Iowa City, Coralville community join to help stray cats

In the cold months, animal care services and residents are creating insulated box shelters to care for the stray cat population.


Jerod Ringwald

Zagnut, a 3-year-old male domestic short hair cat, sits at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center on Monday, Feb. 21, 2022.

Emily Delgado, News Reporter

During the cold months, Iowa City and Coralville animal lovers have said they feel a responsibility to care for feral cats. Some are helping to keep them warm during cold months by building insulated box shelters.

Shelly Hull, a local realtor, started putting together boxes insulated with straw and other materials for free pick up at her place of work, Sellers and Seekers, and then at the Iowa City Animal Shelter.

“I felt like there were just a lot of animals out there that were left out in the cold and really didn’t have any shelter and just needed some assistance from the community,” Hull said.

Hull said the insulated boxes are popular.

“We go through a lot during the year, depending on how cold it is, but I tell you, we go through a lot of them, and we have a wonderful community that really tries to look out for them,” Hull said.

Hull has been making these shelters for 15 years after she saw a large stray cat population in Iowa City, she said.

“We don’t know the situation of these animals. Maybe they’ve been abused,” Hull said. “It’s just a sad thing to see them out running around… it touched my heart because I was like, ‘They need our help.’”

Iowa City Animal Shelter Supervisor Chris Whitmore said that because feral cats have a bad reputation, residents are hesitant to help them.

“But unfortunately, they do get such a bad rap that we just need to start educating people that community cats are no different than a raccoon or anything else,” Whitmore said.

Similar efforts are underway in Coralville in VetRxDirect, a pet pharmacy that has Styrofoam boxes available for residents to pick up for stray cats.

“I know that those are really popular, and they seem to work really well,” said Holly Wilkinson, Coralville Police Department animal control officer. “They keep the cats warm during the winter with a little bit of bedding in there, and they’re available all over the place.”

The shelters available for pick up at VetRxDirect are recycled Styrofoam shipping boxes, and the pharmacy had no idea that residents were using the boxes to keep stray cats safe, Wilkinson said.

“It wasn’t until the folks found out about it for the cat shelters that we really started to have interest, and we started to actually have more interest than the quantity of coolers that we had available,” Wes Hepker, director of Coralville’s VetRxDirect, said.

Hepker said the stray cat population is increasing because many are not spayed and neutered, as they are more prone to reproduce.

In Iowa City, due to a Trap-Neuter-Return ordinance, residents are allowed to catch stray cats and have them spayed and neutered to help decrease the population of feral cats in the wild.

Whitmore said that the ordinance is a way to help the stray cats live in the community

“We feel it’s our obligation to try to help them,” Whitmore said.  “That’s why we offer these boxes, so they can be saved so they don’t get frostbite. They’re for the cats that are in our community.”