Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Branching out – part two

Jess Hall of our Volunteering Development Team continues her report of spending time with her local Cats Protection branch...

As part of my induction to the neutering role mentioned in my last post, I met up with Neutering Volunteer, Angie Ellingford. As well as working as a Veterinary Receptionist, Angie maintains an up-to-date record of neutering statistics and produces reports for the branch and the National Cat Centre in support of grant applications. To support Angie in her role, I have taken on the management of incoming neutering enquiries. This involves phoning into the branch inbox voicemail inbox and listening to any messages that have been left and dealing with accordingly, as well as providing members of the branch neutering vouchers as and when required.

Angie provided me with a great induction to the role, giving me everything I needed to get started. I was a little nervous at the beginning, just because dealing with the public can be… unpredictable, to say the least! The majority of messages I have picked up from the inbox so far have been from people requiring help from Cats Protection in the neutering of their cats. My role is to respond to these people, find out a bit more about where they live, their cats and to issue them vouchers, to cover the cost of neutering.

These are the majority of enquiries, however I also receive some random ones from time to time… ranging from unwanted cat food, feral cats found in people’s gardens, to delightfully in-depth toileting issues! These, I must point out, I gladly pass on to the Welfare Team Leader, Jean Bailey. Thanks Jean!

When talking through with people how the neutering voucher scheme works, I often have to answer questions about preparation for the operation and what is involved. To help me answer these questions and to learn a bit more about how the branch works with local veterinary practices, I met with Anja Silvani, who fulfils the Veterinary Liaison volunteering role, as well as working full time as a Veterinary Nurse at one of the vets used by the branch.

Meeting at Anja’s house, I was also very honoured to meet Petal, the smallest kitten in Surrey! Confirmed as a ‘dwarf,’ Petal was extraordinarily small for her age, making her perhaps the cutest kitten I have ever seen! Anja was fostering Petal until she was well enough to go to a good home.

Maintaining a good relationship with local vets is vital for the health and welfare of the cats in CP’s care. Anja plays a huge part in maintaining these relationships, liaising with the vets, she ensures that they are adhering to Cats Protection veterinary guidelines, she also maintains an accurate account of veterinary stock levels, making sure that the practices never run short, ordering new products via the National Veterinary Service (NVS) as and when required. As well as this, Anja also provides a vital support to all of the Fosterers in the branch, offering help and advice whenever she can.

Learning about this vital aspect of the branch was a real eye opener for me. To help me in my Neutering volunteering role further, Anja, very kindly let me observe two operations; one female spay and one male castration. So I donned on the hygiene mask, what looked like a shower cap and watched in complete fascination! I couldn’t believe how fast the male operation was, just literally, ‘pop, pop’ and it was over!

The female one was slightly trickier, but still a relatively simple operation. It didn’t take the cats long to come round either, seemingly unfazed by the whole affair, they were soon up on their feet again and begging for food! I had a great day at the veterinary centre, and would like to say a huge and heartfelt thanks to Anja and the team. I will close on some good news… Petal has now been homed and is doing really well. She has grown a lot and is now best friends with her owner’s resident deaf cat, Roxy. Anja assures me that she is very happy and could not have found a more perfect home!

Oh, and if you’re looking for an extra Christmas stocking filler, check out the Caterham, Redhill & East Surrey Branch’s 2012 Calendar Girls calendar!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Branching out

Jess Hall of our Volunteering Development Team spends some time with her local Cats Protection branch...

Working within the Volunteering Development Team at the National Cat Centre, I always embrace and thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to meet Cats Protection volunteers. For me, it is the only way to properly understand what volunteering means to people and to gain an in-depth knowledge of the breadth of activities involved in our diverse range of volunteering roles, as well as the issues and struggles that are associated with these.

Jess helping out at the branch's recent Christmas Fair
The Co-ordinator of my local branch, Jacky Eyres, was happy for me to get involved with the Caterham, Redhill & East Surrey Branch to know them better and to offer my help wherever I could – having two cats of my own, I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty! Having visited a number of Fosterers and Cat Care Volunteers before, I was keen to learn about the more ‘behind-the-scenes’ roles. The following volunteers kindly gave up their time to meet with me, to tell me a bit more about what they do.
Since joining the branch Jacky has worked very hard to make it the success it is today. As well as having a part-time job, Jacky manages the branch and Homing Team. Working closely with the Welfare Team, Jacky ensures that cats in the care of the group are matched with homes appropriately and as quickly as possible, in line with CP policies and procedures. Jacky and her team have homed a whopping 205 cats already this year and this number continues to rise.

