July 2015 Mi-PACA: Michigan’s Political Action Committee for Animals
Mi-PACA: Michigan’s Political Action Committee for Animals choose Debra Westerhof as their July spotlight!
Congratulations to Debra Westerhof of Ottawa County’s A Feral Haven, our July Advocate Spotlight!
Debra was nominated by her peers for her tireless work to help community cats and to bring TNR (Trap Neuter Return) programs and services to Ottawa County and beyond.
When four friends Carleen Everett-Bauer, Sara Bennett, Christina DeConinck and Debra Westerhof learned that there were no services or programs for community cats, or for the people who want to help them, in their area, they banded together to advocate for change and they founded A Feral Haven.
A Feral Haven partners with community cat caregivers in Ottawa County to care for feral cats by providing property for the cats to live on, spaying and neutering, shelter and food.
“There weren’t any groups helping feral cats in Ottawa County,” Debra said. “Harbor Humane Society no longer accepts feral cats unless they are injured. We want people to call us for help.”
Community cats are better staying where they are, Debra says. “Because they’re not adoptable, there’s no place for them. Those are the cats normally euthanized.”
Debra’s foray into the world of animal welfare began seven years ago when five kittens were born under her deck and the mom cat died three days after delivery. She reached out to Harbor Humane Society, where she learned what to do for the newborns, and from then on was an active volunteer for Harbor. Her vet and neighbor, Dr. Eric Heitman from Ottawa Animal Hospital, stopped by every morning to check on the kittens’ progress.
“It took a village, but all of the kittens thrived,” Debra said. “I started learning about dogs too, but found my passion was helping the neonate kittens. Most people can’t take animals to work with them, but I can. It is very time consuming and it is hard feeding in the middle of the night, but it is very rewarding to see the look in the eyes of the new family when they adopt their best friend.”
A bit about Debra:
“I have been married for 43 years and raised three beautiful children. My husband and I both opened our own businesses over 20 years ago. We currently live in and operate Pine Ridge Assisted Living Facility in West Olive, Michigan, and are licensed for 19 adults with mental illness, developmental disabilities and other issues that require help with daily living activities.
“My passion for animals is brought to my business and the animals are shared with my residents. Raven, my 6-year-old pit mix dog, was adopted from Harbor Humane Society and works with me every day. I continue to bottle feed kittens for Harbor and my residents socialize them as they grow. I have five adult cats, all bottle fed as infants, who are in charge of the homestead.”
Debra currently serves as Treasurer on the Board of Directors for A Feral Haven and also as Treasurer on the Board of Harbor Humane Society. In addition to her leadership roles, Debra continues to foster bottle-fed kittens in her home. So far, she has bottle-fed more than 415 neonate kittens.
When asked what she is most proud of, Debra doesn’t hesitate: “I am proud of founding A Feral Haven. It has been a goal of our founders Carleen Bauer, Sara Bennett, Christina DeConinck and myself for a long time. Community cats are an overlooked group and need people to support them. Most rescues focus on the more easily adoptable companion animals, but community cats don’t fit that box.”
Debra adds that some groups estimate there to be an equal number of community cats to companion cats in every town.
“At A Feral Haven, we feel that every cat deserves to be healthy, have food, shelter and a safe place to live. We fundraise, apply for grants and receive donations to offer vouchers to provide spay/neuter, distemper, rabies, ear tipping and a microchip to the people caring for these cats. Local pet stores donate food for us to share. When we can, we remove 4-week-old kittens from their colony, socialize them and they are adopted through Harbor Humane Society and become indoor cats and family pets. When finances allow, we would like to purchase 20-40 acres as a sanctuary for cats that can’t stay in their current outside homes or colonies. We will build a barn and other buildings to support them.”
When asked what her goal is for Michigan 10 years from now, Debra says: “my goal is for the state of Michigan to be the leader in the treatment and care of animals. If every person would help with just one organization that they feel moves them, we can accomplish it. The heart of a state is shown in how they treat and care for those that can’t take care of themselves, both human and animal. I believe Michigan has the compassion to meet this goal. We must all work together to make Michigan a safe haven for all animals.”