Example of a cattery is the late 1960s
When FAB was founded over 50 years ago, catteries existed in a fog of ignorance and indifference, leading to poor and sometimes catastrophic treatment of boarding cats.
|There were 12 pens in a cellar, eight on one side and four on the other. Pens were constructed of rough wood strips which were impossible to wash down; cats were in direct contact with the neighbour on either side; the walls of the cellar were rough whitewashed stone and were badly stained and pen floors were of absorbent hardboard. Cats getting out of their pens could possibly escape through a small window which was ‘stuffed’ with wire netting and incorrectly secured. In the event of fire in the farmhouse, there was no exit and the cats would be trapped. Food, ie, cans and packets, was stored on the steps leading down the cellar and overflowing into the cellar so could be come contaminated if there was any infection. The proprietor’s wife admitted to knowing nothing about cats, and the secretary said she had met the proprietor and he certainly knew nothing about cats.
This graphic description of a cattery in Gloucestershire in 1965 shows why FAB’s work to improve catteries was so desperately needed. In the early 1960s boarding accommodation consisted mainly of stacked tea chests, orange boxes and rusty wire netting.
The Animal Boarding Establishments Act was passed in 1963 and introduced the licensing of catteries by local council inspectors and vets acting on their behalf. Initially, this seemed to be a welcome and positive step and it certainly prevented some cases of actual cruelty to boarded animals, but members of the public placed their trust in licensed catteries, often failing to inspect the premises before leaving their cat there. Only when they returned to find their pet lost, ill or even dead did they realise that the Act was not being correctly administered.
Random checks were carried out on catteries in the Bristol area by FAB members posing as pet owners wishing to board a cat. These revealed that cats were kept in boxes just two feet long and one foot high – allowed out to ‘stretch their legs’ when the boxes were cleaned. In one establishment the cats were all kept in the proprietor’s home, running about together; in another the cats were let out of their boxes for exercise in a communal run. When questioning these standards of care, proprietors invariably told the FAB members that if the vets approved of the cattery it was good enough for them. The charge for boarding a cat in such awful conditions was between 3/- (15 pence) and 4/6 (22½ p) a day.
Although there was a wide choice of accommodation available for rabbits in the mid-60s, just two firms were manufacturing buildings specifically designed for housing cat but this was, at least, a step in the right direction – someone, somewhere was thinking about feline welfare. In 1973, the cost of building each chalet and run in a cattery was about £87 (excluding labour); the equivalent cost today is in the region of £2,000.
FAB’s contribution to raising standards in boarding catteries is now legendary – and much of that work was carried out by the redoubtable Miss Sophie Hamilton-Moore (see panel right). In the late 1970s, FAB published the first authoritative information on the welfare requirements of cats in boarding establishments – Boarding Cattery Construction and Management. Over the years this evolved into the comprehensive FAB Boarding Cattery Manual which, in its current format was launched in 2002 and quickly became established as the bible for anyone wishing to open a new cattery or run an existing one. Its advice was based on the experience and information gleaned by FAB over 30 years and it covers all aspects of construction and management. Over 2000 copies have been sold and it continues to be the bestseller in FAB’s ever increasing catalogue of publications.
While offering advice to new cattery owners through its publications, FAB was simultaneously working towards establishing a list of approved catteries which met or exceeded the outlined recommendations.
In 1978 Sophie Hamilton-Moore said: ‘The object of producing a list of approved catteries is not primarily for the benefit of the boarding catteries but to give guidance to the discerning cat owner and in the hope that the general cat owning public may become better educated with regard to the conditions necessary for the wellbeing of their cat.’ Despite this, Miss Hamilton-Moore faced an uphill battle to add catteries to the List of FAB Approved Boarding Catteries as many proprietors felt that they were successful enough without the FAB stamp of approval. A distressingly high number of cats suffered emotionally and/or physically while boarded in appalling conditions and too few of the heartbroken owners reported the illness or death of their cat to any authority. Miss Hamilton-Moore said: ‘There is knowledge of boarding catteries where the sole diet is dried food and water, where no disinfectant is ever used, where litter trays are never cleaned and sometimes returned after the removal of faecal matter, not necessarily to the same cat. These are established facts.’
FAB also recognised the importance of hands-on experience and in 1982 the first cattery courses were run, under the tutelage of Miss Hamilton-Moore (see panel).
Her hope that the cat-owning public would become better educated and therefore have high expectations of boarding facilities for their cats has clearly been fulfilled. Although life has certainly improved for boarded cats in the past three decades, it has at times been a Herculean task for FAB to persuade owners, cattery proprietors, vets and licensing authorities of the importance of good, secure accommodation, impeccable hygiene and careful management of premises.
With cats now the most popular pet in Britain and regular holidays being a way of life for many people, the demand for good catteries continues to increase. Undoubtedly, in some dark corners of the country, there still exist premises which should be closed and operators who should never be left in charge of animals, but thankfully, the light of knowledge and experience has swept across most areas. This enlightenment is due in no small part to FAB and the vision of Joan Judd, Sophie Hamilton-Moore and their colleagues.
Example of a cattery today