Expert Tips on Building Outdoor Cat Runs

Portion of the outdoor cat run

Building an outdoor cat run is a great project that allows you to improve your cat's quality of life. Susan Gotlieb, artist and animal lover, created a unique two-mile-long cat run for her own cats, and she offers tips to help you make your own run at home. Her work is inspirational to others who would like to allow their cats the freedom to go outdoors without the worry of their feline getting into cat fights or other inherent dangers.

A Little About Susan Gotlieb and Her Cats

LoveToKnow (LTK): Hi Susan. Thanks for agreeing to an interview. How many cats do you have? Tell us a little more about them.

Susan Gotlieb (SG): We have four rescue cats. Their names are Spike, Shadow, Cleopatra - the Queen of the Cat House - and Angel.

Spike was our first adoptee, along with his brother Patch. Two years after we got Spike and Patch, I made the mistake of letting them outside - they begged incessantly - and Patch very quickly disappeared. We presume he was taken by a coyote, which are very common around our home in Los Angeles. We were heartbroken and I am still kicking myself all these years later. We eventually decided to get a companion for Spike and came home with three sickly orphans we have tried to nurse back to health. The loss of Patch made us realize we needed a better solution for exercising our pets.

All About the Two Mile Outdoor Cat Run

LTK: Could you tell our readers a little bit more about the outdoor cat run you've created for your own cats, so they can enjoy the great outdoors in safety? When did you first come up with the idea for the outdoor cat run?

SG: The concept for the cat run evolved gradually after we lost Patch, and the run was built in sections over a period of several years. I felt terrible that the cats couldn't go outside, but I couldn't bear to lose another beloved pet. The cat "freeway" seemed like a good compromise.

LTK: How did you go about constructing such a huge undertaking for your cats? A mile is a pretty long length to set up.

SG: The run was built by my housekeeper's husband, who is a very fine carpenter, and their son. It started as a ramp and perch in a screen-enclosed porch off the kitchen. It progressed to an outside ramp from the roof of the porch into the hillside next to the kitchen. The cats quickly let me know it was not enough, so I had a "playpen" installed that is a completely (including the top) fenced in area. It's accessed from the ramp; the cats can't get out and nothing else (except small critters and birds) can get in. We then extended the run up the hill to the fence separating our property from our neighbor's and along the fence to the street where a lookout area was installed so they can sit and watch the traffic. We later installed another section that leads from the "playpen" by the kitchen, over the house and into the completely enclosed front courtyard.

closeup of cat in outdoor cat run
Coated screens protect the cats.

We have another playpen, or observation deck, on the roof of the house that gives the cats a great view of the garden. From the courtyard, they can get back into the house through the powder room window. The last section to be installed leads from our closet window to connect with the main runway. The reason for that segment of runway is that the cats are shut away in our large walk-in closet sometimes for the better part of a day and evening when we have parties in our home. With this new section of runway, they are locked in the closet but they can now get into the entire cat run system as well. In order to keep them from getting back into the main part of the house and thus, possibly, getting out through an open door, we have designed a method of making the runway a closed system. So now when we have a party, the cats have access to a large closet and the entire cat run. They still think they should be allowed to join the party, but they have been known to just walk out the open doors and into the yard.

LTK: Does the run require any maintenance?

SG: The run is constructed with redwood. It's more expensive than some other woods that we could have used, but it's very well suited to the outdoors, and the fencing material we used is coated with a very durable plastic. Since part of the run is on a very steep hillside where there has been some erosion, shoring up was required about six months ago. There have been a couple of small maintenance projects other than that, but I don't consider it to have been unreasonable since the run is between eight and nine years old.

How to Build Your Own Cat Run

LTK: What would your advice be to pet owners that want to create their own outdoor cat runs, but maybe on a smaller scale?

SG: There are approximately 175-feet of runway, three entry/exits and three "playpen" areas. The run is constructed of 2"x5" redwood planks, 4" plastic-coated wire fencing material and staples. I tried the 3" fencing, but by the time both sides were stapled to the wood there was not quite enough room for the cats to stand up without their ears touching the fencing.

One reason this design has worked for us is because we are on a hillside. None of the runways creates an obstruction because they start on the roof and end on the adjacent hillside. I have tried to think of a way that it could work for someone on a flat lot, but I haven't come up with a reasonable solution.

As far as doing this run on a smaller scale - anything is possible. This project started small and grew to a big one.

Susan's Work with Local Animal Shelters

cat playing on outdoor cat run
Susan's cats just hanging around their cat run.

LTK: You also do some work with L.A. Animal Services to help adopt out cats that need homes. Could you tell our readers a little about this?

SG: The Los Angeles Animal Services has been working toward making Los Angeles a no-kill city, and I think that is a very laudable position. My husband and I own The G2 Gallery in Venice, California, and we are joining forces with L.A. Animal Services for a pet adoption day on July 12, 2009. This event will be held in conjunction with our gallery's dog and cat show called "Paws". We will use this event to promote spay/neuter programs and to educate attendees about the need for pet foster care. Please see our website for details, .

In addition to L.A. Animal Services, we support Kitten Rescue, Alley Cat Allies, Alley Cat Rescue, Hope For Paws and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah . We have friends who are involved with animal rescue, and we give them money. These people are so dedicated to the cause of saving homeless animals and work so hard that we feel we must help them in their efforts. They almost never ask for money because they know we donate. So, we know they are in real need when they do ask.

LTK: Why is it so vital that owners spay and neuter their cats?

SG: Spaying and neutering is one of the best ways to end the suffering of millions of innocent animals. There are already millions more animals than there are homes for them to live, and many millions of those animals are euthanized every year. The homeless animals living on the streets are often abused and usually live very short, difficult lives. It is truly a heartbreaking situation that could be helped tremendously if pet owners would spay or neuter their animals.

LTK: When did you first get interested in rescuing cats?

SG: For as long as I can remember, I have been concerned about homeless animals. My awareness was heightened about ten years ago when we adopted our first two rescue kitties and has been growing ever since. Cats are not our only concern. Dogs are just as much in need of our care and generosity, as are horses. There is a tremendous need for people that can adopt and care for homeless horses. The parrot trade has presented us with the unhappy situation of homeless and abused parrots. We will continue to help local shelters, along with Best Friends for as long as we can which will hopefully be a long time to come.

Susan's Cat Art

LTK: Tell us a little more about your work as an artist. Do you paint many portraits of animals? Where can our readers see some samples of your work?

SG: I love photography, I've taken hundreds of pictures of our cats. My work can be seen at The G2 Gallery which is on Abbot Kinney in Venice CA . The website is

LTK would like to thank Susan Gotlieb for sharing her time in this interview.

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Expert Tips on Building Outdoor Cat Runs