Santa Fe Scoop

Curious cats stay out of trouble at Jan and Jack Kerr’s Santa Fe house.

That’s because their five indoor felines find plenty to keep them busy in the Kerr’s self-styled cat palace — a sturdy 8-by-12-foot screened cattery that includes stairs, ramps, tunnels, an elm tree and even a cat-friendly garden.

The cats have free rein of the house but can easily slip outside through a cat door into a screened-in patio and up a ladder through a tunnel to the palace. There the cats can nibble catnip, scratch at carpet remnants or go out on a limb — for fun. There’s even an outdoor litter box for doing their business alfresco.

“It certainly has made a difference,” Jan Kerr says. “They were always in my face, always wanting something. Since this has happened, they are definitely more outside and more interactive. They seem much happier.”

The idea of a cat palace was born of a simple need: Keep the furry companions indoors and content. The couple first screened in their patio and made a simple run for the cats after a neighbor complained about the free-roaming cats three years ago.

“They turned us into the pet police,” Jan Kerr says, adding the animal control department informed the couple that the city’s ordinance requires all animals, even cats, to be contained within the owner’s yard. “Most people don’t know about that.”

A quick trip to the home-improvement store for supplies, and soon a cat door was punched in a wall and the backyard patio screened in. A simple caged run to the side of the house allowed the cats access to a separate litter box.
But the Kerrs soon found the quick fix wasn’t enough, and they lost their patio to the cats. Worse, feral felines in the neighborhood used their backyard as a pathway, frustrating the couple’s two male cats and increasing the toms’ need to mark territory.

“These cats haven’t been outside for more than three years, and they were protecting their boundaries,” Jan Kerr said. “It got so bad, we were at wits’ end.”

The Kerrs spent months coming up with ideas on how to expand their cats’ environment. They drew inspiration from the cattery at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society and got tips from home-improvement shows and various publications.

“The limb really inspired the whole thing,” Jan Kerr said. “That was the hard part, but important. And we knew we wanted a roof so it could be used year-round.”

Armed with a list of supplies, Jack Kerr made another trip to the store and began working on the new cattery. The two, who run Seventh Ray Skin Care, spent weekends and some evenings working on the project.
The recent long weekend gave Jack Kerr enough time to finish the cattery. It cost about $350 to construct, he said, not counting materials the couple had on hand.

Ella, a recent addition to the family, was quick to find the joy in the extra space. “The girls immediately took to it,” Jan Kerr said. “Rico still couldn’t figure out how to get in it, so Jack built a stairway. He just finished it.”
Jack Kerr plans a few more touches to the cattery, and eventually, the couple would like to rebuild their back wall with cubbyholes for the curious cats. But for now, everyone seems satisfied.

“We’re hoping to get our patio back so we can enjoy it,” Jan Kerr said. “And the great thing is that we both can enjoy watching the birds. They can see them, but we don’t have to worry about losing songbirds.”

The cats are also safe, Jan Kerr noted, adding the city’s ordinance has cut down on the number of free-roaming animals. Plus they no longer worry about other cats and cars.

“This seems to work,” Jan Kerr said. “And they just love it.”

This story by Ben Swan originally appeared in the July 20 edition of The Santa Fe New Mexican.

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