Shelter Me Inc began placing barn cats in 2008 when the animal control office in Gardner, MA sent out a plea for help --to find barn homes for 7 "unadoptable" cats -- on a list serve called, Masscats.org. The list serve is read by over 300 cat rescue organizations and individuals. We didn't catch the notice ourselves, but a friend of ours, Sharon DuBois, the head of the Billerica Cat Care Coalition, read it and sent Shelter Me Inc an email and asked if we could lend a hand.
To be honest, we didn't know any barns offhand who might be looking for cats. But we wanted to help, so we called the Gardner animal control office and learned what we could about the cats that needed help. We posted a fairly detailed notice on equine site.net (a bulletin board for the dressage community), and got very lucky. At least 14 barns responded, far more than we needed. (Adding details about the cats' personalities and and history helped do the trick.)
We drove around the state placing those first 7 cats; met some terrific barn owners and saw a wide range of really beautiful properties. How did those first 7 cats do? Five of them are still in place six years later. They really lucked out. And that's how the Shelter Me Inc barn cat program was born. Since then, we have placed more than 140 barn cats - the most recent placements we helped arrange this past weekend.
The video posted with this story features a how-to guide to acclimating barn cats. It focuses on the importance of placing barn cats in an acclimation cage for a minimum of five weeks - to give them a chance to bond with the barn owner and the environment.
The cages that we use are fairly sizable - 52 inches x 36 inches x 26 inches. They're called 'kitty playpens' and we buy them for about $100 each and loan them out to the barn owners.
We try to make the cages comfortable for the cats so we use small littler pans that don't take up too much space on the bottom of the cage...where we also place little those rug covered wooden houses where the cat can hide. (Feral cats like to hide.) On a shelf about 6 inches from the bottom of the cage, we place food and water bowls - so that litter can't fly into them.
Five weeks is quite a long time for the cats to stay in the acclimation cage, so we advise barn owners to place the cages in the center aisle of the barn where the cats will be exposed to plenty of fresh air and light and can see the horses and people coming and going.
After five weeks, we recommend that barn owners tie the cage door open and continue to follow the original feeding schedule including daily cleaning of the litter box. The cat(s) will come back for breakfast and dinner in the cage and often continue to sleep in it - until they find another sleeping place in the barn. At that point, it's time to place the feed and water bowls in a spot near their sleeping place, and dismantle the cage. (And ideally, clean it up and bleach it and return it).
There are animal rescue organizations all across the state who have 'hard-to-adopt' cats they would like to place in barns. But the barns are very hard for them to find...so if you are a barn owner and are looking for a barn cat or two, check out this list of Massachusetts Approved Shelter and Rescue Organizations. If you get your barn cats from a licensed group, the cats will be spayed/neutered and up-to-date on shots. Tell them Shelter Me Inc sent you. Good luck.