Julia Dallosso – Branch Secretary and Media Volunteer

As branch secretary, Julia is on the branch committee, she writes the agenda for the committee meetings and produces the minutes, which she shares with the branch and also the Regional Development Manager, Christine Harvey. Julia creates and distributes the Home Visitor Packs, to the Home Visitors as and, when required, takes photographs of cats to put on the homing pages of the branch website. She also writes and produces the branch newsletter, Paw Prints.

Although Julia’s role could be viewed as a behind-the-scenes role, she uses her high level of skills and professionalism to promote the work of the branch and raise awareness of the missions of the charity. As well as carrying out her volunteering work, Julia is also the proud owner of an infamous tabby-and-white cat named Rolo.

Not satisfied with winning a photograph competition, Rolo went on to star in the charity’s The Cat magazine, nationally printed insurance leaflets and, perhaps most impressively of all, currently drives around on a daily basis, stretched out on the side of Bournemouth branch’s van, helping to support his feline friends and spread the CP word, across the country! Wow, what a cat.... he even has his very own celebrity fan club, despite all this though, he takes celebrity life on the chin and refuses to let it change him.

Jean Bailey – Welfare Co-ordinator
I helped Jean ‘bring in’ two unwanted cats into CP care. After picking up the cats, we took them straight to the vets to be checked over. I also popped in to Jean’s house to visit some kittens that she was fostering. To get to the kittens, however, I had to carefully step over Jean’s famous little ‘lady who lives on the stairs.’ Found, abandoned and unwanted in a garden, a very poorly and frail little old lady called Beatrice was rescued by the branch. It was love at first site for both Jean and Beatrice, who now share their lives together. Occasionally stepping outside for a breath of fresh air, Beatrice spends most of her happy and contented days, curled up, fast asleep on her stairs.

Marion Harris – Lost and Found
The lovely Marion manages the Lost and Found register for the branch, taking enquiries in from members of the public. She keeps the register up to date and, even though she told me she was no good with technology, she does a great job at keeping the website up to date too!

Pat Crothers – Fostering Supplies Co-ordinator
I had heard many rumours about the wonderful Pat and her amazingly well-organised lockup storage garages, so I was very much looking forward to meeting her and seeing for myself. Meeting at Tesco, we helped Pat empty the bin of cat food, kindly donated by members of the public. Once we filled the car, we went down the very narrow lane to the garages. Wow, I didn’t realise I could be amazed by a garage, but this one was different; every pack, sachet, box and tin was meticulously organised in rat-proof filing cabinets and the other one looked like a cat’s play house, full of toys and everything you need to care for a cat. After sorting the food, we dropped off some sensitivity food to Marion, currently fostering two very playful sisters, looking for a new home.

Neutering role
To really experience what it feels like to be a part of a CP branch, I have taken on the role of Neutering Volunteer, helping to support Angie who was finding juggling the role with her work a little too much. Angie kindly went through the role with me and gave me everything I needed to get going.

In this role, I will be promoting our neutering voucher scheme, issuing vouchers, following up on whether these vouchers have been used and responding to general enquiries from the public about neutering. I will also be working alongside the welfare and rehoming teams to ensure that all cats and kittens are neutered in line with Cats Protection policy.

I will let you know how it goes!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Life as a volunteer at Derby Adoption Centre and why I do it

Gail Newport explains why she volunteers at our Derby Adoption Centre...

I have helped on a Saturday for about two years now, following in the footsteps of my Mum and have always been made to feel part of the team. I see the Cats Protection staff on a regular basis and have got to know how different but dedicated they all are with a strong focus on the welfare of the animals in the centre.

I get involved in fundraising days at the centre, manning a stall or making drinks; I have been a marshal at the “Mad Moggy” motorbike run and even dressed up as a witch. This was for the annual “Halloween House”, at a staff member's home, where entry is gained by the local residents donating some cat food. I have made greetings cards with cats on to be sold in reception, pricked potatoes and, even worse, peeled then sliced kilos of onions for the burgers!

I wake up every Saturday morning with a smile and drive the six miles through the Derbyshire countryside to the adoption centre. On arrival, I give the two reception cats who are usually sleeping wherever there is a sun puddle a little tickle then don my apron and rubber gloves ready for whatever job needs to be done. I am self-appointed head of bowls and usually start by washing and rinsing about 150 bowls, usually in the company of a couple of cats, before having a quick sit down to catch up on the news.

For the rest of the time, I groom the fluffy cats, socialise the nervous ones and chat to members of the public who are looking to adopt a new cat. It is lovely to hear the words “yes, I would like to adopt,” especially if it is a cat that has a very sad reason for being there.

There are so many rewards to volunteering at the adoption centre, but the best by far is walking down the homing corridor and seeing a little blue sticker on a cat's pen sheet, which means they have found a new forever home.

