"Hobbit Hole" Cat Shelter Tutorial
In every aspect of our life, my husband and I are very "If you give a mouse a cookie". A small idea snowballs really quickly, basically... "If we're going to do X, we should probably go ahead and do Y... and Z... and OMG wouldn't it be cool if ....?"
That's basically my explanation for this tutorial, and the project that spawned it. A little background...
Back in 2011, the tornado smashed out one of our garage windows. It's right by the ground, and totally useless - there's a weirdly placed fireplace behind it, so no human is getting in or out of it - so it's been pretty low on our priority list of things to fix. We'd see a cat or two go in and out of it, not a huge deal.
Then last year, my husband heard some noises in the wall when he was in the garage... and discovered a litter of kittens! We socialized them and their mama, and found homes for each of them. Shortly after that, Mama (now "Artemis", per her new family!)'s sister also had a litter of kittens in there. We were able to hold the kittens once, before she hid them away from us. They all became feral, and lived in and around our garage/yard.
Flash forward to now. We have about 10 ferals living in our yard. They've all been named - Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Fili, Kili, Galadriel, Arwen, Celeborn, Beorn - and have their own Facebook fan page: The Feral fellowship. We've trapped, neutered, and released MOST of them so far, and are currently raising a small litter of kittens from them (Celebrian, Elladan, and Elrohir) in my husband's office, and will soon adopt them out.
In the course of trapping, neutering, and releasing, we decided that we should clean up a part of the backyard, near the window they use, and put a small crate out there as a shelter. Maybe we'd plant some catnip. Actually, maybe that crate should be one of these homemade ones that are insulated? If we're going to go to THAT trouble, why not build one from scratch? What if we make it look like a Hobbit hole? With cat grass growing on top!
... If we're going to do THAT, maybe we should make a little "patio" of mulch around it - with a little border - so that we don't have to use the lawnmower up against it. Actually, if we make that area a little bigger, we can surround the little apple tree so that we don't have to mow around that. A little bigger yet, and we can do the same with the compost bins. Hell, at this point, that whole section of yard may as well be done in mulch, there's no point bothering to mow the thin little strip that'll be left... that's a lot of mulch. Maybe we can sink some pots of catnip into the ground, to look like bushes in their little shire? And add some stepping stones! You know, we may as well add a little pond, so they have a constant source of drinking water...
... and here we are. Proud caretakers of a little feral "Shire". Here is how we did it:
- 1 round egress Well with matching cover. Ours was about 36" diameter, and 2' deep.
- 6' plank of solid composite decking, in brown. Don't use the hollow kind!
- Large tube of construction adhesive. (We used Loctite PL 3X Premium Construction Adhesive)
- Outdoor latex paints, tinted yellow and green
- "Cedar" coloured silicone caulking
- Pipe hanging strap
- Screws, bolts, etc
- Cat grass seed
How We Did it
Being careful to line up / center everything, I used a sharpie and a couple of plates to trace circles onto the egress cover for the openings
Then, I drew a rough guide for the "brickwork" around each. I wanted to get an idea of how many bricks I'd need, and what sizes. I ended up needing 24 1.5" x 2" bricks for the main door, and 40 1" x 1.5" smaller bricks for the two windows.
I had my husband cut the bricks from the plank of decking, using his table saw. He used his jigsaw to cut the holes out of the egress cover. He was careful to get the door out in one solid piece, as I'd be using it.
As he presented me his perfectly cut bricks, he informed me:
"You know what you need to put between each of the brick pieces? MORDOR. I mean MORTAR."
... what a dork 🙂
Once the holes were all cut, I slathered the whole front facade with a thick layer of construction adhesive. I used a painting sponge to spread and texture it, kind of smacking and pulling it upwards to resemble stucco.
As I finished spreading and texturing around a window, I carefully placed the appropriate sized "bricks" into place around the edge, pushing in to secure in the adhesive.
Once the whole thing was coated, textured, and had all of the bricks placed, I let it dry (cure?) for a couple days.
In the meantime, I spread the door piece with more adhesive, using the sponge and an old paintbrush to streak it into more of a "wooden door" texture.
Once everything was dried/cured, I painted the "stucco" yellow, and the door green.
As I was being artsy in the comfort of our house, my husband slaved out in the yard to clean debris, strip the sod, and level the whole thing. Getting the ground level where the Hobbit Whole would go was important, so it would be stable and fit snuggly against the garage.
I piped the cedar toned silicone caulking around the edge of the windows/door, and in between each brick.
Once it was all piped, I used a wet finger to smooth it all down
Once everything was all cured and dried, it was time to assemble it all.
First, Porter fit the egress cover to the egress well, and marked spots on the egress cover to indicate where the holes on the well would line up. He then drilled these holes, so he could bolt the cover on.
Next, with the cover on to hold the well into the correct curve, he attached two 2x4 planks across what would become the bottom of the structure, to hold it all into place. (Not pictured)
Next, he attached the door. He took the facade off the well to do this. Due to the ridges going on in the back of the facade / door, he had to get creative. He ended up ... ah, let me just quote him...
"I used pipe hanging strap (like this ), which is easily bendable and has holes for screwing into things. I used one piece near the center of the door and one strap near the top. It's just bolted on, I drilled holes in the support strips to mount it."
He then replaced the facade onto the well, and attached it with 3 or 4 small bolts.
Finally! Time to install the Hobbit Hole into our little feral shire!
We had already completely landscaped the "Shire" by this point - covered the entire area in landscape fabric, installed a small pond, dug holes and sunk 5 little pots for catnip "shrubs", spread mulch, and laid stepping stones.
We had left a small spot of unmulched area on the fabric, right about where the Hobbit hole would be going. We placed it where we wanted it, then packed some more mulch down into it as a bit of a floor, and to hide the beams underneath.
Then, we mounded a bunch of dirt over it. You really want to pack it in well, and it'll want to slide a bit. Take your time!
Then, plant a ton of cat grass seeds. I think we ended up using 8 packets, over a few weeks, just getting ridiculous with it. They tend to grow in small clumps, rather than an all-over sod like consistency.
Didn't manage to get a close up of the soil covered structure, so here's a view of the whole Feral Shire..
... and then we waited, keeping the soil moist while we let nature take its course. MADDENING!
Once the grass started sprouting, the ferals started to indicate their approval 🙂
Pippin got up there and caused a bit of sliding, which we later repaired:
I think Frodo may have been a little jealous...
... and then Sam wanted to know what was up...
.. and the Kili decided to come hang out with them all...
A patched dirt slide, a few more seeds and a couple weeks later, and voila ... one proper feral shelter Hobbit Hole! It was a lot of work, but totally worth it!
It's been nice to see them hang out in the back yard, fairly carefree. They get along well, have access to fresh water and food, and seem to know thay're safe here, and free to be cats:
(Bonus: There's video of Arwen enjoying that catnip.. SO cute! Click here to view it on their Facebook page!)
Be sure to follow The Feral Fellowship on Facebook for tons of cat photos and updates on their lives out back!