The intruders snatched almost £4,000 from Gildersome Cat Protection after it was ransacked at about 12.45am this morning.
But manager Diane Mulcahy said that “brutal” CCTV footage shows the raid took just three minutes – and they also made off with a £2,500 donation left to them from one person’s will.
Luckily no cats were injured, but were left in distress after the incident.
Ms Mulcahy said: “They’ve done thousands of pounds worth of damage to the centre.
“They’ve reversed into the gate and broken the padlock. They’ve then taken a sledgehammer and smashed the door.”
She said the intruders tried and failed to gain access to the room where 30 cats, which are waiting for adoption, are kept.
But they managed to find the safe which contained thousands of pounds in donations and funds people had raised for the centre.
Ms Mulcahy said: “There was a cheque from a legacy in there for £2,500.
“It’s hard to comprehend why these people want to do this.”
She added: “Why a cat charity? What’s the reason behind wanting to target an animal charity - or any charity?”
She opened the centre three years ago after realising there was a need in Leeds to help cats in need of a new home.
It is a not-for-profit volunteer-run service. Cats are placed onto a waiting list and when a place becomes available they are put into foster care, and are later adopted.
Appointments with potential owners had to be cancelled today while a clean-up effort was underway.
West Yorkshire Police confirmed that there was a burglary at the Gildersome Lane centre this morning. Its forensics team have attended.
From CCTV footage it appears two youths wearing hoodies carried out the raid after driving up in a large vehicle. It is thought others could have been in the vehicle.
Call police on 101 with any information about the raid.