The motto at Derby Adoption Centre is: You won’t change the world by saving one cat, but you will change the whole world for the cat that you save. For me it is about that cat, whether it’s a tiny kitten born at the centre or one who is in its twilight years, who just wants to snooze and enjoy life at a slower pace. For the cats at the centre, the day that they go to their forever home is the most important day of their life and every one of them deserves a second chance.

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Friday, 23 September 2011

Coming soon: Black Cat Awareness Day

We've been working on an exciting new project...

You’ve probably noticed that it’s been more than a little bit on the quiet side on here lately. This is because we have been working hard behind the scenes on something. Something big, in fact. Want to know more about our grand plans? We’ll assume that’s a yes!

On Thursday 27 October, we will be holding a Black Cat Awareness Day. The reason for this is simple: black cats account for around 20 per cent of those in our care and, for whatever reason, often take longer to find new homes while their would-be adopters plump for torties, tabbies and gingers.

To really get people’s attention, we will be running a social media campaign on that day, but we need your help to make it a success! We want to see a show of solidarity for these misunderstood felines so are inviting supporters to help us raise awareness of their plight by joining in.

We’ll reveal all a little closer to the big day, but in the meantime, please consider following us on Facebook and Twitter – we’re going to need as many of you on board as we can get!

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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Chiltern's Twitter success

Publicity Volunteer Chris Ayers explains how Chiltern Branch carried out a successful Twitter campaign…

Twitter is one of the most powerful tools of our time. It has contributed to the downfall of regimes in Egypt and Libya, taken some credit for the cause of the London riots – then proceeded to be vital for the cleanup operations – and has been responsible for heavily degrading the integrity of the ‘Super Injunction’. Opinion is split, but I am fanatical about social networking and believe that it holds the key to untapped volumes of publicity. Luckily, Cats Protection at both a national and local level is making excellent use of Twitter and, at the time of writing, around 50 branches hold accounts.

On 13 August, I had the idea of holding a ‘tweetathon’ – where a Twitter user repeatedly Tweets all day about either a specific subject or range of subjects in a pre-organised fashion, generally for the purpose of gaining rapid publicity – which includes building up as many ‘followers’ as possible. This idea steadily developed, although was downsized as I didn’t want to promise something which I couldn’t deliver – the idea of tweeting every few minutes seemed excessive! Finally, I settled on a ‘flash-neutering campaign’ as a bit of a play on the terms flash mob and flash crowd which captures the sheer essence of social networking.

I settled on a neutering campaign – for Monday 15 August as it is something which needs maximum publicity to try and humanely reduce the cat population – and which is geographically applicable everywhere. Somebody could be looking at our Twitter from another branch area or abroad and this means that anybody can participate. From the morning until the evening, I had set up various scheduled tweets with Tweetdeck software highlighting key neutering points, as well as writing others ad-hoc and replying to/retweeting other people’s tweets on the subject. To break this down further I gave details on providing information about the Cats Protection ‘free neutering’ vouchers – within our branch area as well as giving the national CP email address – various ‘bullet point’ facts such as ‘One unneutered cat could be responsible for thousands of descendents in just five years’ as well as links to the Early Neutering Register and Neutering FAQ.

Ultimately this was very successful and there are various ways to measure this – we had 40-50 retweets – where one of our tweets is reposted on another’s account because they think it’s useful or interesting, meaning all of their followers can see it too. If the average Twitter user has anything between 50-500 followers and a tweet is retweeted 10 times, a minimum of 500 people will see that tweet – or maybe even thousands upon thousands if a celebrity or well-followed organisation/company retweets, as well as the 300 already following us. You can see why information travels so quickly online! It is relatively safe to assume that at least 2,500 people will have seen at least one of our neutering campaign tweets over the course of the day.

In addition, we gained 12 new followers in a day. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but surges of new followers such as this are always good news, especially to relatively light Twitter users like us. To put it into perspective, our Twitter account has been running since 2010 and, in a year or so, has gained 280 followers – an average gain of roughly one follower every two to three days. I would most certainly implore any branch to register a Twitter account, use the guides available and help from the National Cat Centre to get established. It’s ultimately free publicity with a potentially huge audience. 18 per cent of the British public use Twitter, so if you can potentially broadcast to them directly, easily and for free – why wouldn’t you?

