Rescue is 'last hope' for cats

Wantagh rescue takes on feral cat problem


It’s no secret that stray and feral cats seem to be in abundance on Long Island. Seaford resident John Debacker, 25, a volunteer cat trapper for several local animal shelters and rescue facilities, attributes the excess of felines to the fact that many are not spayed or neutered.

“A lot of people end up complaining about all the cats on Long Island but then don’t do anything to fix the problem,” Debacker said, adding that many people who want the cats gone end up poisoning or hurting them. To address the problem humanely, people can rent traps from local shelters, bait them with food and bring captured cats to veterinarians who will spay the females and neuter the males. Some vets offer these operations for free, according to Debacker.

Debacker has volunteered in several towns over the past five years, picking up stray, abandoned, sick or injured cats and bringing them to shelters and rescue facilities, including Last Hope Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation and the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter, both in Wantagh, Freeport’s All About Cats and Bobbi and the Strays, and the Long Beach Humane Society Kitty Cove in Island Park.

Debacker first became a trapper when a neighbor moved and left four cats behind. “I pretty much helped trap them [and] bring them to a no-kill shelter in Freeport,” he recalled. “Ever since then, it’s only been busier and busier.” He is a full-time volunteer trapper, and in his free time he is on call with local shelters and rescue operations for other animals in distress, like squirrels and rabbits. Fellow animal lovers make donations to Debacker for his everyday expenses as well as the animals’ veterinary bills. If those bills are particularly large, he will organize a fundraiser to help raise the money.

Long Island lacks spaying and neutering clinics as well as trappers, he said. In a busy week, Debacker can trap as many as 20 cats. “I would like more people to spay or neuter,” he wrote in a text message. “The cat problem is beyond repair at this point, but we can do our best to try and control it.”

In addition to not being spayed and neutered, he said, cats should not be homeless. “They shouldn’t have to live outdoors,” he said. “They didn’t ask to be born into the world.”

Stray and abandoned cats are seen more during spring and summer, because more kittens are born during those seasons, according to Debacker. A female cat can have a half-dozen kittens or more. “Those kittens grow up and have kittens, and then it just keeps getting bigger,” he said.

Last Hope Animal Rescue board member Doreen Simonson, who lives in North Babylon, agreed, and explained that a female cat can have numerous litters each year, so it is important to spay them to help control the population. Even if a female cat has just had a litter and is nursing, she can still get pregnant again.

According to the American Humane Society, sterilization can also improve a cat’s health. Unneutered males are prone to fighting and roaming, according to the organization, and spayed females do not have to protect their litters or roam for food. Female cats will be healthier if they are spayed before they mature sexually, according to the society, which encourages pet owners to work with their veterinarians to decide when their pets should be sterilized.

Kittens must weight at least 2 pounds to be neutered or spayed at Last Hope, according to Simonson. Neutering takes three to four minutes, but spaying — which is major surgery — takes 20 to 30 minutes. Male cats recover quickly, Simonson said, while females should rest for as many as five days.

Sick and injured cats, Debacker said, often suffer from ailments like upper respiratory infections, broken legs or infected teeth. He takes them to local veterinarians as well as shelters and rescues facilities.

Last Hope is a no-kill operation, Simonson said. “Unless they’re very sick, injured [beyond recovery] or they’re dying,” she said. “Then we have to euthanize.”

She has volunteered at Last Hope for nine years. “I actually just needed something to do,” she said. “And once I started doing this, I knew this was what I was meant to do. It was to help rescue animals . . . I love it.”

Last Hope, which has been around since 1981, Simonson said, and has had several locations, is staffed solely by volunteers — more than 150 of them. The cat section tries to hold a veterinary clinic twice a week, when cats can get checked out by veterinarians. The facility runs on grant money — from companies like Petco — and donations, and tries to hold monthly fundraisers. Kittens can be adopted for $125, and adult cats, 7 and older, for $75. Last Hope also has veterinary sponsors, including Companions Animal Hospital in Merrick and Mid Island Veterinary Group in Hicksville.

Simonson said that donating supplies — towels, toys, beds and treats — and time to a local shelter can aid the effort to help cats in need across Long Island.