Meowhaus: Special Needs Cats Get New, Recycled Digs

Not all cats are super agile and adept when it comes to balance. In fact, more cats than you’d think are afflicted by common neurological disorder called cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), symptoms of which include impaired motor skills, balance, coordination, and the inability to focus. Such cats, as you might imagine, have a hard time in the average shelter, but they are perfectly capable of living long, happy lives, as long as they are housed in an environment that takes their special needs into account. Which is why an non-profit animal shelter in New York approached the Graduate Architecture Club (GAC) at The Spitzer School of Architecture in New York City to help them build the Meowhaus.

The Meowhaus (which comes to us via Mother Nature Network) is a special home for the ten cats at the non-profit shelter living with CH. Built largely of recycled, reclaimed and upcycled materials, it strives to answer the following questions: How do you create a stable environment for cats living in a constant state of instability? (Cerebellar hypoplasia results in jerky movements,tremors and generally uncoordinated motion, making it hard, in many cases, for cats to walk.) And how do you design stimulating architectural features when the smallest surface change can be dangerous? (A question, clearly, of more interest to architecture students than cats.) Moreover — how do you create a space where cats can be cats, even if they lack the cat’s signature trait of balance?



image via Mother Nature Network/The Meowhaus Project

The Meowhaus includes individual cat cubbies, a litter area, a feeding area and an outdoor area that is freely accessible by its resident cats. It was designed for the enjoyment of its furry denizens, but also allows for complete access by those caretakers and volunteers who tend to and play with these cats on a daily basis. The main goal is to enrich the lives of cats with special needs while addressing practical issues like ventilation, clean-ability, and build-ability.

The GAC’s design for the building incorporates recycled, locally materials throughout. These include windows, doors, siding and roofing salvaged from unused structures, as well as over 100 wood shipping pallets upcycled from from local stores. These shipping pallets are used to create an exterior shell, or sun screen around the interior core building. This design element, along with lots of big windows in the interior core of the building, provides shade, ventilation, and also, plenty of shadows to entertain the cats throughout the day.

Meowhaus construction

image via The Meowhaus Project

The interior will include a vestibule area, a separated litter area and a cat cubby ramp system. This design was intended to create a stimulating and comfortable environment designed specifically for cats with balance and mobility challenges.

To help defray the costs associated with building the Meowhaus (which is being constructed entirely with volunteer labor), the GAC sought funding through the crowd-sourcing platform Indiegogo. Plenty of cat-lovers rose to the challenge of helping the group make the Meowhaus a reality, surpassing the group’s stated goal of $3,000 by nearly a third. Funding is still needed, though, as the total costs of construction materials —  including lumber, plywood, roofing materials, insulation, interior finishes, fencing for the exterior area, decking, lighting and tools — come closer to $6,000. (Some funding will also go towards transporting used shipping pallets and other donated materials.)

If you’re interested in contributing to the effort, funds are still being accepted at this time. Any donations in excess of the amount needed to construct the building will go directly to the non-profit animal hospice the project serves.

(Interested in other structures built largely out of recycled materials? Check out this extreme recycling Portland remodel.)

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

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