Related links: The ultimate Twitter application. Great for scheduled tweeting and viewing Twitter in a far more user-friendly way ‘Taking the social media plunge’ – Compulsory reading for any charity/branch on Twitter! Klout: Provides social media analytics measuring the size of people's ‘networks’ and influence – giving comprehensive details as well as issuing you with a score. Chiltern branch scores 50 – as of 24/08/2011

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Monday, 22 August 2011

Why I foster for Cats Protection

Louise McCormick, a Fosterer with our North London Adoption Centre, explains why she volunteers for Cats Protection…

Louise and Nando
I’ve always considered myself a cat lover. I don’t remember not having a cat around as I was growing up, so it seemed completely natural to start visiting my local Cats Protection adoption centre in Archway as a ‘cat socialiser’, which involves popping in to play with the cats that are awaiting new homes. After hearing rave reviews of fostering from friends, the socialising soon led to the desire to foster cats and to play a more active role in rehoming. So, on 13 January 2011, I went to pick up my first foster cat, an eight-month-old beauty called Ruby and never looked back.

In the past eight months, I have fostered a total of seven cats, which have come to us in various states, needing various levels of care. The most extreme illness I’ve dealt with is hyperthyroidism, which is a problem that affects older cats. If left untreated, it can be fatal and the symptoms are very poor health and a haggard appearance.

Fortunately, the adoption centre works with some excellent local vets and, with the right treatment, cats can be cured. One of the most memorable cats I fostered was Blackie, a 12-year-old scruffy little thing who, along with her brother Ginger, stayed with us for three months. Blackie was on daily medication to reduce her production of thyroid hormones, until her levels were low enough for an operation to remove her thyroid gland. After the operation, she was quickly on the mend, ready to find a new family in an exciting new home.

Cat fostering is extremely rewarding – I feel as though I’m playing an active role in improving cats’ lives, before they are sent off to new loving families. Whether a cat is with me for a few days or a few months, they get the same level of attention and I take great pride in seeing a new cat settle into my flat and make him or herself at home for the duration of their stay.

A question I find myself regularly met with, is “do you get upset when you have to give them back?” Surprisingly, the answer is no, because I know they’ll be joining a new loving family soon enough, who can offer them the happy life that they deserve. Admittedly, I bawled my eyes out when I handed Ruby back, but it became a lot easier as time went on, and I was recently inspired to keep a blog for all of the cats that have been a guest at my flat –

I would recommend fostering to anyone who loves cats and wants to help out with the rehoming process. If you’re prepared to make vets visits, sacrifice that extra weekend away and feel happy in the knowledge you’ve made a difference to a cat’s life, speak to your local Cats Protection and see how you can help.

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Friday, 19 August 2011

Starting from scratch

Gloria Ashwell, Branch Co-ordinator of our recently relaunched Weymouth & District Branch, plans for its first event under its new guise…

Some 17 years ago, the West Dorset Branch was formed, providing service to Weymouth, Portland, Dorchester and Bridport and the neighbouring villages. Throughout that time, I was the Branch Co-ordinator and, for many years, the sole Fosterer too. My garden was filled with cat cabins and my house with Cats Protection paperwork and fundraising goods.

Cat cabins in Weymouth
In 2000,
I moved house and was relieved to share fostering with new volunteers in Weymouth, Portland and Bridport!

Time has moved on and, with increased pressures on Cats Protection – so many cats in need and so few offers to adopt them! – the opportunity to modernise and relaunch the branch was welcomed to help us to keep going with new energy and enthusiasm.

So, during the last month, West Dorset Branch has become Weymouth & District Branch. I am still the Co-ordinator and we are keen to encourage more volunteers to get involved – there is so much to do!

Although rising from the ashes of the West Dorset Branch, Weymouth & District is less like a rejuvenated phoenix, more like a newborn kitten – opening its eyes to a new world with a sense of bewilderment, for the branch is more or less ‘starting from scratch’. Expecting the first event for the branch to be on 10 September at Ferndown Homing Centre, I have gradually begun to make preparations for our fundraising stall. Here is how I spent last week:

Monday: I bought a laminator and pouches for the display of cat photos.

Tuesday: I bought an inexpensive folding table and ordered cellophane bags to wrap the small things I’d been sewing, to sell. We also set up our Facebook page.

Wednesday: The display boards we ordered some weeks previously were delivered. We also prepared our new-look website.

The stall at Avon Lea Nursing Home's Fete

Thursday: During late afternoon, friends asked if I’d like to have a stall at the Summer Fete of the Avon Lea Nursing Home in Weymouth, at which they are managers. An excellent opportunity to test out our display! We registered with Twitter and quickly tweeted the event. In the evening I unpacked the display boards, printed off some photos of cats available for adoption, laminated them and fixed them to the boards.

Friday: The cellophane bags arrived, so I packed the lavender bags etc.

Saturday: The sun shone and the stall didn’t blow away! Huge thanks to Avon Lea Nursing Home for letting us join their lovely fete.

The relaunch has identified vacancies for a number of voluntary roles, including some Committee places; we also need more volunteers for cat care, administration and fundraising.

