One of the best things I’ve ever done

by Danielle Bays (she/ her)
Senior Analyst for Cat Protection and Policy | the Humane Society of the United States

One of the best things I’ve ever done is build a catio.

Ok, you may be thinking I’m exaggerating the value of my catio to promote the inaugural Los Angeles Catio Tour, but I’m not.

There are three reasons why I say this:

First of all, the catio contributes to the physical, emotional and social wellbeing of my cats without putting other animals at risk.

Cats have been outdoor companions to people for most of the 10,000 years we’ve been living together. They started moving indoors full-time only after the invention of Kitty Litter in 1947. We keep them indoors for safety (both for cats and wildlife), but the indoor lifestyle is not without risks for our feline friends. Boredom, lack of stimulation, lack of exercise and the obesity that can come along with it, stress and stress-related behaviors are risks we need to actively minimize when we keep cats indoors. A catio, with all the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors, is instant enrichment, whether you have a large obstacle course of a catio or a small window box version. Access to a catio can also reduce inter-cat aggression and territorial conflicts that may arise in multi-cat households. I credit my catio for keeping the peace among my five cats and helping ease the introduction of two new adult cats to the family.

My second reason is that having a catio elevates my status as a sane cat lady. I’m not sure if there are actual cat lady levels, but if there are a catio must bump me up at least one level if not two.

I first learned about catios a decade ago, as the OG of catio tours (Portland Oregon) was starting to gain national attention. My career had taken a turn so that I was now focused on cats, specifically reducing outdoor cat populations through trap-neuter-return programs and policy. As a professional cat lady, I surely needed to have a catio, right? So, I did what anyone recently obsessed with a thing did back then. I created a Pinterest board of my dream catios for inspiration. I’d sketch out ideas and stare in my backyard imagining what my catio would look like. If only there were a tour of real catios to go on…. (do you have your tour ticket yet??)

And this leads me to my final reason why building a catio was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I spent years thinking about my catio—overthinking it as my cats looked out the windows. I made it so complicated that a catio was on par with a unicorn. In 2017 I finally took the plunge, recruited a bunch of friends and neighbors (also known as free labor) and built my catio. My cats took to it immediately and I asked myself why I waited so long.

In the end, I did something that I imagined was out of reach—but wasn’t.

That’s why it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Learn from my procrastination. Make your catio tour experience not just window shopping. Whether you decide to take the do-it-yourself approach like I did, assemble a pre-fab kit or hire a professional catio builder, pledge to not only admire the catios on the tour, but be inspired to build your own catio, for you, your cats, and your wild neighbors.

Danielle Bays (she/her)
Senior Analyst for Cat Protection and Policy | the Humane Society of the United States
Danielle Bays is a frequent speaker, award-winning author and wiz at cat trivia. As the senior analyst for cat protection and policy for the HSUS, Bays works with animal shelters, cat advocates, policymakers and other stakeholders to broaden support for community cat programs nationwide and to improve the welfare of all cats. Her path to professional cat lady began after finding her then-new backyard inhabited by a family of felines, which led to her building a comprehensive, citywide community cat program. Her backyard now boasts a catio for her five rescue cats and a vintage Charlie Brown seesaw.

Know more, do better. 

by Rochelle Guardado, CCBC, CPDT-KA
pronouns: she | her | hers
Animal Training Manager | Pasadena Humane

When I was a kid, we let our pets wander outside, and so did all my neighbors.

Our friends next door had a surprise litter of puppies, and my cat used to visit them all in the backyard to play.

Sometimes my cat would bring the puppies a “gift.” I remember finding the remains of lizards and birds often.

All of our pets were loved very dearly, and we were doing the best we could with the knowledge that we had at the time. Most of our pets lived happy, albeit short lives. There were fleas, disease, and many trips to the vet to treat injuries.

Fast forward a decade; my family and I became spay and neuter advocates and we strictly kept our cats indoors and our dogs on leashes. No more finding lizard tails hidden in the couch!

In the years that followed, my interest in pets became more than a hobby. I now work at an animal shelter and am a certified cat behavior consultant as well as a certified dog trainer. 

When I first started in this industry, the importance of keeping pets safe and sound indoors was beginning to become the norm. Like probably many of you, my family and friends have kitties and pups that are safely confined indoors while we work. The time we spend with our pets is precious, and it’s probably the highlight of your pet’s day.

Our expectations of how pets should behave in our presence have become very high considering that we no longer allow them free access to perform natural behaviors outside while we are away. Since pets are mostly kept indoors and restricted from performing essential behaviors such as chewing, digging, hunting, and scratching, it is our duty as their guardians to provide ways to entertain our cats and dogs.

As much as I would love to just cuddle on the couch all day with my pets, I know that providing mental stimulation and species-specific activities is what makes their lives more enjoyable. This is why I promote and recommend the use of Catios and harness training for canines and felines.

If your cat’s daily routine consists of merely finding places to rest, meowing for mealtimes, and batting at the occasional mouse toy, a catio or window perch may be just what you both need.

Catios not only protect wildlife, but they also provide a safe way for your pet to experience sights, sounds, scents and textures of the outdoors. Keeping pets safe from predators, cars, and other dangers is important, but keeping your pets mentally enriched may prevent behavior challenges which is one of the #1 reasons pets are surrendered to shelters these days. 

Rochelle Guardado, CCBC, CPDT-KA
Animal Training Manager
Pasadena Humane

Providing safety is only one component of pet guardianship. That is why today I teach pet parents to be respectful of local wildlife and to be thoughtful about our pet’s daily activities. Pets provide us with so much joy, and they deserve to be provided with an equal amount of safe, daily joy in return. We should all strive to meet the needs of our pets while also protecting our local environment and its inhabitants.