Chief Executive of Cat Protection quits over 18 cats at colleague's home

NEWS AND COMMENT: Charles Darley was the chief executive of Cat Protection for 3 months. This is Britain's largest cat charity. It is based around cat fostering. The Times reports that he has quit his role because he does not think that Linda Upson, chairwoman of the trustees of the charity, can defend having so many cats in her home on welfare grounds.

Upson and one of her cats
Linda Upson and one of her cats. Photo: Daily Mail.

Upson has 18 cats in her three-bedroom home; 6 are foster cats. The story prompted me to immediately check on the rules that Cats Protection impose upon their fosterers. I know that they have quite strict rules. One of them is to separate the foster cat from any other cats in the home. This is a permanent state of affairs. And on their website, they refer to one cat being fostered. I guess they allow you to have more than one cat especially when there is a litter of kittens to take care of.

That said, Upson was apparently complying with the rules. It's reported that she had undergone regular training and was aware of the requirements for cats in her care. A spokesperson for the charity said that all the cats were happy and healthy and that, "We found the six foster cats in her care were kept in a separate, clean and well-kept area of her house away from her pet cats."

UPDATE Jan 25, 2022 (4 days after I posted): Upson has resigned. This is part of her statement:

"I have today stepped down from my role as Cats Protection’s Chair of Trustees and my role as a Trustee on the Board because I passionately support Cats Protection and do not wish recent news coverage to detract from the charity’s vital work helping cats in need. For the past 20 years I have dedicated my time to cat welfare through my un-paid, voluntary role, leading a volunteer-run branch and serving on the charity’s Advisory Council before joining the Board of Trustees in 2012 and becoming Chair in 2017...."

She said the following about her own cats:

"My cats are aged between nine and 19 years old. I believe they are happy and healthy as each has their own feeding bowl, litter tray and other resources. They are all fully vaccinated and regularly taken for veterinary consultations. I also have no foster cats at this time."

However, Darley, who was three months into a 12-month contract as interim chief executive told The Guardian newspaper: "To have a chair that apparently isn't adhering to best practice is very damaging to the charity, and disastrous for staff morale.
Charles Darley
Charles Darley and young black cat. Photo: Mail Online.

I'm a little confused because on the one hand the charity is saying that she complied with the rules and on the other hand the former chief executive stated that she was not complying with best practice. Perhaps this is a grey area. It's about the quantity of cats in her care.

Upson clearly had six foster cats and therefore 12 of her own cats. To have 18 cats in a three-bedroom home is pretty close to cat hoarding. Obviously, they were kept in good conditions so we're not talking about a typical cat hoarding environment, far from it. But it must be a handful to properly care for 18 cats in a three-bedroom home. It's very hard to keep the home completely free of cat odours for example.

Jackson Galaxy, the well-known American cat behaviourist, television presenter and author, is adamant that cat caregivers should have one cat litter tray for each cat in your care; plus, one more. On this basis Upson should have 19 cat litter trays in her home. That was seen to be impractical.

My personal feeling is that the former chief executive is correct. Even if she was complying technically with the rules and regulations of Cat Protection, she was not following best practice as there are too many cats in her home. You have to think about other things than keeping the place clean. What about the territorial demands of domestic cats?

RELATED: Domestic cat territory – home ranges vary widely.

Cats are very sensitive to the amount of territory they have. They are adaptable. However, with 18 cats in a three-bedroom home you are compressing their home range to a tiny fraction of what they naturally desire. Each cat within her home will have a home range of perhaps 5 yd². Given free-reign a domestic cat will roam over 4 acres to 50 acres or more. Male cats need more home range territory than female cats.

Compressing a large number of cats into a relatively small space is going to, at least potentially, cause stresses which can lead to health problems such as cystitis. Most of us realise that now. And of course, it is harder to keep the cats healthy because the potential for a contagious disease to spread is much higher under these circumstances than if there is one or two cats in the home. This is what he means by failing to follow best practice.

RELATED: 14 links between stress in domestic cats and health implications.

I have quite strong feelings about people keeping large numbers of cat in the home. It doesn't have to be that way. It is, at the end of the day, self-indulgent. I'm sure that people do it for themselves. They might have a hoarding mentality. They satisfy themselves because they like the large number. 

The point I'm trying to get at is that they don't do this in the interests of cat welfare generally but to satisfy a need within themselves. If Upson was generally concerned about cat welfare, she would have one or two cats of her own and then the six foster cats in a separate part of a home. But she has 12 cats of her own as well.

Apparently, according to the Daily Mail website online, staff at the charity were concerned about the number of cats but she was cleared to stay in the job. And also, the charity had previously done research on the subject of cats in cramped housing.

Mail Online reports that Linda Upson "left other staff despairing". They were concerned about how the charity might be seen by others and they were nervous about her being the spokesperson. Upson did not think that it was a problem when she was confronted by others about it.

Cats Protection agree with me that the kind of arrangements at Upson's home can cause animals considerable stress.

The charity's guidelines advise that cats must have "enough space so that they can get away from one another if they want to". Staff at the charity cannot defend Upson's behaviour.

Update: Sponsors of the charity may seek to activate clauses in their contracts allowing them to terminate their sponsorship due to “public embarrassment”. They've been urged to stick with the contract and not walk away from assisting the charity.

Here is a Cats Protection video on cat fostering:


Note
: This is a video from another website which is embedded here. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.

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