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Catios Reno: Building custom-made enclosures for cats

A catio is attached to the side of a residential home, allowing cats to exit the home through a window into a gated tunnel and two-level space with grass on the bottom.
Courtesy of Erika Perez de Jennings
A catio with a window enclosure leading to a gated tunnel and two-level space.

Cats are independent and love to roam, but letting them outside on their own can be dangerous. Catios Reno has created a way to let cats be outdoors and safe.

If you call Erika Perez de Jennings a crazy cat lady, she won’t be offended. In fact, she’ll agree.

“I am a crazy cat lady. Or a cat fanatic. I have learned to love their personality. They are all very different. They are very independent. I think that they are like me,” Perez de Jennings said.

Perez de Jennings was born in Coyhaique, a city in northern Chilean Patagonia. For most of her life in the South American countryside, she never had a furry companion.

A woman is sitting on a couch and holding a cat. Both are looking toward the camera.
Maria Palma
KUNR Public Radio
Erika Perez de Jennings with her cat, Isabella.

“It’s funny, we never had any pets. It was a little bit different then. There was not a lot of worry about having them indoors or programs that would take care of them or shelters for that matter,” she said.

Perez de Jennings moved to Reno in 2002 and works as a freelance English-Spanish translator. When her daughter was in high school, some of her classmates gave her a black and white cat that they named Jerry.

“A playful kitten. Oh my gosh, so energetic. So then we decided we needed a brother or a sister. We found a gal, and she had several kittens, and went to her apartment, and my daughter picked Tommy, a black kitten about one year old. Then, my daughter went to college, and guess who ended up with two cats? So that was the start of me caring more about them,” she said.

Perez de Jennings currently has seven cats she cares for at her home in Reno, and she’s also a big animal advocate. A few years ago, she rescued a stray cat she named Pumpkin, and she quickly realized that Pumpkin would never get used to living indoors. So she had an idea: build him a cat enclosure.

“I asked a friend, and I said, ‘We need to do something. We can’t sleep; we’re worried about this cat.’ So he just came over with some pieces of wood and put together one enclosure that is a window catio, and then we thought, ‘Perfect, now we have solved the problem,’ ” she said.

A mostly orange cat is sitting inside a window enclosure with grass-like flooring.
Courtesy of Erika Perez de Jennings
Pumpkin in his window catio, which was one of the first enclosures that Erika Perez de Jennings built.

Perez de Jennings thought that more cat lovers could benefit from this idea, so she started a small business called Catios Reno.

“The whole point of this is that the pets can have fresh air, enjoy the sunshine, enjoy something different, see the birds without damaging, without going to the streets and getting lost. That’s the whole point: protection,” she said.

With the help of a friend, Perez de Jennings offers custom cat enclosures that can range from $300 to $5,000.

“Many people really interested, especially around Lake Tahoe. Some people have had very, very big, big extensions of their house. The whole point is custom-made. We even created one with wheels; it’s like a catio mobile. You can also take your cat to a balcony if you live in a small apartment,” she said.

Perez de Jennings said catios are nothing new and can also be found online for a lower cost, but the difference is the quality and customization. Her catios are made of redwood and galvanized wires.

“But if you really want to have something outdoors, you just have to have something firm, something that the wind is not going just to put apart, something that maybe a wild animal will not just try to get through it,” she said.

A gated tunnel fixed along the side of a residential home. Two cats are standing in the tunnel and looking outward.
Courtesy of Erika Perez de Jennings
A wide enclosure with two cats inside.

Heidi Hull is a retired teacher from Winnemucca who purchased a catio from Perez de Jennings last spring.

“We enclosed our patio before, but it wasn’t as secure as I really wanted it for the cats. And after seeing how they make them and everything, it was like, ‘Oh, perfect,’ ” Hull said.

She said having a large catio has helped her mostly stray cats adjust to life indoors while still enjoying the outdoors in a safe environment.

Rebecca Goff is the Nevada state director for the Humane Society, and she said catios are a great alternative to letting cats outdoors without having them just be loose.

“It’s also a really good tool to help transition maybe an outdoor or an outdoor-indoor cat to being internally only. It can also help prevent obesity because it helps keep them active. And it can also definitely help protect them from wildlife,” Goff said.

A square enclosure with wheels on the bottom of one side. There is a cat sitting on a blanket inside of the catio.
Courtesy of Erika Perez de Jennings
A mobile catio.

Perez de Jennings’ main goal is to inspire people and help cats, and she already has some ideas for the future.

“To have more fun things to do. We have received some requests for RVs, like retractable catios. That’s probably something that we are still thinking about how it could be,” Perez de Jennings said. “It’s about the cats, about protecting them. We would like that more people know that this is possible. And hopefully that they don’t think, ‘Oh, no, it’s another cage,’ or ‘This is not good.’ ”

For more information about Catios Reno, visit catiosreno.com.

Maria joined KUNR Public Radio in December 2022 as a staff reporter. She is interested in stories about underserved communities, immigration, arts and culture, entertainment, education and health.
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