In 2018, Jonathan and Jennifer Elwing launched a general handyman operation in Sisters. But five years on, what started out as a catch-all business aimed at helping people build decks and fix fences has morphed into a full-on cat-centric operation. The Elwings, under the name Elwing Works, now specialize in building catios – those outdoor enclosures that allow cats to enjoy the outdoors while remaining out of reach of predators (or becoming predators themselves). Cats’ castles, indeed.
“There’s coyote sightings all the time in neighborhoods in town – so the first and foremost reason [to have a catio] is predators. And it’s not just coyotes and cougars, it’s also the birds of prey – sadly, we’ve heard stories of cats that have been taken by them, and also small dogs,” Jennifer Elwing told Central Oregon Pets. “And of course, birds. It protects birds from cats. So it’s for all of the animals, really.”
Each catio is custom-built to the specifications of the family. Some catios are simple affairs that enclose the space just outside a window; others are elaborate setups complete with spiral staircases, perches, hiding spots and even “skywalk” tunnels built above hot tubs or decks. Cats seem to love the space to roam, the Elwings said.
“It’s awesome when you can let them outside,” Jennifer Elwing said. “Even if it’s just a small window box.”
“We also like to remind people that this is doing your neighbors a favor, too,” Jonathan Elwing said. “You’re keeping your cats out of their flower beds; not everyone loves cats.”
The Elwings’ expertise in catios came from their own experience as self-described “crazy cat people.” Before they built catios for other people, the couple built what is perhaps the most elaborate catio setup around their own backyard. The couple had befriended four feral cats in their old neighborhood in the Willamette Valley, so when it came time to move to Sisters, the four wild cats came along. Wanting to give them a space to stretch out and still be free of the threat of predators, the Elwings created an outdoor enclosure that now extends to various parts of their yard. It includes numerous catios with perches, climbing trees, “wigwams” for cat hiding — made from pine tree boughs, and tunnels that connect the various catios. Once they started posting photos of their own setup, people began to reach out and ask for their own catio – kind of a dream gig for a pair of cat lovers.
“We love it,” Jennifer Elwing said. “It’s so much more fun to work with people with their animal projects!”