Roeland Park family builds cat shelters out of styrofoam coolers

Stephanie Lindquist-Johnson and her son, Phillip Johnson, are building cat shelters out of styrofoam coolers.

It’s been a particularly long and harsh winter. Intermittent snowstorms mixed with the occasional warm bout of weather have weighed on Stephanie Lindquist-Johnson’s mind. That’s why the Roeland Park resident has been busy all winter building shelters for feral and outdoor cats around the Kansas City metro area.

“Every year, I always worry; I feel so sorry for the animals out in the cold. They don’t have anywhere to go,” Lindquist-Johnson said. “So it’s important now to make these just because I know there are so many that don’t have shelter.”

The shelters are made from styrofoam coolers. Lindquist-Johnson cuts a cat-sized hole into each one, places cardboard and straw at the bottom, wraps the cooler in black plastic (to keep the elements out and also to conceal the shelter) and tapes it with sturdy black tape. She also adds additional padding to the bottom of some of the coolers to get them off the ground.

“It’s very durable; it will last a really long time,” she said.

She first got the idea in October from Sandy Siecgrist, a local resident who stays connected on animal rescue Facebook pages. Siecgrist had given her a makeshift shelter for a feral cat, inspiring her to start making as many shelters as possible and distributing them where needed.

Then in November 2018, Lindquist-Johnson posted on Nextdoor, a social networking application connecting neighbors, about her plans and the need for materials.

“I knew the holidays were coming up, and a lot of people have these (coolers) in their garage just laying around; they just don’t want to throw them away,” she said.

After the media attention she garnered earlier this year from an article in the Kansas City Star, the donations have been pouring in. Lindquist-Johnson said she is grateful for the donations from local residents, organizations and businesses who have provided her with dozens of coolers, plenty of materials and $580 in monetary donations. Her husband, Shane Johnson, has provided materials as well.

How to make a cat shelter

Each cat shelter is made with a styrofoam cooler, black plastic and black tape, plus bedding made with cardboard and straw.

Each one takes less than an hour to make. Their 5-year-old son, Phillip Johnson, also helps make the shelters. So far, they have made 54 cooler-shelters and distributed almost all of them out into the community. They will continue making the cooler shelters throughout the winter. The best kind of shelters are about a foot to a foot-and-a-half in length, but she even takes large coolers and cuts them in half to make two smaller cat homes.

“You want them fairly small so the cat’s body heat heats up inside,” she said. “If they have a lot of space, it’s going to be harder to keep warm.”

Lindquist-Johnson said they hope to continue connecting the needs of stray cats with resources from people who want to help.

“A lot of people worry and they just don’t know what to do,” she said, adding that people have reached out to her on Nextdoor and Facebook requesting a shelter for a stray or feral cat. “That makes me feel good. People do care; they want to help. Maybe they just don’t have the tools, supplies or resources to get it done.

“This is our passion; we love to do this and it makes us feel good that we’re contributing back out to the community.”