In a league of their own

History of Cats Protection and cats as pets in Britain

source: Justine Hankins
Guardian, Weekend May 4 2002 p69

Cats Protection (CP) is an organization that was set up in London, England, in 1927 to teach the general public about cats and improve their status. It has changed its name from the Cats Protection League.

The way that people see cats has changed since the 19th century, when there were many cats in cities. There was a cat in nearly every home, according to the RSPCA in a publication that came out in 1857. Harrison Weir was an early pioneer in public relations for cats, and he organized the first cat show, at Crystal Palace, London, in 1871.

The Cats Protection League started out at a time when there were no shelters, few urban vets, and rehoming had not begun. One of the organization’s early drives was to ensure that cats were killed humanely, and CP even made an appeal for equipment for chloroforming cats. The organization later advised on cat care in the 1939-1945 war, such as feeding cats using rations, and ensuring they were safe in air raids. The war resulted in a population explosion for feral cats.

Cats became companion animals for ordinary people for the first time during the 1950s. This was partly because ordinary people were better off, and because it was easier to neuter cats, with a drop in the cost and more vets available to do it. Cheap flea and worm treatments and cat food also became available. A later trend towards women working outside the home, and more single-person urban households has tended to favour cats, and more people now prefer cats than dogs.

The position of cats has improved since CP was set up, but cats still need help. CP has 29 shelters and helps some 170,000 cats annually, with 250 voluntary branches. The organization’s phone number is 01403 221919, and it has a website at