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Feline ‘mansions’ are the cat’s meow in Southern Nevada

One minute you’re a feline quashing neighborhood vermin, Van Helsing-style. The next, you’ve locked eyes with a strange woman shaking a bag of Friskies. Irresistible.

That’s the story of Mikey, a 16-year-old recovering feral, who was catnapped in June and hauled off by a cat shelter miles away from his home. In spite of his up-to-date microchip, shelter staff claimed he’d been one of their shelter cats, tagged by them. They released him a week later – looking like he’d just been sprung from San Quentin.

Will Dellaechaie, president of Summit Restoration Inc. and managing member of Everest Construction LLC, soon got a call from the cat’s owner asking for a custom-designed, removable “catio” — a cat enclosure that would deter bad humans while helping the feral get some fresh air.

The order also included custom-made outdoor cat furniture that could move inside. The “Kitty Mansion” was born.

Dellaechaie’s team whipped up a catio while other contractors and handymen scratched their heads. Badgered by insomnia one evening after putting in late hours building cat furniture — and thinking like a cat — Dellaechaie prowled online for other cat setups. He found “it was hard to find anything.”

Sure, there were plenty of cat toys stapled onto cheapo carpet constructs.

“I thought, ‘Damn, we got this right,’” Dellaechaie said.

In Las Vegas, the land of Chihuahuas in baby bonnets and ritzy collars, people in the local pet product industry agree: Dogs rule, and cats drool, when it comes to pet accessories.

“There’s not a high demand here for catios,” said Stacy Rombach, publisher of Las Vegas Pet Scene Magazine. “I’m not sure if it’s because of the heat.”

The majority of her pet product advertisers cater to dogs — including pet food stores that also carry cat food. “It is changing,” she added. “People are making cat rooms.”

Enter the Kitty Mansion — 250 pounds of solid furniture with rounded corners and craftsmanship worthy of a tank-sized cat. It includes a cat swing, cat ramps, peek-a-boo hiding space, catwalks, padded rest stops for feline couch potatoes, dangling cat toys, scratching pad and sisal rope.

Even better for humans: Wearable parts such as cushions, toys, rope and pads can be unscrewed, unhooked and easily replaced or removed — constantly customized according to feline whims. It’s a far cry from standard-issue cat trees that wobble and get trashed within a few months. The Mansion’s water-based polyurethane clear finish also stands up to the outdoors, but it isn’t toxic to cats who chew.

Price tag: in the $3,000 to $3,500 range. But Dellaechaie, woodshop manager David Meeks and the team can create something special for finicky customers from about $800 up.

“When you spend that type of money on something, it does need to last for a hundred years,” Dellaechaie said. “And to look like something you want to have around all the time.”

But felines can be tough customers. Some say that explains the dearth of cat products. Ask Mike Lay, co-owner of Healthy Tails in North Summerlin, what happens when he and his brother, co-owner John, try out every cat toy in their store on his brother’s cat.

“The cat still likes cotton balls,” said Lay. “That’s his thing.”

Gena Bunim, owner of At Your Service Pet Supplies in Henderson, has a brighter outlook. A former pet product distributor for all of Nevada and parts of Arizona, she said her sales run about 80 percent dog versus 20 percent “other.” But she’s added about 20 feet this past year to her cat department.

She said industry magazines are also broadcasting the rise of the cat.

“I think more people are getting more cats,” she added. “Younger people especially. Cats are more independent, easier to have in an apartment or condo.”

Bunim’s store showcases sturdy cat trees made by Where the Cats At, the mom-and-pop hobby of Karen Orstrom and her husband. They’ve created everything from a network of cat walks to a 6-foot-high “catsle” for the chain mail cat who has everything.

The catsle comes with drawbridge, turrets and holes for jumping, and it costs $650 with delivery and setup. Orstrom uses recycled cardboard tubes and new carpet and 2-by-4s. She doesn’t do re-covering. And don’t call her the “Cat Lady.”

Nevertheless, she’s received the ultimate feline benediction.

“Any cat will take over that top scoop and just lay there with that paw hanging over, like ‘This is mine,’” she said.

“Another happy cat.”

Correction: This story has been updated to accurately reflect that Mikey was not released from a shelter in Pahrump but from another Southern Nevada shelter.

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