OKAYAMA (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK ) - Chiaki Ono is among an increasing number of people who consider their pets to be family members. But Ono has taken her fondness for her pets a step further than most: She has designed and built a cat-friendly house for her and her beloved felines.
To make the house a comfortable place for Ono, 50, and her cats, the house features an inner garden affectionately called a "catio", where her pets can play freely. Cat walkways are also set up throughout the inside of the house, which is filled with inventive features to ensure the cats enjoy living there.
Ono keeps three cats indoors: Coco, an 11-year-old female; Martian, an 11-year-old male; and Lulu, a female that Ono estimates is 1 year old. Ono took Lulu in after she was seriously injured last autumn.
Completed in May, the house in Okayama Prefecture was a long-cherished dream. For more than 10 years, Ono had hoped to build a home that would be comfortable for both herself and her cats. She diligently saved money and looked for a trustworthy architect. Finally, she found one in Keiji Hirose, a representative of the Kobe-based design company Fauna Plus Design.
The 47-year-old Hirose has been designing homes in which people and pets can comfortably live together since about 2000. She said she chose Hirose to build the home because she was so impressed that he had considered the feelings of cats. Hirose had told her, "If you have both old and young cats, you should build a home where older cats can live with dignity."
To build the house, Ono rented land from her grandmother from where she constructed the 88-square-metre one-storey house with a loft and a high ceiling. In the open-plan house, there are four pillars equipped with cat scratchers. Steps installed on the wall on one side of the room lead to a cat walkway near the ceiling. Through a small hole in a corner, the cats can get into the loft.
On the opposite side of the room, large bookshelves occupying one wall form a staircase that the cats can run along freely.
Near a litter box, there is a slot directly connected to a box outside to dispose of cat litter.
The wood-floored "catio" is about 45 square metres, so the cats can play freely and comfortably. Holes in the roof above the play area allow in both sunshine and rain. The windows have narrow vertical slats that allow wind - but not the cats - to pass through. In the centre of the "catio" there are potted plants such as silver vine.
"I was able to build the kind of house I wanted because I live alone," Ono said with a smile.
Ono said she believes that cats "must be kept indoors in order to reduce the number of stray cats and the number of cats that are put down". "Because my cats must spend the whole of their lives indoors, I wanted them to enjoy their lives as much as possible."