If you would like to adopt a cat, have a skill you’d like to share or would like to develop a new skill within the branch please contact us. We’d love to hear from you!

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Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Stafford's silver celebration

Cath Keitley, Co-ordinator of our Stafford & District Branch, looks back – and forward – as the branch celebrates 25 years of helping cats…

“25 years! It can’t be!” 
Cath and Margaret celebrate the branch's 25th

That’s how the conversation with Margaret Aitkin, the only founder member of Stafford & District Branch, still with us, began. Then the reminiscing began. It started as Stafford Branch back in 1986, but the title belied the actual area it covered as we went as far west as Newport, Shropshire, south to Coven, east to Uttoxeter and sometimes beyond and north to Stoke. A massive area when you consider there were just a handful of volunteers to start with.

Joint Co-ordinators at the time were Jane Horne, sadly deceased, and Linda Boden. Margaret Aitkin was on the Committee, a Fosterer, Fundraiser and did just about any other job the branch needed doing, she was joined by Di North, also sadly deceased, who helped with fundraising. I joined just a few months later and, to this day, realise what a wizard Jane was at snaring the unsuspecting volunteer. She was a straight-talking, no-nonsense lady who could weigh up a person within seconds and she wasn't often wrong. Thankfully I passed the ‘Jane test’.

I met her and Linda one Friday evening at Linda’s home where the branch had a small cattery. They were in the kitchen surrounded by mounds of sandwiches, clingfilm and sticky labels. It wasn't long before I was helping to wrap the sandwiches and label them for a fundraising event at a cat show the next day. I ended up manning the stall and, thankfully, the sandwiches all sold. The money raised provided the cats and kittens with food for a week and went a long way towards paying off a huge vet bill. As soon as I knew that I was hooked.

Gradually the membership grew. Some volunteers could just help for a few hours a week manning a stall, the occasional fĂȘte or doing the odd car boot. It didn't matter how few hours people gave, they all mounted up and gave a chance for the others to have a bit of a rest. This will all sound so familiar to those branches who can remember starting out. In the 1990s, we made the decision to officially become the Stafford & Stoke Branch. We remained that for a number of years until a group of volunteers in the Stoke area decided to start their own branch. This was a big relief to us as we had few people there and found the journeys to and from the Stoke area quite a drain.

For a number of years we have had a market stall in Stafford’s indoor market which brings in much-needed funds, cat food and generally promotes CP in Stafford. We started off with the smallest stall the market could offer us, but its success has meant a gradual expansion over the next several years. We have quiet periods but all in all it is very successful.

The other thing that grew was the number of cats needing our help, from domesticated cats who had had kittens to ferals of which there were quite a lot in our very rural area. It's a double-edged sword in that the more people that heard about us, the more people came to us for help. It did mean that numerous cats have been neutered over the years helping to reduce the number of kittens that needed to be rescued and rehomed. Despite this, we still get a lot of calls from the public whose own cats have fallen pregnant. It seems people never learn.

More of the branch's volunteers join the celebration

From our humble beginnings with just a handful of volunteers we have gone from strength to strength and now have over 40. They bake cakes, knit, visit potential homes, fundraise, foster, do paperwork. Individually some give an hour a week, others far more, but together we give a massive amount of time and effort to make our branch the success it is.

We never stop looking to the future and, to celebrate our 25th anniversary, we have just taken delivery of our first CP vehicle courtesy of a very generous legacy left by a friend and supporter. We will be forever grateful to her.

As to the future, a shop would be good, more foster homes, more volunteers, more money… the list goes on and you can be sure if we put our minds to it we usually get there no matter how long it takes. So look out for our report when we celebrate 50 years!

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Monday, 15 August 2011

Happy 25th, Worthing!

Chief Executive, Peter Hepburn, reports as our Worthing & District Branch celebrates its 25th anniversary...

“Sunny Worthing”, it’s called. Certainly when the Cats Protection Worthing & District Branch was celebrating its 25th birthday recently, you couldn’t help but think: “the sun shines upon the righteous.”

I’d guess that some 60 to 70 volunteers came and they would have been in good humour whatever the weather. My overriding impression was of the lovely atmosphere it creates when so many positive people get together. There’s a bit in the CP strategy that says: “Cats Protection wants everyone to celebrate their achievements” and there was a lot of that happening. I heard some amazing stories. I’d love to share them all, but can’t, so I’ll just repeat a cat story for you.

A few weeks ago someone came into the branch’s charity shop and said “I see you are doing cats here now.” We aren’t, of course, but outside someone had left a lovely cat in a carrier. Our volunteers took in the cat and inside the basket was a note along these lines: “My owner has just been made redundant and can no longer afford to keep me and look after me. I hope that you will find me a new home. I’ve been loved and cared for, my vaccinations are up to date and when I had kittens they were all neutered and found good homes.” There were no spaces in the branch that day but, as ever, a space had to be found and the cat was soon homed.

