Episode 151 – Cynthia Chomos

Cynthia Chomos

Cynthia Chomos is a Feng Shui Consultant, Catio Designer, and the Founder of Catio Spaces. She creates safe and visually appealing outdoor “cat patios” to enhance the lives of cats and protect birds and wildlife. Cynthia is a passionate cat parent and a general contractor who works with a team of carpenters building custom catios in the greater Seattle area. She also offers a variety of DIY Catio Plans for cat parents and shelters who want to build a catio themselves or hire a local carpenter to build a plan for them.

Catio Spaces is a founding organizer of Catio Tour Seattle, an annual event to create community awareness of the benefits of catios for protecting cats, birds, and wildlife. She also offers an Animal Welfare Affiliate Program with 10% donations to organizations and advocates who share the benefits of catios with cat parents. Her company motto is “Life is good in a catio!”


Website: https://catiospaces.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CatioSpaces


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 Cynthia Chomos is a Feng Shui Consultant, Catio Designer and the founder of Catio Spaces. She creates safe and visually appealing outdoor “cat patios” to enhance the lives of cats and protect birds and wildlife. Cynthia’s a passionate cat parent and a general contractor who works with the team of carpenters building custom catios in the greater Seattle area. She also offers a variety of do it yourself Catio plans for cat parents and shelters who want to build a Catio themselves or hire a local carpenter to build a plan for them. Catio Spaces is a founding organizer of Catio Tour Seattle, an annual event to create community awareness of the benefits of Catios for protecting cats, birds and wildlife. She also offers an Animal Welfare Affiliate Program with 10% of the donations going to organizations and advocates who share the benefits of Catios with kept parents Her company motto is “Life is good in a Catio!”

 Hey, Cynthia. Thanks for coming on today. Great to be here. I’m really excited to have you and to learn more about what you do. I mean, obviously I’m a big cat lover myself. So tell us a little bit about you. Tell us about your journey and kind of how you came about doing all of this. Well, it’s been quite a journey, I will say. My background is I’ve been a Feng Shui consultant and a color designer for the last 25 years and love nature, love design, and also love animals and birds. And I grew up actually in a household with dogs. I became the co-parent of my neighbor’s cat, who eventually ended up with me, and I had never really experienced cats before. And she was an indoor/outdoor cat, and I never thought twice about it, I thought that’s what cats do. And I was blessed to have her until the age of 22 years. And it was the most devastating loss of my life because I’ve bonded with this cat so deeply. And about five months after she had passed, I had a dream. And in my dream, I saw the face of a little orange tabby and the cat was meowing at me. And I knew when I woke up that that was my next cat. 

Well, low and behold a month later, I found her an hour north of Seattle and I brought her home. And then all of a sudden I became this protective mama bear. It’s like there’s no way you are going to be allowed outside, you know, without some sort of safe way to protect you. So I had a patio that I rarely used. It was just a small little patio and used other areas. My garden. But anyway, I decided to convert and transform this patio into a catio, an outdoor enclosure. And I wanted it to be a space that I could enjoy too. So I brought in a water fountain and seeding, and I brought in some stumps for her to climb on and branches and cat-safe plants and I put in a floor, and I would sit out there and have tea with her, in the morning and she was able to access the space through a cat door in my kitchen wall. And we spent our time out there, and I was sitting out there one day and she was on my lap. We were watching the birds. It was a beautiful morning, and I had a flash of inspiration. It was like Catio Spaces. I need to design these for other people. They don’t have to look like cages. They could be outdoor gardens. And what a wonderful space to bond with your cat and allow your cat to have the wind in its whiskers and bird watching. And I also wanted to keep birds safe.

 And so it was just one of those things. It was a spontaneous inspiration and within a month, I bought the domain name and put together a website, and I’ve been a member of the Master Builders Association for several years. And so I got my General Contractors license and started building Catios in the greater Seattle area. For someone that didn’t have a cat before and whose neighbor’s cat just adopted you, right, now to the woman that’s building catio’s in the greatest Seattle area. What a journey. 

