ANIMAL charities have said they ‘cannot cope’ following a huge increase in the number of cats being dumped in East Lancashire.

The warning comes as one rescue group said two kittens and their mother had been abandoned in the middle of a street in a cardboard box covered by bricks.

The volunteers said they had collected 14 cats from ‘emergency situations’ in just two days this week.

Other groups, including the RSPCA, Cats Protection and Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary, said staff and volunteers were struggling to deal with lengthy waiting lists of pets that needed to be re-homed.

They said the number of cases had rocketed in the last year, and feared the problem would only get worse due to the upcoming breeding season and impending benefit reforms affecting homeowners and those with low income.

The three cats found in the cardboard box were spotted in Irene Street, Burnley, and taken to a vet for treatment.

Burnley and Pendle Cats Protection said they were just the latest animals they had been asked to care for.

It has a waiting list of more than 150 cats which owners wanted to get rid of, but only 12 spaces in its foster carers’ homes.

Welfare officer Leanne Laycock said the 14 cats her team collected at the weekend were ‘the most we have ever had in two days’.

She formed the Burnley and Pendle branch, which now has 22 volunteers, in 2009 after kittens were left on her own doorstep in Nelson.

Leanne said: “The number of cases we are dealing with is totally abnormal and very stressful, we can’t cope. We managed to re-home seven at the weekend and have viewings for three more today but we only have space for 12 cats at a time.

“We depend entirely on volunteers opening up their houses and looking after them until we find them a permanent home.”

Leanne said the problem had grown dramatically over the last year, up from just a handful a week needing new homes.

She said: “On average we now get asked to take about 20 cats per week, and last week was even more busy.”

“People, when they’re getting a cat, need to find out more beforehand. Some people take cats in for free, either off the street or from friends who’ve had kittens, and don’t realise the upkeep needed. Females can get pregnant from only four months old and I don’t think people realise they need neutering that young.”

She said the group held 26 fundraisers last year and spent £20,000 on neutering.

Jean Graham, a co-ordinator at Blackburn and District Cats Protection, said her branch had done away with a waiting list because it simply didn’t have enough volunteers to deal with all the requests.

She said: “We get phone calls all day, every day and it’s only going to get worse. The next month or two is breeding season and although neutering is key, funds are limited.

“With the benefits system changing in April, I fear people will have less money to spend on their pets.”

The branch passes on cases it cannot deal with to the RSPCA and Moggies Cat Rescue in Darwen.

Moggies, though, is also full to capacity and Maureen Savage, who runs the centre in her spare time, said she was becoming overwhelmed with requests to take people’s pets.

She said: “Every evening when I get home from work there are always calls from people wanting their cat taken into care. My waiting list is endless.”

Jeanette Ainscough, centre manager at the RSPCA Lancashire East headquarters in Altham Animal Centre, said her inspectors had been constantly busy since Christmas.

She said: “We’ve collected 19 stray cats and five kittens already this year. Our waiting list is 30 at the moment.

“Cats are definitely a big problem compared to other pets, we are being over-run with them.

“The last year has seen numbers peak and I can’t stress enough the need for neutering.”

Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary said its cats department had also been inundated with people struggling after Christmas.

A spokesman said: “The increase we’re finding is mainly to do with people in rented accommodation not being allowed pets.

“More and more people are coming to us with that reason and there’s a real panic because everyone is in the same boat. we’re always full.”