Catarium? A Feline Habitat

Call it what you will, the cats are happy
Maria Matthiessen’s cats, Prudence, left, and Tangawezi, right, enjoy the enclosed play space she had built for them a few months ago. A ramp leads out from the house. With several different platforms on which to jump and frolic or from which to simply observe the great outdoors, they are happy cats.

Maria Matthiessen of Sag Harbor found herself in a pickle that will probably be familiar to many grandparents: She had not planned to adopt pets, but her granddaughter, Ava, finagled her into it. Two cats, to be precise, from the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons. And that is when the trouble started.

Tangawezi, her new ginger-colored companion, and Prudence, a delicate calico, were young and determined to explore — not only the interior of Ms. Matthiessen’s immaculate little house, where she settled after the death of her husband, Peter Matthiessen, but its backyard.

And so an outdoor cat playhouse was born, and the word “catarium” coined. 

Ms. Matthiessen hired Richard Dunphy of Kiwi Construction in East Hampton to design and carry out the idea, which had been hatched by Ngaere Macray, a good friend. He built a multi-tiered, fenced-in, partially covered, and safe indoor-outdoor environment for the cats, which they reach through a flap door in the house’s study. This allows Tangawezi and Prudence to come and go as they please. 

Attached to the side of an outdoor shower, the catarium is about four feet wide, six feet long, and six feet high. Its floor is covered with cedar chips, and the cats can jump between its levels and the play spaces along its sides. 

“The truth is, I’m too old to have two cats, probably. They’re a lot of work,” Ms. Matthiessen said after showing the catarium to a visitor recently. “This makes it easier for me with these two. They spend quite a bit of time out there. They’ve calmed down quite a bit, and they’re not so destructive in the house.” 

The construction of the catarium has not only enhanced the cats’ lives, but had a beneficial side effect. Cat owners know all too well the, well, inconvenience associated with a litter box, and the odor is multiplied by the number of cats using it. In this case, the litter box for Ms. Matthiessen’s cats is outdoors. “Inside, it was so smelly I couldn’t stand it,” she said.

Tangawezi, whose Swahili name means ginger, and Prudence developed an affinity for the catarium within a day of its installation in early September, though they had to be coaxed through the flap door initially.

For Ms. Matthiessen, who had adopted other cats and dogs over the years, the catarium was a big solution in a small house.

“After being in a cage at ARF, you would have thought being in a house would be enough for them,” she said, “but it wasn’t.”