Meet the women who deliver joy in Surrey and Sussex


Delivery vehicles are a familiar sight these days but Jo Downing and Debbie Eyre are delivering something far more exciting than groceries or takeaways in their vans; they are bringing the gift of joy to families across Surrey and Sussex.

The Cats Protection carers are delivering rescue cats to their furr-ever home, as part of the national charity’s successful new Hands-Free Homing process.

Retired systems developer Jo, 59 from Blindley Heath near Lingfield in Surrey, has been volunteering for the charity since 2018 and was delighted when the launch of Hands-Free Homing meant she could resume her volunteering duties, but this time as a driver.

She said: “I’ve been volunteering as a cat carer at the National Cat Adoption Centre in East Sussex for two years and it’s something I love doing, so it was hard when volunteering had to stop due to lockdown. When I was asked if I’d like to become a delivery driver for the new Hands-Free Homing scheme, I jumped at the chance.

“After some training to ensure that the deliveries followed government guidelines on social distancing, I was off. It’s such an amazing thing to do – people are so overjoyed so see their new cat – I really am delivering joy!

“One of my most memorable deliveries was Sootie who was exceedingly overweight when she arrived at the NCAC. She’d lost a few kilos during her time at the adoption centre, but is still on the large side so had to be transported in a large cage as she wouldn’t fit into a standard cat basket.”

Fellow volunteer Debbie, 58, of Burgess Hill, Sussex, has three cats of her own, so appreciates the value they brings to homes. She said: “Cats are such wonderful companions and I cannot imagine life without them. I love being involved with this new process; everyone has been so happy to receive their new cat. I can sometimes hear the cat in the back of the van and I like to talk to them and let them know they are nearly home.

“I arrived at one house and the owner was watching through the upstairs window, waiting for me to arrive. At another, I arrived at the same time as a lorry delivering a hoover – I felt quite sorry for the delivery man as they basically ignored him.”

In normal times, Debbie volunteers at the National Cat Centre, overseeing paperwork for new admissions and adoptions. She said: “I cannot wait to get back to my usual role so I can learn how the cats I delivered are getting on. When you have direct contact with a cat you always want to know more afterwards. It’s nice to see all the cats and watch their progress and it’s wonderful to be part of an amazing charity and get to know everyone too.”

Since the start of the lockdown, Cats Protection has homed 2,518 by Hands-Free Homing, which enables people to meet and adopt cats while adoption centres remain closed to the public. The process matches a cat’s needs with the lifestyle of an interested cat lover and if compatible, the cat is safely delivered to its new home.

While much of Cats Protection’s work was paused during lockdown following government advice, the contactless Hands-Free Homing process has been a tremendous success, allowing thousands of families to welcome new cats into their homes.

Additionally, many Cats Protection shops have reopened, while other outlets have started trading on eBay. Strict cleaning and social distancing will be maintained and new stock will be held back from the shop floor for 72 hours before going on sale.