Monday afternoon and spring sunshine creep into Ansell Avenue, a quiet suburban street in Chatham, the Medway town where Charles Dickens once lived.
With carefully mowed grass verges, flowering trees and neat semi-detached houses, it is pleasant to live here.
Two well-groomed cats laze in the sun on a terracotta threshold. Everything seems fine, but ominously their owner – a lady who prefers not to be named for fear of reprisals – tells the Mail that Florence and Boofy have been showing signs of distress in recent weeks. And for good reason, it seems.
When the Post came to visit, the residents of this quiet street were enjoying the first day of the Easter holiday weekend.
However, the night tells a different story. From dusk, Ansell Avenue and its immediate surroundings are terrorized by a crime wave that proves to be as inexplicable as it is unsolvable.
Natasha McPhee, CEO of the Animals Lost and Found rescue group, with her cat Lola who was taken by Chatham’s phantom cat shaving machine and had her belly shaved
A cat who was taken and shaved earlier this year, leaving him with nasty cuts on his back
The perpetrator—or, more likely, the perpetrators—almost certainly lives nearby, making the epidemic all the more chilling. The serial criminal’s modus operandi is terribly distinctive.
At least one animal rescue group has received dozens of reports of cats abducted, shaved and then returned to their owners, sometimes with bits of fur missing from their undersides.
In the most extreme cases, owners report that their cats are completely shaved — to the extent that they resemble hairless Sphynx cats.
Similar cases have been reported to animal welfare charities and police across Britain in recent weeks. Incidents have occurred in Brighton and Birmingham, and even as far north as Aberdeen.
The epicenter of the outbreak is undoubtedly Ansell Avenue, where at least half a dozen cats have been sheared in recent weeks. Here, cat owners — and, understandably, their cats — live in fear, knowing that it may not be long before electric clippers are used again.
Take Ozzy. He lives on the street and has shaved seven times in the past year.
Its concerned owner, a young mother, Donnamarie Ellis, told the Mail: “It’s incredibly scary. At first we thought he had been attacked by another cat. But it’s not just one patch. The fur has come off in pieces.
“We try to keep Ozzy in the house, especially after dark, but he still manages to escape. Every time he gets out he comes back with extra patches missing – looks like someone has a beard trimmer and is shaving him. There’s something very strange about it.’
Donnamarie has reported the shaving episodes but has been told there is nothing Kent police can do as no criminal offense has occurred.
Shaving a cat is not considered a crime. But Donnamarie said, ‘It’s animal cruelty and that’s a crime. The RSPCA is persecuting people all the time. The truth is the police don’t care and they just want to kick me off.”
If these disturbing episodes were one-offs and Ozzy was the only local cat fouled by the phantom shaver, the evidence might suggest only one person is involved.
But reports of similar attacks – copycat attacks, perhaps – have been pouring in to local welfare organizations across the country.
A cat that was shaved by the phantom cat shaver, leaving a huge blank patch of fur on its back
A cat whose belly has been shaved by the Phantom Cat Saver
A cat that was taken and shaved earlier this year, leaving it with bald patches of fur on its paws
Poor cat George, who was shaved by the phantom shaver in Kent
It is feared the elusive attacker is targeting house cats with clippers and cruelly removing their fur
A report on the crime spree even made it to the foreign affairs pages of the Washington Post last month.
Meanwhile, Natasha McPhee, CEO of Kent rescue group Animals Lost and Found, has methodically compiled a map of all cat shearing incidents in the UK.
In Kent alone, she has found that the number of attacks has reached nearly 100 in the past year.
One owner, fundraiser Linda Rollason, who now lives in the West Midlands, told the Mail that two of her cats have been shaved. One, Biscuit, was taken from her then home in Brighton – before the shaver hit again.
“When I moved here, one of Biscuit’s kittens, Spook — she’s all white and looks like a ghost — was also kidnapped and shaved. It was horrible — and I was furious,” Linda said.
