Published: Friday, January 11, 2013, 6:09 PM Updated: Sunday, January 13, 2013, 5:31 PM


Harley is a member of the feral cat colony that lives at the Morris-Jumel Community Garden in Washington Heights.

The free-roaming cats that reside at a Washington Heights community garden can ride out the harsh winter in their new fancy high rise.

The insulated five-story “Kitty High Rise”  which echoes the style of the area’s historic brownstones  boasts robin’s blue fire escape-like ramps, a rooftop garden and a pergola where wisteria can climb.

“It’s just gorgeous and so functional,” said Sheila Massey, who manages the colony of 11 feral cats that live amid the rows of vegetable plots at the Morris-Jumel Community Garden and the untold number of strays in the surrounding area.

Until now, the cats have taken refuge from the cold in Styrofoam boxes that are filled with straw and hidden beneath a tarp in the back of the garden.

The cat-friendly garden was selected as one of eight locations for the stylish, innovative outdoor shelters designed by some of the city’s hottest architects.

Kitty High Rise was designed by Leslie Farrell, an animal enthusiast who created Architects for Animals to help raise awareness of the plight of the city’s explosive cat overpopulation crisis.

sheilaSheila Massey will manage the Kitty High Rise cat shelter, intent on keeping the feral cat colony at the Morris-Jumel Community Garden in Washington Heights warm through the winter. It was designed by architects to benefit the city’s homeless cat population.

Since cats need winter shelters to help protect them from freezing temperatures, for the third year in a row she’s asked some of the city’s top firms to voluntarily design shelters that were functional, warm and weatherproof.

“It’s a great way to draw attention to the problem and move the conversation forward,” Farrell said at a benefit this week for the NYC Feral Cat Initiative, where the unique shelters were unveiled to the public.

Kathryn Walton of The American Street Cat designed her shelter, which will be placed in a Brooklyn monastery, using insulated cat food cans and a reclaimed cedar frame.

The remaining shelters will be placed at a tennis club, a church, a park and a ballet company studio.

The exact locations will remain under the radar to prevent indoor cats being dumped, said Mike Phillips, community outreach coordinator for the feral cat program.

He said dumping is a growing and widespread problem; domesticated cats are often rejected by feral colonies and if un-neutered will continue to reproduce.

“If all of the cats abandoned to the street were neutered, or better yet, if no one would ever consider throwing a cat out on the street, there would be no need for The Feral Cat Initiative to even exist,” he said.

Experts estimate that tens of thousands of homeless, stray and free-roaming cats live on the streets, in alleyways, yard and abandoned lots throughout the city.

Phillips said Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) is the only proven method to control them and reduce their numbers.

Under TNR rescuers can trap feral cats, have them spayed or neutered and return them to the same areas.

Once neutered, the cats no longer display nuisance behaviors such as fighting over mates, yowling in heat, rummaging through trash cans, spraying urine and producing multiple litters. Well fed, there is no need for them to scavenge for food.

Meanwhile, Massey said her garden cats earn their keep by steering the rats away.

“By spaying and neutering the cats, they become good citizens,” she said, and proposed the city adopt TNR as a method of rat control.

Still, despite the city’s cat overpopulation problem, there are currently no rescue groups or city agency that will come to trap and remove feral cats.  That means it’s up to the independent rescuers, or colony caretakers, like Massey, to help keep the crisis at bay.

Anyone can help. The NYC Feral Cat Initiative offers TNR Workshops and instructions on how to build a low-cost outdoor shelter.

To attend a workshop or learn more go to

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