Shad goes behind the scenes at the National Cat Centre

There is no creature as curious as a cat.  And I have always been curious about what lies beyond the adoption pens at the National Cat Centre in Chelwood Gate.  The NCC is headquarters for Cats Protection and boasts the largest cat rehoming centre in the UK looking after anything up to 200 cats and kittens at any one time and rehoming over 1000 little cherubs every year.  John and I walked into the reception area excited to meet Danielle the Centre Manger for our exclusive behind the scenes tour.  John had brushed my coat before we left so I looked extra silky and I puffed out my chest fur as we were greeted by a smiling Danielle who started by introducing us to Poppy.  Poppy is a friendly black and white that has been in care for many months and now spends her days helping reception staff answer the phones and checking the corners for mice in the hopes of getting noticed by prospective owners as they wander through.  Just off reception is a meeting room specially designated for potential owners to sit and spend time with the cat they like before deciding if things could work between them.  It’s full of comfy chairs, ping pong balls and a window that lets you watch the birds land on the swaying branches of the trees outside.  Danielle told us about a cat called Marmite who lived at the Centre for a long time because he had FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and I smiled to myself as I imagined him in the meeting room greeting the lady that would later adopt him.



NCC Reception – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

As we moved through the double-doors into the adoption pen wing, Danielle showed us the Enrichment Room which we could not enter as 6 year old Tabitha was in there undertaking a desensitisation programme.  This involves carefully exposing the cat to various situations in a controlled manner such as the sound of a vacuum cleaner, meeting a stranger or hearing a doorbell to determine which triggers cause the cat to have behavioural issues.  Tabitha has been rehomed and returned 3 times because she becomes aggressive so the desensitisation programme will help her become accustomed to normal household noises in the hope that she will soon find her forever home.  I had a quick word with her through the door while the humans were talking and she said she gets angry when she is rehomed because she doesn’t know anyone there and it makes her feel scared.


We strolled through the pen wing admiring the cats along the way until we reached another double-door and Danielle asked us to dip our feet in a tub of wet sponge.  I was mortified, as a cat who is fastidious about keeping his paws clean, soft and dry, but it was necessary as part of the infection control procedures.  So I dutifully placed each of my paws in the disinfectant goo and looked up at John who knew exactly what I wanted and fetched a paper towel to dab my tootsies dry.  The next section contained the Admissions Wing where cats first arrive and the Cat Care room where newcomers get their vet checks, vaccinations and flea treatments.  I shuddered at the thought and we moved on to the Isolation Wing for cats who have unfortunately been diagnosed with infectious diseases such as flu, FIV and ringworm.  We were not allowed into the isolation wing for obvious reasons not least of all that we would have had to dress up in multiple layers of unattractive plastic aprons and pull-up boots which you can see being modelled by Boris.  My heart went out to the cats in isolation who often spend weeks receiving veterinary treatment and wearing the cone of shame before their symptoms improve and they are well enough to be put up for adoption.  We didn’t go into the maternity wing either out of respect for the feeding mums and mums-to-be who need peace and quiet while they care for their babies.  We did take a look at the operating theatres and were impressed with the great facilities, especially when Danielle said that Tuesdays to Thursdays the onsite vet team perform  6 to 8 surgical procedures a day.

No trip to the NCC would be complete without talking to one of the many dedicated volunteers who give up their time to support the Centre and have essential roles to play including collecting cats, cleaning pens, making enrichment objects and raising funds.  I got talking to a nice young lady who had just been sitting quietly with a nervous cat called Anya.  Anya had been found in a bin and needed a dedicated volunteer to spend time with, bonding and slowly building her confidence, learning to trust humans again.  I am so full of respect for this wonderful work that I gave the volunteer an extra firm head butt behind her knee and she rubbed my back in return.  Marvellous!

360 View – Of the homing corridor

We came to the end of our tour and Danielle walked us back out to reception as we discussed some of the key welfare issues facing cats today.  The importance of early neutering is fundamental to controlling unwanted cat populations and Danielle said that Cats Protection vaccinate kittens against disease at 8 weeks and neuter at 9 weeks to ensure healthy moggies all round.  The other big concern is the lack of microchipping in cats and Danielle looked sad as she told us about the many cats who become separated from their owners and brought in to care but end up being rehomed because their owners cannot be traced.  I told Danielle how worried I am about the cats and kittens that are sold cheaply or given away through online auction and sales websites.  Sadly many of these animals are destined for terrible fates.  But I was encouraged to hear that the Cats Protection advocacy team are working with some of the main online marketing sites to raise awareness of the plight of these animals so that improvements can be made.  I saw Tabitha on my way out and told her to be brave when she goes to her next home because there are some very nice humans out there who love animals and will understand her needs if she just gave them a chance.

Cats Protection’s Manifesto for Cats



Shad does the NCC

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.

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!!