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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The cat’s meow: South Hill residents build customized cat patio and treehouse

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

On a Monday afternoon, Wally and Woody stalked through towering pines atop catwalks in the backyard of their South Hill home, occasionally glancing down at guests from their lofty treehouse perch.

The feline siblings, just over a year old, are having the time of their lives catting around in a customized patio (catio) and treehouse, while senior cats Gracie and Teddy, 10, prefer to enjoy the space at night.

Thanks to the thoughtful planning of their owners, these cats have the purrfect combination of safe access to the outdoors, plus the creature comforts of indoor living.

Six years ago, Cathy Cole and Kadie Nichols built their home with cats in mind. When they retired from their careers as professional musicians, they decided to move to Spokane from Redmond, Washington.

“Kadie played for the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra, and I freelanced at Seattle theaters and taught,” Cole said.

The trombonists chose to retire in Spokane, because Cole’s sister lives here.

“I also knew it would be hard to say no to students if we stayed in Redmond,” she said.

Though their four cats have free rein of the house, there’s no telltale litter box odor. That’s because the cats have their own private restroom.

A cat door with wood trim that matches the rest of the home leads to a storeroom. Inside, another cat door leads to a small enclosed space in the garage which holds their litter boxes.

“Kadie built the cupboard,” Cole said.

She also installed a light and a bathroom fan in the cats’ powder room. But the true depth of her handiwork is displayed in the elaborate tree house, topped with a cat weathervane.

In the master bedroom, a cat door leads to a spacious catio featuring lots of perches for the cats to scale. From there, a 22-foot suspension bridge enclosed with chicken wire and built by Nichols leads to a treehouse worthy of the Swiss Family Robinson.

“Kadie wanted a treehouse, but I didn’t want posts in the grass,” Cole explained. “So, she built the suspension bridge from the catio and connected to the treehouse she built in a little grove of pines.”

A trombone affixed to one section pays homage to Cole’s and Nichols’ former careers.

Woody, a ginger cat, nimbly leaped from a perch in the catio and sauntered across the bridge to a treehouse perch.

“He’s really outdoorsy,” Cole said.

His brother, Wally, quickly followed, pausing on the bridge to enjoy a sun puddle.

Nichols said the treehouse started with just one room.

“Then I added a catwalk. Then I added a second room,” she said. “Then COVID happened, and I added a third room and another catwalk.”

The entire structure is completely enclosed to keep the cats safe from prowling coyotes and other dangers.

“We’ve had coyotes run across our yard,” Nichols said.

Many of the materials were gleaned with permission from area construction sites. Last year, she added a loft to the spacious treehouse. When asked if the structure was complete, she smiled.

“When I can’t sleep at night, I think about how to expand.”

While the catio and treehouse are enclosed, the cats also like to explore the rest of the third-acre lot. It’s completely fenced, but they aren’t allowed to roam unsupervised. The cats might not scale the fence, but other critters could.

Wally’s and Woody’s love of exploration resulted in some backyard improvements. Much of the lot was filled with rocks and undergrowth, making cat-retrieval operations difficult.

Using the plentiful rocks on hand, they built bark-lined pathways lit by solar lights, because as everyone knows, no cat ever comes when it’s called.

“They get a little independence, yet they’re still safe,” Cole said of their feline-friendly backyard.

Nichols agreed.

“The best part is they get to be cats and run around and chase each other.”

Contact Cindy Hval at