Shortly after the cat arrived at the shop, someone came into the shop and said that they had heard about the cat. They wanted to know if it was alright and what had happened to it. I wonder if a distressed and loving owner’s mind was put at ease. The people who heard this story all said: “If a cat is going to be dumped, there’s nowhere it will get better care than by our people”.

Lots of other stories were shared. I heard about the difficult work running the ‘rescue line’, which volunteers do in rotation for two or three weeks each before passing the load to someone else. I was told about the lovely people you meet when doing collections outside the supermarket, including those who say “I’m a dog person, but here’s a pound” and those who buy cat food and donate it – the supermarket loves that!

Over the years, the press cuttings showed that the branch had weathered some storms, but now it’s in a strong position with lots of good people helping and supporting. I met the founding
Co-ordinators, Ian and Margaret and the current Co-ordinator, Rod. Before we cut the birthday cake, Margaret read out some lines that she had written. I loved the line: “Cats who have left a paw print on my heart.”

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Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Have I got mews for you?!

Volunteer Sarah Evans takes us behind the scenes of our Wolverhampton Branch newsletter... 

I’ve been producing the Wolverhampton Branch regular newsletter, The Scratching Post, for around 18 months now and I love doing it, I get a real sense of achievement when each issue goes out. As a branch, we feel it’s essential that we communicate well to our members and volunteers, as it keeps them motivated and it’s also important to us that they know how much they are appreciated. We find the newsletter is great for this as it’s a perfect way to formally acknowledge their help and support while keeping them up to date with what we’re doing. And as not all of our members have internet or email access, the newsletter is something we can format to suit them. We like to encourage people to take a digital copy as it’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly, but we have a core of members who receive the printed version instead. And we sell them in our shop to raise some extra funds.

My day job is running an artwork studio for an ad agency, so as well as having access to professional software, I have experience with design, layout and artwork, which I put to good use for WCP. Obviously not all branches are going to have access to someone in the trade, but I’d encourage them to contact their local colleges and universities and work with graphic design students. It’s a win-win situation: the student gains experience of working for a real client on a real project – invaluable when looking for a job – and the CP branch gets a great looking, inspiring newsletter produced by upcoming talented designers.

For our quarterly newsletter, I work to a three-month cycle. The first month is my ‘month off’ when I concentrate on generating other publicity material, the second is when I collate and source articles and photography and the third is when I design and produce the edition. I’ve set out a structured format for our magazine as it helps me with content and layout if I know what’s going on each page and how much space it needs. We always have our cover – a gorgeous, eye-catching cat photo – and a page each for homing, success stories and events. The other pages have our Co-ordinator’s introduction, our features and then there’s some space left over for extras and unplanned items.

Our branch calendar has all our deadlines listed and on a regular basis I ask if contributors have anything they want to include in the next issue. I also take notes during committee meetings and branch events – eg reports of volunteers get a mention in our ‘WCP superstars’ section, or if we have a discussion about something like microchipping or homing visits, I’ll make a note to use it for an article. The Committee all contribute regularly, sending me ideas, pictures and facts for future editions, so there’s always plenty to go in. I try to make the content relevant, varied and interesting for our readers and this seems to work as I get lots of comments about how they look forward to reading the next issue!

Then I research the detail for the articles. I’m a bit of a computer addict, so I get most of my content online, but I’ll look everywhere for inspiration: websites, magazines, talking to members, books, etc. I’ll also admit to borrowing a fair amount of information from CatNav – CP’s extranet for volunteers and staff – the CP website and CP leaflets… but as far as I’m concerned that’s what it’s there for! Our imagery comes from a few places – some from the CP website and CatNav, some from volunteers who send me pictures of events, cats for homing and success stories. For everything else, I use a website called Dreamstime – it offers a huge range of royalty-free and cost-free imagery which is perfect for our use. Image copyright can be a very sticky area, so I never randomly download shots from the internet unless I know where the picture has come from, who owns the copyright, and whether or not I can use it.

Finally, once I’ve got everything together, I set a whole weekend aside to blitz through the layout and design. I prefer to get it all done it all in one go, so I set myself up at the kitchen table with my laptop, endless bits of paper, one of my two cats – Custard or Connor – on the windowsill – and sometimes on the bits of paper – and endless cups of tea – and biscuits. My husband knows he then has to leave me alone until I surface a couple of days later, triumphant, beaming and with the latest edition ready for press.

Monday, 25 July 2011

My day off work

Mary Wood, Coordinator of the Cheltenham Branch, gives us an insight into the day off of a typical Cats Protection volunteer...

