The longest wait: the cats that may never find a home

The Scratching Post cat sanctuary in Waltham Abbey is wonderful place for abandoned cats, but for every animal that is rescued here, there are hundreds that aren’t so lucky.

“The waiting list for cats to come in is currently 45 A4 pages long,” says founder and charity manager Susan Delaney. But there are not 45 pages of potential owners wanting to take these cats home.

Susan, along with staff and volunteers, do everything they can for the cats. No healthy cats are put to sleep, unless their vets advise that there is no hope of them having a good standard of life.

The Scratching Post can house up to 80 cats and kittens at any one time. Susan is well versed at spotting the ones who will get re-homed quickly, and the ones that may never find someone to take them.

The site is pristine, and each cat is well looked after, and that means expensive vet bills. A cat costs on average £300 to £1,000 per stay. All cats are neutered, vaccinated, wormed, de-flead and many need dental treatment or surgery.

Tommy is a 10-year-old with a prescription diet for renal problems.


You don’t have to be an animal behaviourist to tell that Tommy looked a little sad. Fed up. His chin was resting on the side of his basket. Eyes open, but looking down. But, as soon as the cage door was opened, Tommy came alive, and nuzzled my hand for a stroke.

He’s been at the sanctuary a while. People tend to want cats with bright colours, not black cats or black and white cats. People definitely don’t want 10-year-old black and white cats that eat special food because they have kidney problems.

Never buy kittens from pet shops

Despite the fact there are thousands of unwanted kittens and cats in the UK each year, people still go to pet shops to purchase kittens, rather than rehoming a rescue animal. The horrifying truth is that many pet shops will not display the kittens that aren’t deemed cute enough, such as the black kittens. These kittens are often abandoned.

“Everyone wants the youngest kittens, but they often don’t realise that they can be hard work,” Susan says.

“People seem surprised that kittens are so lively and people can’t cope with them running up the curtains or knocking things over. Some of them end up here.”

During the recession, the amount of animals being abandoned increased as people were being evicted from their homes. Yet people still bought kittens from pet shops.

A timid, young black cat has recently had an operation to have his eye removed. It was a costly operation, and Susan admits it will be difficult to find him a home. He’s scared of people, so he will need a patient, gentle owner.


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Columbo: in need of a patient owner

The sanctuary is located near the Woodbine Inn, Woodgreen Lane. It seems totally inaccessible by public transport, as it’s three miles from a train station and although there is a bus stop nearby, it bears no timetable, and no information on destinations.

It’s the only sanctuary around after Chestnut cat sanctuary in Epping closed down, and the request for admissions at the Scratching Post is constantly growing.

One cat can produce 20,000 offspring in five years

Susan cannot stress enough the importance of getting animals neutered. Every admission could be avoided if only people prevented their cats from breeding.

“An unneutered female cat can produce 20,000 kittens in just five years,” says Susan. “And breeding is a horrible process. Unneutered male cats can rip the females to pieces, while feral females can reject their kittens, or harm them.”

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Scorpio and Romeo need to be homed together

An isolation room has been built on site. It is ideal for stray pregnant cats , who can destroy their litter if they feel threatened, or those recovering from operations.

A lot of cats that are brought in are from young couples that buy kittens as ‘baby substitutes’, but then split up, or move to a place run by a landlord who doesn’t allow cats. Many are given up when they are no longer considered kittens, such as two five-month-old siblings housed here. One of the kittens purrs as soon as the cage door is opened.

cat and kitten tortie


“Everybody wants the kittens. Even people that come looking for an older cat, get drawn in by the ones that are younger or more colourful,” says Susan. She has written a book named after the sanctuary, told from the point of view of the cat. It highlights many of the misconceptions about the species that Susan has encountered.

Housing crisis affects cats 

The amount of animals abandoned has increased as more and more people are renting, and most landlords do not allow pets. It may be no coincidence that the number of cats and dogs being abandoned has risen as the proportion of people renting, instead of buying houses has increased.

The sanctuary has recently added a vet’s room so the animals do not have to travel far to get treatment. The room was built on donations, and the sanctuary relies on contributions and hard-working staff and volunteers to do its job. Many cats that come here are in a poor condition, in need of a lot of expensive treatment. Vets bills are enormous.

Beautiful Tommy is still looking for a home. If you’re thinking about giving an older cat a home, or would like to donate, click here.

Long-term resident Charlie is a former heavyweight boxer

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