Really. I mean, I’ve had kind of an off the beaten path journey anyway. I left the corporate world. People were like, Feng Shui, Feng what? What’s a catio, you know? So I’ve been in a mish business for much my whole life, and I love cats. I think they’re the most amazing creatures. They’re so intuitive and sensitive to their environment. And every cat, of course, wants to be outside where they can experience fresh air and stimulation and the enrichment of nature. So I feel like I’m protecting birds by helping cats, by helping solve cat issues and problems. You know, for a lot of cat parents. I get emails from people, literally all over the world. You know who love their cats, but, hey, you know, my cats driving me crazy cause she wants out or hey, my neighbor doesn’t like my cat wandering in their vegetable garden and he chased my cats and I’m fearing for my cat’s life. So I need to do something to keep my cat safe. So I feel like I’m helping problem solve, and it’s just so great. I meet so many awesome cats and cat people along the way, so it’s been fun. And designing catios so they look like outdoor garden spaces and that they complement the house is really my goal, you know, especially from a Feng Shui and a designer standpoint. I wanted to feel like they belong in the backyard and look nice.

 And I think that’s really cool about what you do is it’s not just, you know, slap something up. I mean, you’re really spending a lot of time like you said on the design and thinking about the needs of the cat. And how does it really become a part of the lifestyle of the family? And just the piece of mind of knowing that now the cat is safe, I mean, I have encountered families where you know, this one cat in particular. He was a Bangle, and that cat was faster than a speeding bullet. We were building the catio and that cat would escape when family members would go out the door, that cat would just dart out and it would be an hour or so before they could track him down and get him back inside. So the catio was really a perfect solution where he could go out and explore and go outside on his terms but in the catio. So peace of mind is an important part of the catio for the cat parent. Yes, so how many years have you been designing and building these now in Seattle? It’s been six years. Six years and you know every project is unique. I even built a catio and designed a catio with my carpenter chief for some cats with Cerebellar Hypoplasia, They call them the wobbly cats, who lived on a houseboat. You could imagine that. So we did a houseboat Catio for these cats and, you know, and took into consideration ramps and soft landings and really tailored the catio to the cats and their specific needs.

 Now tell me about some of the materials that go into this because, I mean, certainly on the outside of the house I could picture wood and are you using normal screens? Or what’s the materials and things that go into one of these? The catio, typically, when we build them, we use wood. There’s wood framing, so the front and the side panels are all out of wood. And then there’s an important part is the wire mesh. And wire mesh comes in a variety of gauges, and the lower the number, the stronger the wire. So typically wire that we would use for a catio would be like a 16 gauge or even a 14 gauge. Although the 14 gauge would be a little harder for the DIY builder to build themselves. It’s harder to cut. But just as a reference point, like chicken wire, is anywhere from 19-22 gauge and I would never recommend it, it is just too flimsy. So having a galvanized grid, a welded wire, a welded wire is  it will be extremely sturdy. You won’t have to worry about coyotes or dogs or anybody breaking through the catio. And then the roof itself could be wire mesh or in the Northwest what I like to use is a black polycarbonate roofing material. It’s twin cells are maybe 1/4 of an inch thick, but its twin cell form is not completely solid, not a heavy panel. It is lightweight but extremely durable. It is also UV protecting and by having a flat-paneled roof, if you have trees, you know, disergerous trees that are dropping their leaves, it makes it a lot easier to clean. And I clean the roof, every spring, you know. Take them off and I’ll go up there and scrub the roof. Let the sunshine in. I think it’s important to have, well, I do recommend the clear polycarbonate roof just for the fact that the sun does shine in. Cats love the sun.

 My tabby Serena, she is a sun worshiper and she’s had four catios, by the way. She’s my quality assurance expert. So she’s got a window box out front for the Western sun in the late afternoon, and overlooking the courtyard. Watch the birds. And then she has three different catios that consist of about 60 feet of elevated catwalk tunnels. And then there’s an Arbor catio. And then I have the catnap catio, which is a gabled roof. It’s got a spiral staircase. There’s grass. There is a six-foot lounge for me so that I can hang out there and take a cat nap too. in the afternoon. So she’s got the run of the backyard. She could just follow me when I’m out gardening and she’s a very lucky cat.

