The interim chief executive of Cats Protection has stepped down three months into a 12-month contract because of “deep-rooted governance concerns” relating to the number of cats kept by the charity’s chair.
Charles Darley said relations between him and Linda Upson and vice-chair Angela Swarbrick had broken down after he raised concerns about Upson keeping 18 cats in a three-bedroom house.
Darley told Third Sector that five other small animal welfare charities and the Association of Dogs & Cats Homes were consulted on the matter and they concluded that they could not generally support keeping 18 cats in a three-bed house on welfare grounds.
He said he had raised the issue with the board but it was only partially investigated by a sub-committee led by Swarbrick.
Darley said Swarbrick failed to properly brief trustees on the government’s cat welfare guidelines referenced in the Animal Welfare Act, which says cats "must be able to display normal behaviour patterns and any need to be housed with or apart from other animals".
He said trustees would not examine whether the chair's three-bed house was suitable for 18 cats and said Swarbrick and the sub-committee instead simply sought assurances that Upson would not add more cats to her home.
Darley said Cats Protection was the only major animal charity in the UK to consider and reject the idea of adopting a code of conduct for trustees.
He said two audit firms shared his view that the charity should have a code of conduct for trustees and an animal welfare audit of cat fosterers, which he said the “board has blocked for several years”.
He said he set out good governance requirements to address the issue on 6 January, but this was not welcomed by trustees.
Darley said this led him to conclude that it was impossible to change the culture and deliver the charity’s 10-year strategy, which repositions Cats Protection as a cat welfare charity for all 10 million cats in the UK, with an absence of trustee support.
Darley said he was concerned about the welfare of the cats, but also the charity’s reputation if it became known that its chair was keeping so many animals in her home.
“Plainly from a leadership point of view it is a cat welfare disaster as we try to ensure other volunteers adhere to the right welfare standards in their private houses while they look after cats,” he said.
Darley joined the charity in October as interim successor to James Yeates, who left in September to take up the top job at the World Federation for Animals, an international membership body for animal protection organisations.
Asked to comment on the points raised by Darley, a spokesperson for Cats Protection said: “We can confirm that Charles is departing the charity and the process to recruit a new chief executive will be getting under way shortly.”