All automatic feeding stations will contain identical mechanical parts and operate the exact same way. However, rather than have them all look uniform and boring, like a bunch of large gum ball machines, their outer shape can vary according to the creative artist’s imagination. For example, one feeding station could resemble a stack of irregular, natural-stone tiles with a bowl shaped depression carved into one of the tiles. Another station could look like a statue of an angel or small girl kneeling with hands cupped to form a bowl. That’s about all I can come up with, but I’m sure those with artistic ability could create many beautiful and interesting designs.
These feeding stations will be spread throughout the sanctuary. They can look like anything and be located anywhere that has power and network access. Somewhere at the top of each food station there will need to be an accessible hole through which kibble is poured into a storage area. The storage area will likely be large, but can be any shape. The dispensing mechanism is located below the storage area, very much like a gum ball machine.
As a cat approaches the food bowl, a sensor of some kind (something appropriate to each artistic design) will activate the station. A hidden antenna coil will need to be incorporated into the design so that it is close enough to the pet-chip to read the cat’s identity while the cat’s head is near the food bowl. Therefore, each unique design may require some experimentation to determine optimum placement of this pet-chip antenna.
Once the cat’s identity is confirmed, the cat tracking system will cause the food station to dispense a specific number of food pellets according to each cats nutritional requirements, eating habits and exercise needs. For example, after a certain amount of kibble is dispensed to a new, overweight cat, the system may deny any more kibble for a pre-determined period. If the cat begins to wander and check other food stations, the system will record every attempt for later analysis. Once the cat has wandered far enough, it may be rewarded with one or two additional pellets to encourage wandering as a form of exercise. If a foraging pattern develops, the cat’s daily rations will be spread out over more stations to give the cat a greater feeling of success.
The more places a cat looks for feeding opportunities, the more distributed its kibble ration will become, and so, the fewer pellets it will receive per station. This is optimal both for exercise reasons and to reduce the amount of kibble that other cats can steal.
One Option: Some cats may walk up to feeding stations and watch them dump kibble just for amusement. If they walk away without eating, perhaps a trap door, or vacuum could remove the remaining pellets. I would need to collect data for awhile to determine if this would ever be a problem. Perhaps using up their ration in this way and going hungry would automatically teach them to stop.
Because the cat food is dry and cats have such a low thirst-drive, many different kinds of watering stations will be located throughout the facility to make drinking more interesting and fun. Some water stations will pour straight up or at a slight angle, like a drinking fountain. Some will drip, dribble or pour down like a faucet. Some may even run over various shapes, if germ transfer is not a problem that is. All the fountains will be cat-activated and have a low flow rate. The wasted water will be collected by the grey-water storage system for later agricultural use.
Each watering station will have a single-cat pedestal in front of it. A cat must stand on this pedestal before the fountain will activate. While the cat is drinking, its pet-chip is read and the cat is weighed by the pedestal. Once the cat leaves the station, the cat-tracking system will record weight, time, location and duration. If a cat remains on the pedestal for too long, the fountain will shut off to conserve water.
This sanctuary facility will contain many specially designed litter closets. Each closet will hold organic-litter supplies and two or more fully-enclosed, composting litter-box systems. Each litter system is accessed by the cats from the outside through its own built-in cat-tunnel which will function a little differently than the regular cat doors.
The transparent, spring-loaded doors of the litter system are held in the open position whenever the litter box is unoccupied. Once a cat has fully entered the tunnel (approximately one cat length), the doors are released and their rate-of-closure is slowed to prevent slapping (like the smooth way that some CD and cassette-tape players open). At the same time, the optional compressed-air defense-system could begin guarding the tunnel entrance, just like with the regular cat doors.
Whenever the cat inside the tunnel is within one cat length of the closed doors, they will remain unlocked allowing the cat to leave at any time, and whenever the cat moves beyond one cat length, the doors will lock. (These locks may not even be necessary if the compressed-air option is employed and proves sufficiently effective.)
After a cat has used the facilities and is passing through the litter tunnel toward the exit, the litter doors will appear and behave just like regular cat doors. The cat will push past the doors and they will close behind it. For a short period, the doors will remain closed and locked to give the system time to clean and prepare the litter area for the next occupant. When the system is ready, the doors will open again.
When a chased cat runs into the litter tunnel just to hide out for awhile, as long as it does not enter the litter area, the cleaning cycle will not initiate after it leaves. Just like with the regular cat doors, compressed air can be used to discourage the cat from lingering in the tunnel.