Natasha McPhee first became aware of this extraordinary phenomenon about five years ago when one of her cats, Lola, came home freshly shaved and clearly traumatized.
“After that, Lola had trouble peeing,” says Natasha, who cares for a menagerie of rescue dogs and cats with her partner Dee Potter.
“We took her to the vet, who told us that in cats, this is a clear sign of fear—aside from the marks left by the person who shaved her.
“Even now you can still see it – the spot that was shaved grew back with curly fur. We were of course very unhappy with what happened.’
Since mapping the attacks, Natasha has built up a picture of the shaver or shavers’ methods. She is convinced they are using a handheld. battery-powered, cordless trimmer.
“A mobile generator would make too much noise,” she said.
Most attacks seem to occur at night. Natasha has considered several motives: “We thought it could be a TikTok fad and kids shaving the cats in their area for fun.
“But the thing is, TikTok craziness always involves a certain amount of narcissism — it’s only fun when your face is on it.
And no one would want to be filmed shaving a cat because they would end up being identified. It is more likely that I am convinced that some of these people have a sinister hatred of cats.
“Sometimes when I posted details on social media about the latest attacks, I saw brash, horrible, anonymous comments. Things like, “I hate cats because they kill birds”; “I hate cats because they shit in my yard”; “I hate cats because they tear up my flowers.”
‘Yes, they could, but maybe these people should spend more time in their garden and the cats should stay away. Unlike dogs, cats tend to keep to themselves.’
A map showing where the phantom cat shaver has struck in Kent and South East London
Traumatized: Ansell Avenue in Kent – where some of these felines were taken away and shaved
Some people on Ansell Avenue are still treating the epidemic as a joke, asking our reporter and photographer if it was a belated April Fool’s joke.
One resident said with a grin on his face, ‘We all know it’s really important to have a hobby. To each his own, I say.’
Natasha understandably doesn’t see the funny side of it. She has met many of the devastated cat owners whose pets have been returned not only with their fur shaved, but sometimes with injuries.
And Samantha Watson, a cat behavior expert for the RSPCA, told the Mail: “They’ll find the process of being held and shaved very distressing, especially because it’s done by a stranger.”
Natasha fears that cat shaving could turn out to be what criminologists and law enforcement experts call a “gateway” crime that could lead to much more serious crimes.
While animal charities such as the RSPCA and Cats Protection are taking the attacks seriously, so far no one has been taken to court in Kent or anywhere else in the UK.
As for the police, a spokesman suggested that it should be up to the RSPCA to deal with it, as it is the ‘lead agency’ in prosecuting cruelty and animal welfare cases.
But the RSPCA pointed out that the charity receives millions of calls each year from people concerned about animal cruelty, adding: ‘We have to prioritize the emergencies.’ Needless to say, this is far from the first cat-related crime spree this country has seen over the years.
In 2021, Brighton security officer Steven Bouquet was jailed for five years for stabbing nine cats to death and mutilating a further seven cats over several months.
He was eventually caught on CCTV injuring a cat with a knife and leaving a trail of blood. Known as the Brighton Cat Killer, he died of cancer last year. Another series of gruesome attacks – initially thought to be the work of a human killer operating in South London’s Croydon, maiming or killing hundreds of cats – was eventually attributed to foxes. Police spent more than £130,000 on the three-year investigation.
Natasha is convinced that these shaving attacks have the potential to become something much more serious. “Who knows if shaving cats is some kind of sexual fetish?” she said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are groups secretly shaving cats on the dark web. They’re not going to call themselves “cat razors.” They will have a much more innocent name, like Feline Enthusiasts for example.
“They’re much smarter than that – but they really need to be called out.”
For the residents and cats of Ansell Avenue – and elsewhere in Britain – the day the perpetrators are caught can’t come too soon.
Right now, though, the cats and their owners look like they’re heading into the spring and summer months, cooped up in their home, huddled in the shadows of a relentless set of battery-powered clippers.