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The Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week: Debbie Knudsen

Published on

Cathy Dobson

The Sarnia Journal’s Exceptional Person of the Week runs every Friday. If you would like to nominate someone, send their name and the reason you think they are exceptional to [email protected] Please include your own name and number too.

Sarnia’s Debbie Knudsen knows all the tricks to trap a cat humanely. Sardines and tuna work well. And a trail of fish oil leading to the trap often helps.

She should know.

For over two years, Knudsen has spent long days working to get the community’s feral cat problem under control based on a philosophy called TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release).

“I constantly get messages about litters,” says the retired educator. “It’s everywhere and it’s all the time. There are some farms in Lambton County with 50 or more cats and the colonies are growing.”

Knudsen’s first rescues were on London Line after she saw a Facebook post about a number of kittens near a dumpster. She immediately found them and brought food for what turned out to be an entire colony of feral cats.

“It was freezing and I was so worried,” she said. Six days later, with the help of a local volunteer group called Cat Chance, she was able to trap about 12 cats. That began a collaboration that has grown into nearly a full-time commitment for Knudsen.

She manages the Cat Chance Facebook page, assists with adoptions, takes cats to get spayed or neutered, and fosters many. It’s not unusual for Knudsen and her husband to drive to London with as many as a dozen cats to get fixed by a vet there.

Her motivation comes from seeing rescues successfully adopted.

“We have a small but formidable team of people who step up to foster and nurse them back to health if necessary,” she said. “The problem is finding permanent homes.”

Many rescued cats and kittens are in rough shape.

“There are so many strays and abandoned cats out there right now,” Knudsen said. “But what keeps me going are the people in our community who really want to help cats. It’s so rewarding.”

Recently, she received a call from a friend who saw a dog with a three-week-old kitten in its mouth. She took the kitten from the dog’s mouth and thought she saw tooth punctures. But the wounds turned out to be a bot fly larvae infestation, a problem that plagues many feral felines. Knudsen spent five weeks nursing the kitten back to health and feeding it with a bottle. It fully recovered and was adopted out this week.

“In the end, I’d say the dog saved her life by carrying her around,” Knudsen said. Feral cats aren’t necessarily wild or vicious, she explained. “They are just not socialized. Many make wonderful pets and we find permanent homes for them.”

Others that can’t adapt to indoor living are neutered, their ears are tipped to indicate they can’t reproduce, and they are released back where they were found. Feral cats are a problem in virtually every Sarnia neighbourhood. And abandoned kittens turn up regularly in rural Lambton. Knudsen said she works in partnership with two other rescue groups in Alvinston and Petrolia that are trying to make a dent in their feral population.

Cat Chance founder LeeAnne Symington estimates her grassroots group has trapped and neutered about 7,000 cats since it started in 2013. Knudsen’s work with Cat Chance is exceptional, says Symington.

“This kind of work is never simple. It takes a lot of passion and dedication. “Debbie takes on so much,” she said. “For her, it’s just about all day every day, starting in the morning and not ending until she goes to bed.”

To find out more about fostering, adopting, volunteering or donating to Cat Chance, check out their Facebook page.

Email [email protected], or write Cat Chance, c/o 260 Indian Rd. South, Box 30014, Sarnia ON. N7T 0A7.

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