, some people don’t see any reason and those are the people we at the shelter keep an eye on. If it’s determined that a potential adopter either won’t keep the cat indoors (our city is very busy, very little land and mostly apartments) or refuses due diligence for the cat’s welfare, they are rejected. Hope this helps!

    • Let me expand a bit further. During the summer, a couple different news stories covered local authorities shutting down children’s lemonade stands because they did not have: permit to sell food, permit from the health department, paperwork filled out for the taxman…crazy isn’t it? For such a simple little thing (and the kids were giving the money to charity too), is it no wonder cat gardens are not addressed? Government gone wild. It’s a travesty, I tell ya!

      • I thought the USA was a country where people liked to have freedoms. It sounds like the European Union – a bureaucratic nightmare. I think on both sides of the pond we are disillusioned with career politicians.

    • Great comment, Gail and much appreciated. It is the first time someone has answered this question for me. It seems that planning regulations are tighter in the States than in the UK. In the UK home owners can build a cat enclosure without a planning application as far as I am aware.

      I wonder if the people who manage house building planning could talk to animal control, cat and animal charities and cat shelters and come to some sort of agreement about how to better manage the domestic cat to avoid strays and other welfare issues.

      • Oh, if only… Unfortunately, all the talking with authorities in the world won’t help if the wheels of justice squeak along, which it normally does.

        As it is, the more rural the state (Montana, Wyoming, Louisiana), the easier it is but those are the states that don’t give a fig, generally speaking. City folk are fighting every day with authorities to pass animal welfare laws and ease on restrictions, but unless palms are ‘greased’ (payoffs), not a lot gets done.

        • On a side note, our city (Quincy, Massachusetts) has a very good TNR program with many volunteer caretakers. Our ACO officers worked with local citizenry over 10+ years ago to transform what once was the “pound” where animals were captured and killed, to our present 100% no-kill shelter. ACO have an office within the shelter; therefore, the City pays taxes, maintenance, etc. rather than the shelter but we have to wait for the City to do things. The shelter also has a very good working relationship with the local police and K9 unit (around the corner).

          I mention these things only to let the membership know that animal lovers are doing their best to address the overpopulation problem. We consider ourselves lucky. There are many shelters out there without resources, making them high kill facilities.

          With the US government about to go over the fiscal cliff, these types of programs are considered “entitlements” and the republican party doesn’t want to pay for it since the president wants the rich to pay more taxes. To be fair, local communities are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

          • The USA is not the way it was. Cats were and are low priority in the grand scheme of things. I get annoyed because it shouldn’t take much to improve cat welfare. Progress in the task of reducing the number of yearly cat killings is slow to non-existent it seems to me. Quincy sounds good, though. As far as I remember Massachusetts have tighter than average controls on the keeping of exotic animals. I think this is good.

  4. I think in the USA there are two philosophies regarding cats. One says that cats should have their freedom, the other that they should be only indoor pets. I don’t see much middle ground. Monty and I have found that middle ground, but we have neighbors two doors up who let their declawed cat roam freely. I think she came to them declawed and they believed cats deserved their freedom, so they let her roam despite the loss of her defensive claws. She lived to be 18. I would never let Monty roam the way they did. I have other friends who never let their cats out and don’t want to hear about leash or fences or any method to get the cats outside in a safe manner. I just think it seems to be one extreme or the other and very few people let their cats out in a controlled way. It’s free roaming or indoor only.

  5. Because cat-lovers, contrary to their oft-spewed hypocrisies, actually enjoy watching their cats destroy other animals. This is quite popular in the UK. They give a socially acceptable explanation by pretending their cat has “gifted them” a now dead animal as a symbol of honor and love. Cat-lovers live amazingly impotent lives. They vicariously live-out their own hunting instincts through their cats. Imagining that somehow, if they can get their cat to pull an innocent animal’s skin over its own head, or shred its guts out to watch it writhe and twitch to death, that that human has won over mother-nature — through their cats.

    I have deleted a part of this because it was rude and insulting. Woody can you write a comment without insulting people?

    • Sorry Woody, you must take a hard look at yourself and ask whether it you who is the person who has it all wrong. 99% of people would find your comments mad or at least odd, laughable and always rude. I say that in a completely objective way. You come across as slightly mad, Woody. You really do need to have a long think about how you got to where you are psychologically.

  6. As usual, the easy route is to talk about the USA as if it were one city or culture which isn’t true at all. Some areas of the country might as well be a foreign country to some of us. The laws are different from state to state. That being true, I suppose there is some sort of culture that incorporates the whole of the USA but it is hard to ask the question about something like Catios that includes every state.

    Gail brought up excellent points about apartment rental and the lack of freedom living in an apartment building brings. In one city there could be many different situations concerning the welfare of cat pets. Renters being a large factor. They likely have the same freedom of home owners in most cases, but not all cases. I’d love to see the statistics on pet welcomed rentals vs. no pets allowed. Of course there is the dreaded god forbid rules that only declawed cats be allowed. Kill me now!

    Planning codes could be a problem, though from the designs I’ve seen for cat enclosures, I don’t think California has any building codes in place. That said, I have designed many an enclosure in my mind for my property and my cats. Probably for this round of cat friends, none of the designs would serve me or them. I can’t imagine confining any of my 3 1/2 cats. Two were born free and will stay that way. They mostly don’t leave the property. I think their age has something to do with it. My bedroom cat was probably discarded because he bites to communicate. He found me and has a peaceful life inside with few requests to go out. He is a prince of a cat, and being older he has little need to roam.

    I think if I am ever in a situation to adopt kittens I wouldn’t hesitate to do whatever it took to build an enclosure. A big one. They are not expensive to build.

