‘Feral Buster’ volunteer dedicates love, time, effort to helping strays
Cat concerns? Who you gonna call? Well, probably not Ghost Busters, but maybe Feral Busters — aka Debbie Smith. She will answer your call for help with feral cats.
Working under Snippet Citrus, a nonprofit, all-volunteer group that raises money to provide low-cost spays and neuters, Smith performs a service that many residents don’t know about.
Since October is Feral Cat Month, it’s a good time to make people aware of how Feral Busters is gradually reducing their population, eliminating some of the problems and behaviors that people might find objectionable, and allowing these cats to live happier, healthier lives in our community.
Smith lives in Citrus County with her husband of 35 years, along with five cats, including one that’s feral.
After relocating here from Michigan in 1988, she became involved with various animal advocacy groups, including rescue groups, and began fostering adoptable cats and kittens and finding forever homes for them.
She’s a Navy veteran and served as a 911 dispatcher for the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office for 25 years before retiring three years ago.
“I spent the majority of my life saving human lives, so now it’s time to save animals’ lives,” Smith said. She joined Snippet in 2014 in order to provide this important service to the community. Hence, the birth of Feral Busters.
So just exactly what does Smith do? Studies show that the best, most humane way to deal with feral cats is to have them spayed and neutered, and that’s the goal of Feral Busters.
According to spayusa.org, by spaying or neutering just one male and one female cat, more than 2,000 unwanted births can be prevented in only four years! Feral Busters has spayed or neutered over 1,100 feral cats and is still going strong.
Smith will come to the aid of any resident who wants to do the right thing for these cats by getting them fixed. For $10 per cat, she will trap them, transport them to a veterinarian where they will be altered, given a rabies vaccination and ear-tipped, then return them to their home ground. Smith said she has had an entire street of neighbors chip in to have all the feral cats altered.
“Everyone wants healthier, happier and less-aggressive cats in their neighborhood,” she said. “And certainly fewer kittens!”
There are occasions when a feral cat has a medical issue that must be dealt with, and there is a small medical fund for that. On top of everything else she does, Smith collects cans for cash redemption to add to this fund. Sometimes appreciative feral cat caretakers will also add to the fund.
If the feral cats cannot be spayed/neutered right away, Smith will hold them until their surgery is scheduled. She turned a spare bedroom into a “cat room,” where she has steel cages and cat carriers stacked and waiting for the next furry feral.
“I used to have the cages in my garage until a feral cat went into the engine of the car one day and it took hours to get it out —that was when we decided to make the bedroom cat proof and get the garage back,” Smith said.
Besides all the work trapping the cats, there’s the cleanup: Every cage, every trap and every food or water dish has to be sanitized with bleach and the towels or blankets used to cover the cages (to reduce stress on the cat) must be laundered.
“Some cats are intelligent enough to make you think outside the box. As a matter of fact,” she said, “speaking of boxes, I took one of those huge appliance cardboard boxes and cut holes so I can see out of it. Now I have a place to hide when I set the trap.” Smith prefers to use a baited wooden drop trap with a string that she pulls to drop the door after a cat enters. Sometimes she sits in the cardboard box, or behind a bush, for hours waiting for the feral cats to go into the trap. When asked if she can read a book while waiting, she said she can’t do anything but watch the trap since the cats are so wary. Timing is everything.
“One Easter Sunday, I spent 10 hours trapping at one location,” she said.
Despite the challenges and the long hours, there are some funny moments. Smith related a story about trapping a colony at one of the local grocery stores. Some of the cats had the telltale left ear tip, indicating they had already been neutered. She and two other volunteers from Snippet were down to the remaining three cats. All of a sudden, one of the street-smart, ear-tipped felines entered the trap, grabbed the sardines and tossed them out of the trap for all the others to enjoy. Then there was the time she trapped a tom cat that was so big he was able to drag the trap away. Smith had to jump on top of it to hold it down, calling for the client to come and help her.
Her hard work also has its rewards. Smith recalled a time when she returned two 4-month-old kittens to the wooded area where they lived. They were quiet at first, but then started calling their mom and the rest of their family. Hearing their calls, the other cats in the group responded, and watching them reunite was very heartwarming.
Each cat that is spayed or neutered will, in time, save thousands of lives, Smith said.
“Just knowing that I am doing my part to help make our community a better place to live for both people and animals — it’s my way of giving back to the community,” she said.
October is Feral Cat Month. To reach Feral Busters for help with feral cats, or to donate or volunteer, call Snippet Citrus at 352-436-4268.