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How one houseboat dweller made outdoor space for special-needs cats

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A catio allows two kitties with cerebellar hypoplasia to have time outdoors

If you don’t know what cerebellar hypoplasia (CH), you’ve probably still seen a few videos of pets who have it—dogs and cats with CH typically have jerky, awkward, or otherwise uncoordinated movement, and often have trouble walking. While they can live otherwise normal lives, it can require a little extra care in setting up a home around them.

Anna Boyd lives with two CH cats, Rosemary and Boots. Boyd also lives on a houseboat, which, being a small, seaworthy space, presents its own design challenges.

“They just need a little help here and there,” explained Boyd—like lower litter boxes and raised food dishes. For climbing, that means ramps. “In their mind, they’re a normal, regular cat, so they want to do everything that a normal cat can do,” said Boyd. “They’re just really horrible at it.”

Enter the catio, an outdoor enclosure designed to help cats safely enjoy the outdoors. Boyd sought the help of Cynthia Chomos, a designer who specializes in catios through her business, Catio Spaces. Chomos-designed enclosures, whether from a kit or a custom job, can vary in size and materials to fit the criteria of specific spaces and specific cats—and in this case, both of them had a particular set of needs.

“My main focus in designing the catio for these special needs cats was to provide lots of soft landings, railings, and safety so they can truly enjoy the outdoors,” said Chomos, that also “complement(s) this vibrant houseboat community.”

Courtesy of Catio Spaces

The four-by-twelve catio’s floor is covered in foam tiles with mats for a comfy surface for both the kitties and their human. While a CH cat might not be able to hop up a set of platforms like other cats could, Rosemary and Boots can access an upper-level platform from a soft, eight-foot ramp, complete with a padded railing and lined with outdoor mats for grip—leading to a protruding perch looking out to the dock, perfect for people- and bird-watching. Both a polycarbonate roof and a retractable lower awning allow for protection from the sun and rain for all-season use.

Houseboat living can be a fun for cats, but it can also cater to their more mischievous tendencies. One of the other, bolder resident cats managed a stowaway attempt while Chomos was working on the design.

“All the more reason to have a catio,” said Chomos. “There are so many outdoor hazards, even in a houseboat community.”