2019 American Red Cross hero: Animal rescue

Every weekend for five weeks, Deb Dreisbach knocked on doors. She wasn't running for office, wasn't selling anything. She was just saving cats.

She's always loved animals.

"Oh, since I was little," she said. "I think I started with rescuing a ladybug."

Three dogs, five cats now, and a bunny. Lots of people have pets. How do you go from loving a few of your own to saving thousands? For Deb, it began with orange sticky notes.

"I worked at one of our local shelters back in 2007," she said. "I realized that there were all these orange stickers, Post-it notes on cages, and I wasn't sure what that meant."

Deb said the shelter needed to make space for the weekend and was told all the cats with notes on their cages would be put down.

"I was kind of in shock as I looked around, but there wasn't enough room for all of them, and at that point, I realized that my rescue work that I was doing with the local rescue wasn't enough," she recalled.

Shelters in Berks County were taking in about 900 stray and feral cats a month.

"Deb immediately understood the importance of a high-volume spay or neuter clinic like No Nonsense, so she made it her mission to find us a place and she did," said Martha Kahan of No Nonsense Neutering, "so 1500 Frush Valley Road has been our home since 2012."

Deb spread the word and created an English/Spanish door hangar for the clinic's trap, neuter, release program. She talked to kids in schools.

No Nonsense has fixed more than 12,000 cats in Berks, dramatically reducing the number of feral cats in shelters, but there are still those who end up there and, for them, Deb founded the Barn Home program. Her car is referred to as the feral freedom ride.

"This is something I really enjoy, you know, and made a part of my life, you know, is delivering the cats and enjoying, you know, the moments of giving them the life they wouldn't have had, but also enjoying the place where they live," she said.

One-hundred-forty cats were placed in barn homes last year. It's helping not only the cats, but people like Jean Hughes.

"She has been an angel to me, and not only to me, but to the community," she said.

Almost overrun, there were 24 behind Jean's home.

"Well, she went back into the woods. This one here crawls under bushes, everything to try and get these cats, so I love this girls. She has really saved me from having a nervous breakdown," Jean remembered.

Deb got every one, fixing them, tipping their ears so you know they are OK to stay where you find them.

She's saved a litter of kittens from the sewer and gave Leo, a Persian, a new loving home. Stories like these are repeated over and over, and it's all volunteer.

"This is woman who is passionate about animals, passionate about her community, and she's doing so much to make a difference," Martha said.

All of the heroes will be honored at a breakfast next Thursday, May 9, from 7:30 until 9 a.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wyomissing. Tickets can be purchased by contacting the Reading-based Tri-County chapter of the American Red Cross.

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