Community cats in Kankakee County, Illinois, will be keeping cozy in the crisp chill of winter thanks to the dedication of Michael Pammer, a local cat lover and shelter-builder.
Inspired and guided by Alley Cat Allies, Pammer has single-handedly built more than 30 plywood winter shelters for cats. Every year starting in July, Pammer hunkers down in his garage to hammer out shelter after shelter to give out to local community cat caregivers for a modest fee to cover the cost of his materials. It’s all to help the cats, which Pammer says is his way of giving back to the community.
“I think we owe it to our cats to help them out,” says Pammer. “Sometimes there is prejudice against cats, especially outdoor or community cats. This is just another way of protecting cats and showing people that they matter.”
Back in 2010, Pammer knew nothing about community cats. It wasn’t until he and his wife adopted their first two cats that Pammer fell in love with the “fascinating little creatures.” Shortly after, he got involved with a local cat rescue and learned about community cats and their compassionate caregivers. Many of them were putting out flimsy outdoor shelters for their cats in the winter. When Pammer discovered Alley Cat Allies’ resources on building solid shelters in 2013, he knew he could help.
“People were having trouble with shelters cracking from the cold weather, and nobody else in the area was building real outdoor shelters for the cats. When I saw Alley Cat Allies’ plans for plywood shelters, I thought, ‘Well, I’m not a real handyman, but I can build that,’” says Pammer.
Since then, Pammer has paid out of his own pocket for the tools and supplies to build shelters based on Alley Cat Allies’ expert designs. They quickly became a big hit, and Pammer’s new hobby took off from there. Each shelter costs about $50 to build. Pammer can usually make two in a weekend. Local community cat caregivers contact him over social media to request a shelter. His usual fee is $35 to cover the cost of most of the materials. He doesn’t turn away those who can’t afford the fee.
“Whatever they can pay, I take,” says Pammer. “I just put it all into a pool until I build up enough funds to go out and buy more materials for the shelters. People have told me how grateful they are, and it’s just amazing.”
Pammer has also donated his shelters to local organizations, which auction them off to fundraise for animal shelters. His efforts have brought his community closer, and he has a network of friends and residents who will let him know if a local caregiver needs a shelter, loan their vehicles to transport supplies, and deliver shelters wherever they need to go. Hoping to get more of his neighbors onboard with helping cats, Pammer plans to hold a workshop to teach people to build shelters out of Rubbermaid containers—with Alley Cat Allies’ resources, of course.
Hand-crafted outdoor shelters aren’t the only way Pammer protects cats. Just recently, Pammer helped carry out Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) for two community cats and three kittens. He trapped the cats, then brought them to a local clinic to be spayed and neutered, vaccinated, and eartipped. Now the two adult cats are safely back in their outdoor homes, and the kittens are being fostered by a friend of Pammer’s until they can be adopted.
Pammer says he keeps “all the printed material” from Alley Cat Allies online resources in a file that he can quickly access. He says he admires Alley Cat Allies President and Founder Becky Robinson and her journey from discovering community cats in an alley one day in 1990, to spearheading the TNR movement in the United States. He and his wife attended Meow Meetup in Chicago in late July just to hear Becky’s keynote address at the event. They ended up meeting Becky, and Pammer says he was thrilled to get her autograph on his hat.
“Becky Robinson’s story is just such an inspiration. It’s why I’ve been going back to Alley Cat Allies time and time again since 2013, whether to build my shelters or to have information at my fingertips to give to that person who ‘doesn’t like cats,’” says Pammer. “I hope to inspire people, even if it’s just in a small way, with the things that I’m doing.”
Alley Cat Allies thanks Pammer for his hard work that benefits the community cats of Kankakee County. His compassion inspires us, and we hope it inspires you, too. If you’re interested in building your own outdoor cat shelters, visit alleycat.org/ShelterGallery.