    Alas, I think I will always have cats that find me when they are ready to settle down. I probably won’t have the pleasure to raise kittens. I haven’t raised one for more than 30 years now.

    As to why more US citizens don’t build Catios? I really don’t know the answer. I’ve personally only seen three. All in different cities.

    I still prefer the freedom the outdoor cats enjoy. We will see where it goes.

    • I understand your comment completely. However, if you were living in an area where there was more traffic or more people living closer together you might find that a cat garden was better for everyone. It is a sad compromise but we all compromise all the time. A lot of people don’t like cats and cats wandering around. These people can hurt cats. That would worry me because of the heightened dangers. My mother lost several cats to cars and poisoning. She eventually built an enclosure on my instigation. She felt much more relaxed and settled and it isn’t that bad a life for a cat. Less good than complete freedom but better than being indoors all the time. If 30% of Americans find it acceptable to keep cats indoors all the time why can’t some of these find it acceptable to build a cat garden?

      As I said if Patrick Moore had one that is good enough for me.

    • Dorothy, to answer your question about pets welcomed in apartments, it varies. In metropolitan cities (Boston, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles), it’s usually NO PETS, especially in high-end properties. Some landlords may allow a cat, but some demand they be declawed; most don’t ask.

      Some states require a pet deposit as part of the rental fee. Massachusetts is strict – pet deposits are against the law; however, a landlord may keep part of the security deposit if pet damage is proven.

      Smaller towns and suburban areas may allow pets, but even then, there may be restrictions on how many, the size, the type. Some places won’t allow noisy birds; some won’t allow small yappy dogs. There’s no set rule, except for service animals.

      Service animals are protected under federal law and even if pets are forbidden, service animals are exempt and landlords are required to accept them.

      As much as I can feel Ruth cringe, my Abby (Maine Coon) needs a body harness/leash to go outside. Our small city is densely populated, the majority being renters in multi-family buildings. It’s better than being stuck inside 24/7.

        • It’s really win-win. Remember my tortie, Sadie? It took awhile, but I got her used to a body harness. I’d put it on her for 10 minutes at a time inside, then dragging a leash inside for a few minutes and finally, we tried it outside on the porch. She loved it. In summer, I’d hitch the harness loop to a retractable leash to give her a bit more freedom (additional 20Ft).

          Abby is getting used to it, although it’s taking longer. We’re only at the back porch stage now. Maybe by next summer, we’ll be able to go into the backyard so she can roll around in the grass without trying to squirm out of her harness.

  7. I think Ruth’s point about extremes is probably the most valid and true when it comes to those who can build one if they want to. Either they dont because its not enough freedom or they dont because its too much freedom.

    • The thing is this. In the background America has this unshakable problem of the mass slaughter of stray cats at shelters; something between 2 and 8 million cats per year. We don’t know the number. No one is counting. I would bet my bottom dollar that if everyone who could build a cat garden built one the figure would drop dramatically. Cat gardens would save lives and stop people like Woodsman shooting cats at will for their amusement. And stop people poisoning cats that stray onto their land. Cat gardens would also improve the image of the cat because people who dislike the cat would no longer equate the domestic cat as a nuisance and cat owners as irresponsible. There are lots of positives to the cat garden in a less than perfect world.

      • Michael is correct in assuming cats are not a priority in the USA; neither are dogs, but some states are getting better. Massachusetts recently passed several animal welfare laws: De-vocalization is banned; Restraining orders extend to pets; Animal abuse is now a felony/special circumstances apply if animal fighting is involved. Declawing, although still allowed, is on the decline as people are being educated as to what’s involved (I give a special crash course to potential adopters-pretty graphic too. They thank me afterward for opening their eyes.)

        Quincy (my city) has become pretty pro-adoption over the years, changing the high-kill pound to our no-kill shelter. That being said, we’re still straddled in too much red tape.

        The USA was founded on freedoms, but over the decades, the population has exploded and the landmass has shrunk. Local government has taken over from the federal and in order to make their budget to sustain the population, all kinds of laws are passed and fines assessed. Then there are the insurance liabilities assessed to apartment building owners.

        Michael, the numbers of euthanized/killed animals in pounds/shelters is readily available. By law, all facilities that put animals down are required to keep reports. That’s part of how department budgets are determined. The problem is twofold – one, there is no US database to connect every facility with the data and, two, it won’t include animals killed outside of shelters or puppy/kitty mills or show animals who are killed for not being good enough.

        Unless the Catio is a temporary, knock-down type so it’s not bound by building codes, people won’t invest the money in added taxes. Renters are forbidden by statute and foster parents most likely already have one if they own their home (foster approval process includes home inspection for suitability).

        • Thanks for a full comment Gail. A cat enclosure is just wood and chicken wire. It could be 30 x 40 feet. It is not a big deal of a structure. It could be built by a house owner. Do people need planning permission for this sort of thing?

          Massachusetts is one of the enlightened states I feel. I’ll be honest, across the USA and depending on state and local regulations, I don’t think planning or regulations stop people building cat enclosures it is more to do with a lack of motivation. The cat is low priority. People accept cat killing in the millions.

          • Unless laws have changed recently, if the enclosure is only chicken wire over a wood/metal frame and is not permanently affixed (changing the structural integrity) to the building, no permit is needed. The building codes I refer to are for some of the more elaborate catios we’ve all seen. If a catio is built like an extra room, it’s subject to restriction. If, however, someone changed an existing sunroom to a catio, no permits are needed providing the actual structure remains. Adding shelving, cat lifts, etc. doesn’t apply.

            Apartment dwellers, if they have the room, can create an indoor garden with shelving and indoor cat lifts providing they are free-standing and don’t alter the interior of the unit. Lots of windows for light (with cat-proof screens) and growing fresh catnip placed strategically can help alleviate stress.

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