John May, and his rescue cat Blenheim, have joined the UK’s leading cat welfare charity to lead us in changing the world for cats
Cats Protection has welcomed a new Chief Executive to lead our vital work in improving the understanding of cats and making sure every cat has the purrfect home.
John May and his cat Blenheim
We caught up with our new CEO John May to find out his plans for the charity and, most importantly, talk about cats!
Welcome John! Where did you work before joining Cats Protection?
For the last 11 years, I’ve been leading the work of The Duke of Edinburgh's Award around the world – working to support about a million young people in more than 130 countries. It’s been an exciting and immensely rewarding job, but I feel that organisations should not have the same person at the helm forever, so I was beginning to think of what I might want to do next. Then the opportunity to apply for this role came up and I jumped at it.
This will be the first time that I have worked with an animal welfare organisation, so I have a lot to learn. What I do know a bit about, though, is voluntary organisations. Before working for the Duke of Edinburgh Award, I ran a number of charities that also rely upon volunteers and employees working in partnership – and I’ve been a volunteer in Scouting since I was 18. I started as a Cub Leader in Bristol and ended up being the Vice Chair of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement.
A young John with a cat pal
What has drawn you to working with Cats Protection?
I’ve been very fortunate in my career that, ever since I was a young teacher, I’ve always worked for organisations that make a difference to other people. I have benefited profoundly from the charity’s support to cat owners and I am driven, intellectually and emotionally, to support and develop its advocacy for wider feline welfare. With Cats Protection, I have the opportunity to serve and support volunteers and employees, all working to improve the lives of cats.
What are your main priorities for the charity?
I want to spend some time listening to people and getting to understand the charity, its strengths, the opportunities that might be within our grasp and also where, together, we can make improvements. We all have nearly a century of experience on which to build, to make ourselves fit for purpose, so that we can ensure that every cat has their best possible life.
Blenheim enjoying a snooze
Do you have any cats at the moment?
I live in rural Oxfordshire with my partner, Mark, and Blenheim, our adopted rescue cat – or should that be that he adopted us? Blenheim is definitely his own cat. He came to live with us a bit more than a year ago, after the death of Mo, our much-loved white monster, who came to us through the Cherwell Branch of Cats Protection.
Blenheim is not a Cats Protection cat (he came from another local rescue charity), although he seems to be taking a good deal of interest in my conversations with my new Cats Protection colleagues on Teams and Zoom. He’s a black-and-white mog, of indeterminate pedigree (although, I suspect that he would describe himself as a highly refined and urbane, tuxedo wearing VIP – very important puss). He’s very vocal, and you can often hear him chattering around the house, even if he’s not on camera. He has a particular penchant for those cat treat sticks that you buy from well-known supermarkets. And mice. Which he brings into the house and eats fairly noisily.
Have you always been a cat lover? Who are the other cats you’ve had in your life?
I grew up with cats. My mum tells stories of me, as a very young child, curling up alongside our brown Burmese, Septimus, in his basket. He doted on me and I, him. He used to sleep on my bed and was prone to trying to wash my hair with his very raspy tongue. When I first started teaching, in Staffordshire, I bought a house which came with two cats, Jekyll and Hyde. They kept me sane as I struggled with nights of marking and lesson preparation, and moved with me when I got a deputy headship in West Sussex, close to where the National Cat Centre is now.
Then there was Hobbit, a stray who adopted my parents and came to live with me in Sussex, and later moved with me around the country as I gradually took on more management of schools. And, before Mo, there were Chiswick and Chelsea, a mother and daughter, who were both highly territorial and bullied neighbouring cats into terrified submission. Each cat had their own very individual personality – and showed their affection for me in different ways, ranging from purring away on my lap to only acknowledging my existence when I had fed them. I fell in love with them all.
John and Mo
What’s been your proudest moment to date – professionally or personally?
This is going to sound a bit twee, but a couple of years ago, I was awarded the OBE. I took my 13-year-old nephew to the investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle (I was only allowed one guest because of COVID related regulations). It felt very, very special, having my medal pinned onto my chest by Prince William.
Do you have a message for our cat-loving supporters?
I guess it’s a simple one. I look forward to supporting all our supporters, volunteers and employees to the very best of my abilities, as we all work to understand, care for and value cats.