Yeah, I was gonna say she’s definitely very lucky to have four different places. Your house must be just amazing for cats to be able to run to all those different places. And I heard you say kind of like an outdoor run as well. And I saw that on your website. Tell me more about how those work. Yeah, tunnels. And by the way, you know, in my own home, I painted all the wood a charcoal gray to match, compliments my house. But the window box could be painted white, for example. So it looks like a little window box on the front of your house. So the cat tunnels are about 18-20 inches deep and 20 inches tall, and they can be literally attached to the fence posts and you can create a cat run that goes all the way around the perimeter of your garden. And what’s nice is that if you got  . it kind of blends in, you know, with the fencing. But it’s not so obvious that there’s cat tunnels going around your garden. So they could be painted. They can also be elevated on top of four by four posts. So if you’re trying to get, you know, the cat from the house you know, over to a fence, you can create like a little arbor, like the cat would come out through the tunnel. Then they jump up and go across the walking path arbor and then make their way over to the fence and then go along the fence. And that’s really fun because there’s squirrels. There’s birds. I, one afternoon I was out there, this squirrel was running along the top of the tunnel and Serena was chasing it. It was really great. She’s like, there’s a squirrel, let me chase it. You’re not going to get him because you’re in the tunnel. 

Yeah. And I have my neighbor’s cat. Actually, it was a free roaming cat. A little bit dangerous. Have a free-roaming cat. There’s just so many dangers. Predators, poisonous things, other animals, getting hit by a car, vet bills. I mean, catfights, you name it. There’s so many dangers, getting lost. Getting locked in the neighbor’s garage. Climbing and getting stuck up a tree, can’t call the Fire Department anymore to rescue cats from trees. So there’s all these dangers, but anyway, this cat Frankie came over and I was out in my backyard. Frankie is sitting on top of the catio, looking down at Serena and they’re having this hissy fit, going back and forth. And I’m like, Frankie, you know, I shooed him off and I said, You need a catio. But he was just curious, like why she is there and I’m gonna taunt her. Nice. 

One of the things that I thought was really cool is not only do you design and build these, but you also came up with the way that people could bind down the plans on their own, to build one. So if they’re not in the Seattle area, they’re still able to benefit from what you know. I believe that every cat should have a catio. And so, knowing that I was in Seattle, I’ve created a variety of DIY, do it yourself catio plans for windows, a porch, or patio deck or the oasis patio, for an area further away from the house and they come in a variety of designs and sizes, and I’ve made them so that they’re pretty easy to build. And they’re just a great way, it’s a great weekend project, and I donate 10% of every DIY plan sale to an animal welfare organization. Great. So it’s fun. And you know, we’ve been sequestered, have the sheltering in place going on. So I’m gonna be doing an upcoming Blog on all the people that built a catio while they were sequestered at home. Getting a taste of what it’s like for a cat to be cooped up inside, day in and day out. You know, no fresh air.Sure. We’re human. We’re all experiencing that. We want to get out, get that fresh air, get some exercise and stimulation, get a change of scenery. So I’ve had a lot of cat parents doing DIY plans right now, and actually all year long. So they’re just a great way to create an outdoor space and something simple. You know, it could be a little window box. The beauty of them is that cats love vertical space. So you don’t have a lot of space to expand out from the house. You know, you could do a three by six and go up eight feet. You’ve got lots of vertical and full up all space for a cat to get exercise and nap and watch birds. 

So how many different plans do you actually have now?. It comes in three different sizes. Small, medium, large, depending on how big your window is. And they’re not confined to the size of the window. You could make it longer than the window. So there’s the window box, and then I have the Haven, which is a more compact catio. It’s a three-sided that sits right up, you know, attached to the house. So the cat can go through a cat door, directly into the catio. And then I have the Sanctuary, which is a larger version, six by eight. Or an eight by ten, also three-sided. That has room for human seating, that you get out there, enjoy the catio too. And then there’s the Oasis, which is the four-sided that connects to a tunnel. And then I also have tunnel catio plans. So they come in different configurations to do, stack some or do an “L”,  have it come out of your patio. So just a lot of variety and creative ways that cat parents can create a catio. Look up the window box.

 How do you recommend to get started? Like, if I wanted to go out there, what do I do to get started? Do I need to go out and measure my space? So I need to have an idea, obviously, of what I want to build. I think the first thing to consider is how your cat is going to get into the catio. And one of the beautiful things about cat doors is there’s a variety. They could be installed in a window. And when I say installed, it’s actually an insert that’s separate from a window. Similar to you know pet door, slider door liner, patio door. You just open up the window and this thing compresses and you put it inside the window frame then close the window. There’s glass up above, and then you got the flap of the door. So the cats can go in and out at their leisure, and you can also lock it. So cat doors can be installed in the window. Or they can be literally installed in a wall where you would actually cut out an opening for the cat door. And one of the good things about the wall-mounted cat doors that you could have dual flaps and that gives better insulation value. 

