That’s a lot of cats.

I was asked by Cats Protection Media Office to write this piece about the volunteers at Preston Branch and their success in neutering cats. It was published in the Summer 2011 edition of cp news & views, a national magazine which is distributed to Cats Protection volunteers.

2609 cats and kittens neutered in 2010 by Preston Branch? That’s a stupendous figure by anyone’s standards, and we’ve been asked more than once how we do it.

There are four factors, and we couldn’t manage such a phenomenal success rate without each and every one of them. First of all, the HQ neutering voucher scheme pays for the operations. Our success is rewarded with an ample allocation of vouchers. Secondly, we have a handful of vet surgeries in the area that are committed enough to ‘the cause’ to accept the vouchers as full payment for neuterings, allowing us to run an effective permanent free neutering campaign. Thirdly, all our volunteers understand the prime importance of neutering for cat welfare and work closely with our neutering officer, Val Chew. Val is, all by herself, the fourth factor.

Val is decidedly unimpressed by the figure of 2609 cats and kittens neutered in one year on her patch. After 24 years of devotion to the cat neutering cause, she’s very disappointed that there are that many unneutered cats in the area. It’s not her fault, of course, people import kittens into the area from the surrounding districts, and they actively breed kittens in some areas in an attempt to make a few quid. She can’t do anything about that, but what she can and does do is pursue each and every case where someone wants to get their cat or kitten neutered and doesn’t have the financial resources to pay for the operation.

Val’s a retired teacher who used to spend her evenings and weekends issuing neutering vouchers, chasing up unused vouchers, and going out on trap / neuter / return feral jobs. Now that she’s retired, it’s a full time job. Actually, it’s more like two full time jobs, she’s at the vets every day they’re open.

Our telephone volunteers and some of the vet nurses at participating vets are Val’s front line shock troops. They don’t just follow up on requests from the public for vouchers, that’s too easy … every query from the public elicits the questions ‘Is the cat neutered?’ ‘Do you have any other cats and are they neutered?’ and ‘Where did you get your kitten from? Do you know if the kitten’s mum has been neutered yet? Do you know anyone else who got a kitten from that litter?’ We find them, and we offer to pay to neuter them when necessary. We have a supply of cheap printed leaflets advertising the neutering campaign, and a volunteer who distributes them for us. We try to be as high profile as possible, using posters, leaflets, our website and Twitter to advertise our neutering scheme. We are polite to our ‘clients’ and encourage them to spread the word about cat neutering to their friends and family.

Val herself asks the same questions, and she’ll follow up on an unused voucher for weeks if necessary. If she finds out that a voucher wasn’t used because the cat was pregnant, she’ll pursue the neutering of the original queen and all her kittens. It sounds like hard work, and it is. There are no easy short cuts to achieving such a high neutering rate, it’s down to sheer hard work, sleepless nights, and pure determination.

2609 cats. It’s not an impressive number, it’s a scary number. Every year we hope that our services will be needed less, but until that happens, we need all four of our strands to weave together a net to catch as many unneutered cats as possible.

For more information about the work of Cats Protection, visit http://www.cats.org.uk To find out more about what the volunteers at Preston Branch are doing, visit www.cats.org.uk/preston or follow the Twitter account @prestoncp

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