8am Cats Protection van is dropped off at my house by our volunteer driver John as he is going on holiday.

8.30am Cleaned out the pen where I have four nine-week-old kittens. It's like painting the Forth Bridge! By the time I have finished, they have upset their biscuits, paddled in the water and all used the clean litter tray!

10am Make some phone calls to potential homes passed on from our Kitten Officer. One couple are very keen and come over straight away to view the kittens. 

12.30pm Call into our branch shop to catch up with Margaret the manager and her team, have a cuppa and buy a lovely new handbag. Margaret is a very good saleswoman as I didn’t even need a new handbag!

2pm Feed the kittens in the pen and retrieve a selection of toys from a now-empty water bowl. Meet with one of our vets to discuss holding our first Homing Day.

3.30pm Take the aforementioned kittens to my local vets for their first vaccinations. Have to book a double appointment to make time for all the paperwork and for the vets to have a cuddle with the kittens.

4.15pm Back home again. Follow up some leads from another branch regarding a good source of new goods to sell at our events – in addition to those from CP – and ask for some samples and price list to be sent. Start to make a list of volunteer roles that we need to fill and adapt job descriptions ready for recruitment drive.

5.30pm Take a call from my friend Jenny who is also Homing and Welfare Officer. She informs me she has had a call from someone who has found five kittens in a shed with no sign of mum, so I take the van with a trap and basket, pick up Jenny and go round to investigate. Leave a trap in the shed to try to catch the mother cat.

6.30pm Back to the vets again! The kittens are basically healthy but covered in fleas and ticks so, after a health check and lots of parasite treatment, back they come with me to a kitten cage in my dining room whilst we find a more permanent space for them – although two have stayed to join my clan.

7pm Clean out the kittens in the pen again. More paddling and throwing of food...

7.30pm Time for a nice glass of wine with dinner and sort out my clothes for work tomorrow after my relaxing day off...

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Neutering Manager, Teacher, or Celeb hunter?….

Neutering Manager, Ian MacFarlaine tells us about his role at Cats Protection

Now and again a few weeks roll by which are truly crazy and this has just been the case for me as Cats Protection’s Neutering Manager. We ended June with glorious sunshine and are now in late July and soaked in torrential rain.

Sometimes it feels like I am more of a teacher than a neutering manager! During June and July though, I thoroughly enjoyed providing training sessions for overseas animal welfare workers in London, european vets in Austria, and volunteers and staff within CP too, and hundreds of CP volunteers will have given up even more of their own time to come along to training sessions in Reading, Coventry, Grimsby and here at the NCC. Providing guidance and education on the neutering and care of feral cats, both within and outside CP, is a really important part of my role, as this group of cats is one of the most vulnerable to mishandling and stress

Shortly into July we finalised our total of cats neutered in 2010 with CP’s help. Last year, in the face of huge challenges (such as the impact of VAT rises), and an increased demand on our neutering service as more people are in financial difficulty, we increased our total to 176,366 cats – almost 14,000 more than 2009. This is a real tribute to the hard work of our volunteers and our staff right across the charity, in increasing this total despite the odds. We’re not letting the grass grow under our feet in 2011, with more than 92,000 cats having been neutered by mid July. Our neutering is a real team effort, and as well as getting out and about to plan a future neutering drive in Stoke On Trent, I also took advantage of the sunshine to visit some of the other charities who help us deliver our neutering work, in Mid-Wales, Birmingham, Staffordshire, and Lancashire.

Our small Neutering Support Team at the NCC rarely get the chance for long meetings as they are occupied in responding to around 170 calls and emails from cat owners and neutering scheme partners every day. We got a rare chance to switch the phones off for a few hours so that we could have a think about what we could do better in the way we respond to our customers. We have an amazing staff team working on neutering at the NCC, and in field, and our day was really productive. The following day at our AGM I was even more overwhelmed by the progress many of our volunteers have made in persuading their vets to neuter cats early, really hitting home the prevention aspect of our Neutering programme.

And away from work? Well I got the chance to see my favourite band in Camden, who rarely visit the UK these days. Not only that, but I got to meet some of them (and a few other celebs) afterwards…. and while we were there took the opportunity to persuade them to support CP by contributing to our Celebrity Paws auction later this year. I don’t think they thought I was too strange! So don’t forget to check out the CP website for details of all our fundraising activities.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Cats Protection AGM

Cats Protection's Chief Executive Peter Hepburn offers an insight into the planning behind the charity's AGM.

I met with many of the other animal charities recently at the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes (ADCH). The charities do work well together in our sector, which is so important. We carry out a huge variety of local joint work right across the country. Our supporters expect that, and I’m sure that the animals benefit. Nick Edmans, our Director of Communications came with me as Cats Protection will be hosting a major animal welfare conference next year and we wanted to promote the event and consult others on the content.