Typically, your window cat doors would have a single flap and you’ve got your glass and got the frame at the door. But a wall-mounted cat door would have dual flaps. So if you live in a northern climate or you know it gets cold in the wintertime, this would keep the temperature, you know, keep your heat in, etc. So there’s a wall-mounted and then there’s, if you could also install in the door. A wood door leading out the catio, a cat door in the door, or you have a slider door, there are cat doors, pet doors that go into a slider door. You open up the door, the insert fits inside. Close the door and use a little stick for security and your cat will go in and out at their leisure. All of them are lockable, so you can control outdoor time. For me, personally, I never lock them because I know she’s using it and she loves going out at about, 2 or 3 in the morning and she’s just curious what’s going on in the backyard and then will come in and fall asleep. And then the minute the sun’s out, she’s outside. It’s really cute. A lot of cat parents who are new to catios are like If I build this catio, will my cat still want to be with me? I’m like, Oh, yes. They know a warm lap. They know where they get fed. You know, a cat will not abandon you. Your cat will still be around for sure. Go out in the catio and enjoy it with them too.

 Yeah, that’s really cool. And I really like the idea that you’ve designed some of these so that there can be a space for humans in there as well. Right, because, as you mentioned, the cats do like to be around their humans. And to be able to enjoy space like that together, it’s got to be really cool. It is. The human enjoyment factor is one of the joys of a catio really. As I said, they could be in a variety of locations and one of my favorite couples that got a catio, they built it around their kitchen windows. When they are reading the paper and they just look out and see the cats in the catio, and they’re part of it, you know? And it’s just a huge joy factor to see your cat watching a bird. Looking around, you know, that whole stimulation. They do need that enrichment and stimulation on a daily basis.

  Now you started something called Catio Tour Seattle. Tell me more about that. So there is a trend, throughout the United States and    to host catio tours. And Portland, Portland is actually the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon and a Portland Audubon Society, were the first in the nation to host the Catio Tour and I heard about it. You know, I was a year into Catio Spaces and I’m like oh, my gosh we need to do a Catio Tour here in Seattle. So basically what a Catio Tour is, is the buying 8-10 cat parents who have Catio’s, who are willing to be on a tour and the proceeds of the tour go to one of our local animal welfare organizations, and it’s similar to a garden tour. You get a map. It’s a self-guided tour and you can go and see all the different ways that people have created Catios. Based on their home, the home style and actually the space that they have in the yard. And it’s just super fun because in reality, you know, dog parents get to be out. They can talk to other dog parents. There are dog parks. There are lots of ways you can socialize with your dog and other people. But for cats, you don’t have that opportunity. But the Catio tour is such a great way to connect with other cat lovers and share stories about their cats. And oh, you know, mine loves to be up high and mine like to be down low and Oh, that’s a great idea. I could do that for my cat. So it’s a fun, great educational tool and a great way to get inspiration. 

That is really cool. And I really love the fact that you started as a Feng Shui consultant and now you’ve become the Catio Spaces lady, and you’ve really just taken this concept and the fact that you build these for people. You help them design them, and now you even have the online plans, for others to download is just really cool. What’s the future look like for you? That is a good question. Right now I envision coming up with more DIY catio plans because my creative brain loves spinning ideas of ways to have cats enjoy the outdoors. I also have an Animal Welfare Affiliate Program where I support animal welfare organizations throughout the country who become affiliates. And when they share the benefits of the DIY plans, they get 10% of that sale directly to them. I want to expand the Catio message and the benefits to not only animal welfare organizations but birds and wildlife organizations. I really want to expand because it’s a win-win for everybody. It is a win for the cats, the win for the birds. And, you know, we had a significant reduction in the bird population in the last 30-50 years. And I think, as responsible cat parents, we need to look at the big picture. You know, it’s Yeah, okay. Cats love to roam freely, but in reality, it’s harming the bird population. And I think it’s important to take that into consideration. 

And, of course, continuing to build Catios. I want to put together a video series on catio tips because like so many questions and queries literally from all over the world. What about this? What about that? How do I address, you know I got coyotes or what type of wire? So I think I could be more educational outreach, when I’m not building Catios Yeah, for sure. Well, I love this Cynthia. I think it’s really cool what you’re doing, and I’m really glad you came on the program to share today. Is there anything else you would like to mention before we wrap things up? Like I say, “Life is good in a Catio.” Well, it definitely is and we’ll make sure that we link to Catiospaces.com in our show notes. And thanks again for coming on today, Cynthia, I really enjoyed talking to you. Thank you.

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