How to Build an Animal Shelter

Photo Credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis - Santorini Strays

If you love animals but cannot afford to adopt one due to the restrictions in space and/or time you have on your hands, there are still many things you can do to help make their lives a little better. In this article, we will focus on a single idea, which definitely needs more publicity, because it requires minimal effort and produces amazing results: building an animal shelter.

Stray animals need protection from the elements as much as we do, especially during the winter months in regions where the temperature goes way down beyond the point of freezing. Some of them are lucky enough to find good hearted people to adopt them and take care of them, while others are left to depend on the mercy of passers-by. But let’s not delay any longer. Here is what you need to know if you are thinking about starting a shelter in your neighborhood.

Where to build the shelter?

The best place to consider as a location for the future animal shelter is the place where you can see stray animals more often than in other places. Although they appear to roam mindlessly, cats and dogs often have reasons why they are where they are at any given moment - whether it’s a convenient food source or a city heating pipeline passing below - search for them and let them tell you what their first choice of location is.

Furthermore, you need to find out where in the public spaces of your town or city you can actually get a permit to build an animal shelter. The legal side of the whole business is perhaps the most boring and frustrating one, but is unfortunately very necessary if you don’t want to have to abort the project in the middle stage and be forced to move the shelter somewhere else once you find out you were performing construction works in an illegal place.

What size should it be?

Depending on the need of your area, you may consider building anything from a small dog kennel to a full blown leisure activity center for cats! For small shelters, spare tyres and wooden pallets will do the trick, but if you started thinking big, here’s a suggestion - shipping containers can serve the purpose really well. They are cheap, relatively easy to move, you can cut them apart and they can be customized to your needs in order to meet the requirements of your project. They can be great for cats, especially if you set up many different levels inside the container.

Food and water

Animals will need a steady supply of food and water, so try to organize people to donate their lunch leftovers to your shelter. The water also needs to be refreshed regularly, especially during winter when it may freeze.


If you have enough spare time, some spare money and a little bit of imagination, you can create wonderful things which will further improve the lives of your local stray animals. Installing solar panels on the shelter will maintain higher temperature of the interior during winter (they don’t need too much, just above freezing point will be enough) and can potentially save many animal lives.

Final Word: Think of other people

Before you start considering placing a shipping container on a public lot, you need to do a little survey of the neighborhood, and ask people living around if they would object to an animal shelter in their vicinity. Some people can be just plain mean, while others might have really good reasons for not wanting animals around (fear, allergies). The best idea would be to turn the project into a joint effort of the animal lovers of your neighborhood.

Bare in mind that you will most probably need permits from local authorities for your shelter. But, if you have community on your side, you will probably find it easier to get all needed documents. Together, you will have more power to influence the rest of the people and promote your noble agenda.

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