Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center’s new catio gives feline friends an outdoor space

An anonymous $70,000 donation went toward the creation and construction of the cat patio, which lets the cats enjoy the outdoors while still being fenced in and safe.


Jami Martin-Trainor

Two cats play together with new toys in the patio at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. The shelter recently installed a new “catio” for the cats to explore.

Kate Perez, News Editor

Cats housed at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center now have their own “catio” to spend their days relaxing in.

Previously, the cats spent their time inside with their companions in cages. Now, they have the option of sitting in an enclosed outdoor space when potential adopters visit.

The catio — short for cat patio — officially opened on Oct. 29 after three months of construction. The Friends of the Animal Center Foundation received an anonymous donation of $70,000 to fund the outdoor space.

The project cost $70,372 and was constructed by The Henley Group. According to the project description, the patio includes a steel mesh that encloses the space, a cat door, multiple hanging lumber benches, and cat toys.

Stephanie Koehler, executive director of the Friends of the Animal Center Foundation, said the organization, which was founded in 1999, supports the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center.

The biggest project the foundation and center have collaborated on was when the center moved into a new building in 2015, Koehler said.

“It was our biggest project to make sure that the animals had a really nice facility that was made specifically for animals and keeping them healthy and happy,” she said.

The foundation fundraises for the center in different ways, including by sending letters, creating online fundraisers, and planning events. Those donations often go toward making sure the animals have access to medical care, she said.

“I believe this last year, we’re about 80 to 85 percent funded by individuals,” Koehler said. “So, almost all of our money comes from just people in the community and businesses in the community, and we get a little bit of money from grants and then some money from events — of course —  and merchandise, but the bulk of it is individuals in the community.”

Koehler said the foundation had no idea the donation toward the catio was being made beforehand. The anonymous donor approached the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center asking for the construction of a catio, and the center reached out to the foundation.

“The animal shelter and FACF, we met together with this donor and said, ‘Okay, what’s your idea? What’s your plan? What do you want?’” Koehler said. “And then we just had to take it to the city and get the building approved and start construction.

City of Iowa City civil engineer Marri VanDyke said she helped facilitate the design process and made sure the catio would match the steel of the center’s building.

VanDyke, who usually works on roadway construction projects, said the catio project was a change of pace.

“It’s definitely good for the cats just to kind of enrich their time, their environment while they’re at the shelter, but I think it’s nice for visitors to be able to go out and meet with the cats and kind of get acquainted with animals that they may be looking to adopt,” VanDyke said.

VanDyke said the catio is an asset to the center.

RELATED: Paws at Iowa advocates for therapy animals for all

Koehler said the addition of the catio helps the center come full circle because the former animal center’s original location had a catio.

She said the center missed having a catio, but the foundation focused its funding more on issues like medical care for the animals.

“When someone comes in and brings extra money for a project like that, it’s just so nice to be able to do it,” Koehler said.

Koehler said donations from the Iowa City community help the foundation give the center the support it sometimes needs.

“I always tell people it’s important to donate to the animals because we literally count on you guys. The animals count on you guys,” she said. “… You need to be able to make the choice if you want to spend money on the animals, and thankfully we have community members who are interested in that and support the animals,” she said.

The catio has already gained attention during the week and a half it’s been open, Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center’s front desk coordinator Shannon McBride said.

“We’re still doing everything by appointment, but we did have a grand opening for the catio last week, and a lot of people were here for that,” McBride said. “It has drawn people in just to check it out.”

McBride said she has worked at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center for four years and feels the cats already have a better environment because of the catio.

“[The cats] get not only interaction with people, but interaction with the outdoors. But they can’t get out, so it’s pretty awesome,” McBride said. “It helps them explore. It gives them more space to play.”

The catio will be an addition the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center will cherish for years to come, she said.

“It’ll be great, and it’s really well made, so it’ll last for a long time,” McBride said. “I think if anything, we’ll just keep adding to it.”