Meet the Leeds woman who plays with cats for a living

Jen with Burmese cat Jasper (photo: Mike Powell)
Jen with Burmese cat Jasper (photo: Mike Powell)
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Ever dreamed of spending your evenings looking after cute pets - and getting paid by their owners?

Professional 'cat caller' Jen Paterson, 37, has done just that since setting up her own business caring for feline companions while their owners are away.

Jen, from Meanwood, works full-time as a marketing manager, but spends evenings and weekends visiting several different cats to feed and entertain them when they're home alone.

She started The Kitty Caller four years ago while living in Chapel Allerton, and has seen bookings increase thanks to a boom in pet ownership and a desire to spend more money on our animals' needs.

"I'd always had in mind that I wanted to be a cat sitter, since I was little - my cat when I was growing up absolutely hated going to the cattery, he was so stressed and unhappy when he got home, and I thought one day I am going to look after cats so they don't have to go away!" said Jen, who lives with her partner James.

"I had been completing a marketing degree on an evening after work and decided the moment I handed in my final assignment would be the perfect time to launch my business. I haven't looked back since!"

It took around six months for regular bookings to start coming in, and Jen was supported by the Chapel Allerton Residents' Association (CARA), who helped to promote The Kitty Caller on their social media accounts. In return, Jen offered their members a discount and soon began to build her reputation.

"Along with lots of social media interaction on Twitter and thanks to wonderful local businesses in Chapel Allerton who displayed my business cards on their counters, I soon started to get enquiries coming through. It didn't take long before I was getting repeat bookings from happy kitty owners and pretty soon I was receiving a booking every week. It's amazing really and I still get a little buzz every time I receive a booking."

Jen restricts her calls to Meanwood, Chapel Allerton and Roundhay to maintain her work-life balance, and describes the cat owners as a 'real mix' who need company for their pet while they are on holiday or travelling for work.

"I get families, couples and individuals. For the most part it's people who go on holiday - it adds to my holiday wish list when I hear about the amazing places people go to! I love mini calls too, it's fab getting to pop in on my favourite cats when their owners need to go away for business or to see family."

Gone are the days of asking a neighbour to pop in once a day to feed your cat while you're on holiday - Jen offers an all-round care package with plenty of playtime and social interaction, and she thinks that the trend for turning pets into social media stars has filtered down to owners, who now want to pamper their cats and ensure that all of their needs are met.

"Pets are very much a huge part of people's lives. You only have to scroll through Instagram or Facebook to see videos of cute kittens or the latest accessory such as kangaroo pouch kitty carriers or fancy dress. There are a lot of people who have so much more disposable income these days and they are definitely happy to spend it on their furry friends."

A typical house call will involve Jen undertaking tasks such as feeding and emptying litter trays, but she also stays in the house to entertain the moggies and even send photo updates to their owners.

"Once all the jobs are out of the way I like to spend time with them and make sure I have a happy puss on my hands. I always send lots of pictures to their owners whilst they're away, so I snap away quite a lot! Every cat is different - some just love play time. Some just like me to be nearby but they want to do their own thing, and others just love curling up on my lap and getting chin tickles and strokes."

She often adheres to the cats' established routines, which range from watching a favourite TV programme to drinking from the tap.

"I was introduced to raw cat food in the first years of doing my kitty calling - it definitely brought out the baser instincts in one particular cat who thought I was trying to steal her prey. I got out fairly unscathed and lived to tell the tale!

"There are so many things I love about cat calling. One of the best things is when a kitty is quite timid and scared of new people; after a few days you make a connection with them and eventually they trust you enough. It takes a lot of time and patience with some cats, so its makes my heart burst when they do! Receiving a good review has to be the icing on the cake, for someone to take the time to write such lovely words about my service is really touching.

"The worst aspect of the job has to be that I can't take them home with me."

Jen normally visits six cats per week, and experiences huge spikes in demand over the Christmas period.

"The busiest time of year by far is Christmas, I get so excited for it every year - I love getting up on Christmas morning and going off to see their little faces. I always take them a special little festive kitty treat and I honestly don't think Christmas would be the same without them. I always get bookings over the summer months as families and teachers are jetting off to sunnier climates.

"I have learned so much about my limits, how to plan the best routes and the areas to avoid in rush hour. I have great work hours which really helps and a really supportive partner who helps me balance things out when work commitments do arise.

"The biggest lesson I learned fairly quickly was to know my personal limits and get the work/life balance right. I had to make some really tough decisions and say goodbye to some kitties that I loved so dearly - but it was certainly the right choice and these days I only call to Chapel Allerton, Meanwood and Roundhay.

"I absolutely love kitty calling and so getting up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday and Sunday doesn't faze me as I thought it might, and really it just fits right in around meeting a friend for coffee in the afternoon or a drink in the evening.

"Running my own business brings me so much happiness and empowerment, when I see something I have built flourish in the way it has, it doesn't ever feel like I'm sacrificing my free time. I hope it continues for many years to come."

Follow Jen on Instagram @thekittycaller or on Facebook here.

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