Animal charity's plea for help in East Lancashire

Credit: Cats Protection. (s)
Credit: Cats Protection. (s)
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Shirley Chisnall is championing the animal lover's life ahead of the opening of a new Cats Protection branch in East Lancashire.

The Burnley and Pendle group was forced to close after its volunteers retired last winter but after a short catnap the charity is seeking new recruits before extending into Blackburn, an area in desperate need of support from the charity.

A proud advocate of the volunteering life, Preston branch coordinator Shirley wouldn't think twice if she were to start her journey with Cats Protection today.

But it was merely down to chance she found her passion for animal activism and first became a member of the team.

For when asked to man a stall at her village fete, she fell in love with the charity and went on to dedicate 26 years of her life to volunteering.

"After the fete, I received a call about a cat with new kittens and the charity was desperate for someone to foster them," she said.

Shirley Chisnall has dedicated 26 years of her life to volunteering at Cats Protection. (s)

Shirley Chisnall has dedicated 26 years of her life to volunteering at Cats Protection. (s)

She took the furry clan home and cared for them until they were strong enough to join their new forever homes.

Today she runs the Preston branch, raises awareness of the charity on Facebook and fosters felines at her Lancashire home where tasks range from feeding and cleaning out litter trays to playtime and cuddles on the sofa.

While people can volunteer as little or as much time as they want, life for Shirley is jam-packed.

This volunteering powerhouse works every day of every week of every year, even at Christmas - kitties still need feeding!

Credit: Cats Protection. (s)

Credit: Cats Protection. (s)

Today she's been busy caring for her own foster cats, cleaning litter trays, helping at a charity shop, collecting donated items, visiting the vets, picking up rescued animals, meeting a prospective adopter and - lo and behold - completing paperwork.

Phew!

But for Shirley every last drop of hard work is worth it.

"It's making a difference," she said, "and I love it. I really do love it!"

As part of their latest mission, the Preston team has taken in 14 cats belonging to an elderly lady who was taken into care.

None had been neutered, all were covered in flees and three were pregnant but there was no-one around to look after them. And the branch still has two more to rescue.

"They will be flea-treated, neutered and vaccinated before being adopted into lovely new homes," Shirley said, "so hopefully they'll go on to have happy lives."

Her love of cats began at 21-years-old when a boyfriend bought her a kitten for her birthday.

"I think they're great company and they all have different personalities, just like humans," she said.

"It's a challenge when they come into care, especially when they've lived in a nice home and the owner can no longer look after them.

"The change is stressful and confusing for them so they often suffer from separation anxiety - you hear about cats who sulk and ignore their owners for leaving them to go on holiday!

"Stray cats are easier to handle because they're just grateful for a meal and a warm bed."

Despite the challenges, Shirley is adamant volunteering brings a rainbow of happiness into people's lives.

"The benefits are brilliant: it can help you build skills, there's plenty of free training and it gets you out of the house," she said.

"It's fantastic for anyone with depression as caring for animals is very rewarding and it feels great to be part of a supportive team."

Caroline Burden, the charity's Area Branch Development Manager for the North West of England, said the new East Lancashire group will be up and running as soon as volunteers have been recruited.

Roles will include: coordinator, treasurer, secretary, neutering officer, welfare officer, homing officer and fosterers. All new volunteers will have an induction and a chance to "buddy up" with people from other branches.

Unlike the charity's adoption centres, she added, the branches have no set location so volunteers will be based at home, whether it is fostering cats, organising fund-raising events or answering inquiries from the public.

And Shirley said: "If you prefer to work independently or can't get out of the house, there are many other ways to help - some people make cat blankets or cards to raise money for vet bills - and you can give however much or as little time as you like.

"The main criteria though is to be committed and responsible, and above all enjoy it - that's what will make you a great volunteer."

Anyone interested in being a part of the team should send an email to Caroline.burden@cats.org.uk or call 07792441965 for more information.