Clumping, organic litter will be used, and the waste material can be weighed before it enters the aerobic composter. After every use, the cat-tracking system will record the time, location, waist weight and duration-of-use for each cat. Inexpensive webcams (Internet video cameras) could even be used in the litter area to record footage for possible analysis by veterinarians. Cats are not camera-shy and this footage could reveal serious medical conditions (such as F.U.S.), where early detection and treatment can prevent suffering and even save the cat’s life.
Because the litter doors close slowly, it’s possible that more than one cat will run through the tunnel and use the facilities at the same time. Having a bathroom buddy is not a problem, and the tracking system will simply make note of it.
This sanctuary facility will contain one or more long, narrow motel closets. Inside each closet will be cleaning supplies on the North wall and a grid of access doors (stacked like bus station lockers) on the East and West walls. Each access door opens to reveal a two-level kitty motel, like the cubicles at Pet-Smart in-store adoption centers.
Each motel room is accessed by the cats from a common area through an open cat-door tunnel. The motel doors will close and lock once the occupant has “check in.” On the second level, there will be a cat bed located next to a window overlooking the common area. On the first level, there will be a darker, more secluded area to sleep. Beneath both sleeping areas, there could be a pressure switch to determine where the cat is spending its time.
All cats need solitude from time to time, some more than others, especially when they are not feeling well. These motel rooms will allow a cat to sleep undisturbed. They will not contain food, water or litter, but they will collect usage data just like all the other systems. If a cat stays uncharacteristically long, care givers will be notified.
These networked cat-systems will capture and record every cat-event that takes place in the sanctuary. Having this information can prove valuable in so many ways. Through careful analysis of each cat’s data, patterns can emerge revealing such things as personal preference or sudden behavioral changes. Analyzing the combined data could also help us to better understand the social dynamics of our domesticated, free-roaming colony of sterilized cats with varying pasts. But most of all, this data is meant to reveal hidden problems which can be corrected to create a more peaceful, stable, healthier environment for all. Although nothing can replace an alert pair of eyes, it sure helps to have a cat babysitter on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, producing data accessible via the Internet. With this system, we would have discovered Muffin’s pancreatitis a lot sooner.
Developing and refining these systems may take some time, but I will be doing this for the rest of my life. I will never stop researching, thinking, inventing, testing, observing and evaluating. I would love to have the opinions and advice of veterinarians and feline behavioral scientists.
If there exists somewhere a low-overhead cat facility with similar cat systems, I’ve yet to hear of it. As far as I can tell, this sanctuary concept is somewhat unique. Given the time, lab-space and resources, I believe that it is possible to develop these integrated cat systems mostly out of recycled parts gleaned from discarded electronic equipment. The only custom-designed parts so far are the right and left transparent-acrylic cat-doors.
Cats are obligate carnivores. Their stomachs are designed to handle any prey animal smaller than they are, raw bones and all. They are not designed to handle bones hardened from cooking. These can be dangerous. Their saliva does not contain enzymes that break down starches from grains like human saliva does. Their systems do not cope well with excess blood sugar. Eating meat alone is not enough. Cats need the bones to help them process the ammonia that comes from converting the meat. Cats also need the organs for their nutritional value. The fact is, GOD designed them to eat whole animals, plain and simple.
Today, obesity and diabetes in cats has reached an alarming rate. In an effort to help our cats achieve optimum health, I have come up with an idea for making a raw meat kibble. I would need to experiment with this idea to see how feasible it really is.
I would start by raising chickens and collecting some egg yokes. I would process the chickens by removing just the feathers, beaks and claws, and possibly the intestines, but leaving intact the stomach with its contents, the blood and everything else. I would place the whole birds in a meet slicer and slice them into thin layers, allowing everything to fall into a bath of liquid air (or just liquid nitrogen). The brittle pieces would then enter a crusher/grinder or a vibration table (something to turn the whole, raw, fresh, frozen, chicken slices into powder). The powder would then be freeze dried. The dry powder would be thoroughly mixed and raw egg yokes would be added as a binder. This mixture would then be shaped into pellets and freeze dried once again. The dried kibble could then be put into mylar bags, pumped full of nitrogen gas to prevent rancidification (oxidation of fat) and stored at room temperature.
Each pellet would essentially contain elements of the entire raw bird, like a micro-sized chicken. However, I don’t know if the kibble would be too hard or crumbly, would need flavor enhancers, etc. There is a lot of experimentation to do here.