Now we have the AGM coming up at the National Cat Centre on Saturday 16 July. To save on costs and time we also have meetings of our Board of Trustees and Council on the Friday and Saturday morning. They are all volunteers and have to arrange for their branch work etc to keep going when they come to visit the centre. It will be a busy time, with lots of people coming here from right across the country. Great!

Then on Sunday there will be a Summer Fun Day here, run by the National Cat Adoption Centre. I keep hearing snippets about it… who’s got a gazebo we can borrow? Here’s a bottle for the stall…. have you really got a bouncy castle, tractor rides, face painting and a dance troupe all happening? Awesome! The answer to that one was yes, and more!  The cat care folk will be doing tours of the centre all weekend. We hope that it’ll mean we find some more homes. Homing could do with a boost at the moment. There are so many lovely cats who would be made so happy if they can get into a home. It breaks my heart.

Anyway, it will be a busy time and I know I’ll see lots of good friends of the charity...

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The making of Tennis cats

Lee Bishop, Website Manager at the National Cat Centre gets creative…

Hopefully, most of you will have had the chance to check out the new Cats Protection viral video Tennis cats on YouTube – if not, why not? Click here to see it now!

But how did it come about and what on earth were we thinking?

Working at Cats Protection means you need to at least try to turn your hand to anything. With this mantra, I decided to have a go at drawing the storyboard calling on long ago forgotten Art GCSE skills. This acted as an essential guide to which props we’d have to source and the location that we would shoot at. With a budget of around zero pounds, we begged tennis rackets from colleagues and the tennis courts of a local kindly posh hotel. The great British summer had other ideas…

On the morning of the shoot it was monsoon-like and, after an hour of crossed fingers and sheltering in cars, we accepted defeat. Unfortunately the hotel tennis court was booked up for the next few weeks so with Wimbledon looming, we had to lower our expectations, buy a cheap tennis net and pick a sunny day at the National Cat Centre to film in one of the adjoining fields.

You’ll notice that we dubbed most of the sound effects over the top. This is for two reasons – firstly, while the day was sunny, it was also rather breezy which obviously upset the microphone. Secondly, watching your normally soberly dressed colleagues dive about in full cat costumes is unremittingly funny and my uncontrolled laughter would have been clearly audible!

With the filming ‘in the can’ – or rather on the tape as was the case –  it was over to our budding Sofia Coppola, Amy to cut all the footage together into something presentable which, considering my rudimentary directing skills, was no mean feat!

Once the final cut was down, we set about recording the cats’ grunts and of course, Cat Pash’s inspired – and occasionally rambling – commentary. This really pulled the whole thing together and helped turn a rather unfathomable video into a…erm… slightly less unfathomable one.

With the vid released just in time for Murray’s big match we were pleased with the result, but one question remained. Which sport for the next one?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Out and about with our Chief Executive

After that welcome to the new Cats Protection blog, how can anyone resisting posting? There’s so much to say!

Peter Hepburn

I’m very lucky, as the charity’s Chief Executive, to have been to Cornwall and Devon recently, meeting volunteers and staff who care for cats and also meeting some beautiful cats too. The lucky ones who come into our care really are treated royally.

I went to the Family Fun Day run by Cats Protection’s St Austell & District Branch, an event designed to raise funds for the cat work and also raise awareness. Everyone had put in a vast amount of work. We invited many other local and national animal charities to come along and local organisations that care about cats and other animals too.

I also recently wrote to thank a very generous supporter and gave details of the funds going to two branches which carry out a huge amount of cat work, but are down to their last few pounds. The gift has made a huge difference to the work they can do and provided a big boost to the morale of the volunteers there. Lucky cats!

I’d love to tell you more, but I’d better make way for others to post their stories.

Peter Hepburn

Monday, 6 June 2011


Welcome to the brand-new Cats Protection blog!

For anyone who has not yet heard of us, Cats Protection is the UK’s leading feline welfare charity. We were founded way back in 1927 under the name ‘Cats Protection League’. A lot has changed since those early days – including our name, which was changed to Cats Protection in 1998. We now help over 230,000 cats and kittens every year through our nationwide network of volunteer-run branches and centrally-run adoption centres. There are three core areas to our work; finding loving homes for cats, promoting and carrying out neutering to prevent unwanted kittens from being born and educating people about cats and their care. You can find out plenty more about us and our work at

None of this would be possible without our remarkable volunteers who willingly give up their time to a cause they are passionate about. The majority of them carry out Cats Protection’s work from their own homes, dividing their time between this work and full-time jobs. In this blog, we hope to bring you their stories and introduce you to the amazing people behind our successes across the UK.