The National Cat Centre (NCC) at Chelwood Gate (near Haywards Heath in East Sussex) was completed in 2004 and is the largest cat re-homing centre in the UK, finding homes for over 1,000 of my wayward feline cousins every year. That’s a lot of cats! It’s based in a lovely location in Ashdown Forest and includes over 200 pens, a veterinary block and a maternity unit. They have conference facilities and are keen on teaching people all about how to take care of cats. They welcome schools, colleges and community groups for educational talks and tours and gave 500 informative talks in 2012.
One of the three pen corridors
Cafe and Shop
So far this year
I think it’s really important to educate young people about cats and our needs. We are after all complex creatures and often get misunderstood. We like companionship yet we need our space, we can be very affectionate yet we also get moody. We’re clever enough to break into the biscuit box and work out how to open the door, yet so daft we cross the road with no concept of the dangers and climb trees with no thought to the consequences. We communicate in subtle ways, using our ears, tails, mouths and paws to tell humans how we feel and we behave inexplicably, chasing our tails, inspecting your toes or attacking the armchair. We are notorious haters of water, yet we have an unhealthy fascination with the sink!
Anyway, I get quite excited when John takes me to the NCC. It’s a veritable haven of cat-friendly paraphernalia. I trotted in to reception and met Georgie, a 14 year old tabby girl who was having a snooze on her blanket. She is up for adoption but is not kept in a pen because it’s nice to have a resident cat (even if it’s only temporary) and she is quite relaxed and well-behaved. She let me play with her toys and climb the cat tree and I had fun hiding in the tunnels while John was looking for me.
Then we went to see the cats in the pens and I made some new friends. Like Suzie, the gracious 10 year old tortie and white who is a bit scruffy looking but absolutely adorable and a little sad at being overlooked due to her age. Gizmo is the tabby in the castle and Pumpkin is the ginger on top of the castle. All the pens contain grey castle-shaped beds which the cats can sleep on or hide in if they are feeling a little shy. The diligent staff do everything they can to make the cats as comfortable as possible while they wait to find new homes and I was also lucky enough to meet one of the volunteers who visits the centre to spend time with the cats. This quiet and unassuming man takes time out of his life to sit with the cats, stroking them, playing with them or simply just being there, talking to them and reassuring them. I don’t know his name, he doesn’t get any awards for what he does, and when the cats leave they will soon forget him. But those precious moments he spends with the cats enrich their lives and help them on their journey to happiness, and the impact of his kindness will last forever.
Max is the 15 year old black and white that you can see strolling up the passageway in the photo. We chatted in the corridor for a while and he told me about Arrow, a black and white cat who had given staff the run around a few days earlier when he escaped from his pen and started frolicking around in the play area, much to the amusement of the other cats. Oh and you should have seen Elvis, a sassy black cat who teased me something rotten, posing for the camera and then moving every time I took a picture, playing the clown. All the fun of the visit made me thirsty so John fetched drinks for Elvis and I which we gulped down in seconds to see who could drink the fastest. Elvis won so I threw my straw at him which he paraded around haughtily. No one likes a smart-aleck Elvis!!