What it’s really like... running a cattery!


14 January 2022
We go behind the scenes to find out if running a cattery is the dream job for cat lovers.

It sounds like the dream job for any cat-lover, doesn’t it? Surrounded by beautiful cats all day, popping in to give them a cuddle or play with them whenever you, and they, feel like it. 

We’ve been talking to cattery owners about whether the job really is a dream-come-true — and if there are any tips and hints they could give to any Your Cat readers who are wondering whether it might be the career for them…

“It’s a total way of life”

Chantal Barford runs The Cat’s Whiskers boarding cattery in Feltham, on the outskirts of London.
Her cattery is a small, one-woman operation with room for a maximum of 26 cats, and that’s the way Chantal likes it.

“It’s not a job, it’s a total way of life,” she says. “I never, ever think ‘I wish I hadn’t done this!’   

“I love the house and the garden and I’m proud of the business I have built up, giving all the cats really personal attention. Where cats are concerned, there is always something new to learn. I love getting to know each individual and their likes and dislikes. One animal’s personality can affect the whole cattery! Some cats will really empathise with others in distress. I’ve learned to put young kittens in a pen next to an ‘old boy’ who will be a kind of ‘dad’ to them, and that male and female cats can be really different!”

So, how did it all start? 

The Cat’s Whiskers opened in 2006 after a tough couple of years for Chantal.

“I had been made redundant from my job,” she explained, “and I had done voluntary work with animals, so I did some research when I was thinking what I could do next. I felt comfortable with cats. The Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB), as it was then, had a booklet on running a cattery, and I thought it was something I could do.”

Finding the right premises and setting it up was complex and quite difficult for Chantal, as she dealt with Councils and planning permission. “I sold my house to raise the money and spent a year finding the right place,” she remembers. “I lived in a bedsitter while I looked round for somewhere with a large garden, side access, and a kitchen area.

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“When I found the place, I put in a planning application. It took another whole year before my plans were accepted, including talking to councillors, my MP, the Planning Committee, and even the Secretary of State! Some people objected on the grounds of ‘smell’ and ‘noise’ but eventually permission was granted. Then I wanted the building completed as soon as possible. It was a stressful period but also very exciting! 

“When I was ready, I did a leaflet drop and advertised with local vets’ and pet shops, and the local newspaper, as well as getting on to the FAB list. Now, of course, with the internet, it’s much easier to spread the word!”

Running a cattery is not a 9 — 5 job.“I never stop, but I don’t mind!” Chantal says. “It’s a full day; up at eight to have my breakfast and feed the cats. Then I spend a couple of hours on admin, answering the phone and emails, then another two hours cleaning all the cabins. Between 10 and 12, I’m open for customers to bring in or collect their cats. Both the house and the cattery have to be really clean. If the garden was untidy or I looked scruffy,
no-one would want to leave their cat with me. I’m marketing myself and the cattery the whole time and like things neat!

“I try to take a break at 12 to go to the gym as it’s important that I stay fit and strong. After that, I spend an hour with the cats, talking and playing with them. Even ten minutes with each cat soon adds up to an hour and a half! The cats get their supper between 4 and 5 and after that it’s my supper time. I don’t get a lot of time for socialising — you need understanding friends! And a support system in case I’m ever ill, though I tend to just get on with it.”

So, are there any downsides, apart from the lack of social life?

“The customers who want to come and deliver or collect their cats at any time, day or night,” says Chantal. “There’s a reason we have opening hours. We have so much else to do, as well as booking cats in and out! But most of my clients now are regulars whose cats I’ve cared for from kittenhood to old age. I let people know exactly when they should come in and what they should bring in an email. It’s important for both me and the owners that they read it! I’ve found that it helps to know other cattery owners and I also have a local vet who supports me. But I love the job and the cats. I am as enthusiastic and passionate about what I do as I was right at the start!”

Read the rest of the feature in the February 2022 issue. Buy the latest digital edition and read instantly on your computer, mobile or tablet device.

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