Three-bedroomed Derby semi is home to 20 cats - with video
TWENTY cats have been allowed to make an empty three-bedroomed semi in a leafy Derby suburb their home.
The living room is populated by sleeping animals, the kitchen has become a wash room for blankets and human home comforts, such as the television, have been replaced by pet toys and scratching posts.
And the felines have a team of dedicated volunteers who go into the Littleover house every day to look after them.
The purrfect pad was made possible thanks to animal-lovers Shirley and Michael Maynard, who began adopting sick cats in the 1980s. In 1997, they set up the St Francis Hospice for Cats charity to help cover the costs of food and vet bills. At one point, they had 64 cats.
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After Michael died and Shirley moved into a care home, a board of trustees was set up to continue their work and the couple's house was given to the remaining cats. But now the charity faces an uncertain future as the trustees wait to hear whether the house will remain in the possession of the cats.
Dana Demidoff, one of the charity's trustees, said: "It's a worrying time for us. We know that Shirley cared very deeply for the cats and that's why she set up this charity in her own home. But legalities might force us to close.
"This house is a safe haven for elderly or poorly cats who live their final days in peace and quiet. We come in and look after them."
More than 20 volunteers help out at the house – which attracts worldwide interest from animal lovers.
Fans from as far away as Australia, Thailand, America and China send money to help fund its running costs, which total around £30,000 a year, with the biggest expense being medication.
There are cats in every room of the house. The felines have taken over what used to be Shirley and Michael's sitting room, perching on windowsills, sleeping on sofas and curling up in cat beds.
The floor is tiled to help keep the place clean and there are cat beds and toys around the house.
In the kitchen, the washing machine is in regular use as the blankets need a hot wash and the cupboards stock vital equipment.
Upstairs, Shirley and Michael's furniture has been taken away and instead it is a store area for cat food and medication.
In an extension to the back of the house, more cats sleep by radiators. The soothing sound of a water fountain adds to the feeling of calm.
Volunteer Gill Andrews visits four times a week to keep the house tidy. Her first task is to check on the cats and make sure they are all ok. She reads the note left by the last volunteer, feeds all the cats, empties their litter trays and then starts cleaning the rooms.
When that's done, she grabs a big, soft brush and sits and grooms some of them. The 46-year-old from Belper, has volunteered for the charity for the past 11 years.
"The cats love it when I brush them," she said. "I try and get everything done and then I find time to sit with them and give them some love."
Mr and Mrs Maynard opened their home to poorly cats following an outbreak of the feline version of HIV – FIV – and many of the cats that live there now suffer from the virus.
When Michael died in 2008, Shirley – who was given a Derby Telegraph Community Champion award for Kindness to Animals – carried on looking after the cats with the support of volunteers.
Then Shirley's health began to falter so volunteers formed a board of trustees to continue looking after the cats and run fund-raising events.
But the trustees have recently discovered that Shirley's will does not leave the house to the cats and she is now too ill to make changes to her bequest.
Dana said: "It's complicated but we have decided not to take in any more cats until we know more.
"We think Shirley would have wanted to leave the hospice to the cats but maybe she didn't get round to making her wishes known. Now she's not well enough."
The hospice welcomes gifts of money, blankets, food, cat litter and toys. For details, call Derby 272139 or visit www.sfhfc.org.uk.