Purr-fect partners help with feline overcrowding in Lake Tahoe Basin | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Purr-fect partners help with feline overcrowding in Lake Tahoe Basin

Emily Aughinbaugh, Tribune staff writer

Imagine spending $400 on food and hundreds of dollars more on medical care a month. Now imagine spending that on abandoned cats that are often too skittish to be touched.

Although this may sound crazy to most South Shore residents, it’s just a fact of life to Nic and Rita Deroche, of Belgium, who have made it their mission to care for neglected cat colonies. The Deroches spend summers in South Lake Tahoe and the rest of the year in Carmel, Calif., trapping street cats, sterilizing them, releasing them back to their colonies and then feeding and monitoring their health.

The couple has spayed or neutered almost 4,000 cat since they began caring for forlorn felines in 1977.

Rita Deroche said her mission to stop the unneccesary abandonment and killing of cats began when she took in a homeless calico mother and her kittens that were milling around the Deroche’s motel in Pacific Grove, Calif.

Since then, Deroche said she and her husband can’t go anywhere without seeing cats. They have found several dozen kitties around department and grocery stores, mobile home parks and casinos.

“It’s something in me to help animals,” Deroche said. “During the war I had disease, I was hungry and nobody helped me. If the animals have disease, I don’t care, and if they only have three legs, I don’t care. They’re all good to me.”

Deroche said she has had a love for all kinds of animals since her childhood days spent in Malnedy, Belgium.

“I think I was born to love animals,” Deroche said. “I used to go to Germany and I would bring rabbits and chickens home on the train with me. I transported animals all over the place.”

Deroche remembered a time when she was 14 years old and she and her family were hiding in their basement during a bomb raid. After the bombing was over, Deroche said she watched a man and a horse bleed to death in the rubble of her demolished home.

“I went back downstairs and told my mother the horse was dead,” Deroche said. “My mother asked me, ‘What about the man,’ and I said, ‘He’s dead too.’ But I was more upset about the horse.”

Deroche said her desire to save abandoned animals stems in part from the deep hurt she experienced when the menagerie she cared for in Belgium was destroyed during the war.

Since the spark was ignited in her to aid ailing animals, Deroche has footed the bill for several people who have not had the financial means to sterilize their animals or who have simply neglected them.

“When people pass the house with their animals, I yell out, ‘Is your pet spayed or neutered,'” she said with a chuckle. “They must think, ‘Who is that crazy lady?'”

The Deroche’s have five volunteers who help to look after their multiple Stateline cat colonies when the couple goes back to Carmel. However Rita Deroche said she hopes more South Lake Tahoe people will become involved in feeding the neglected cats and spreading the word to sterilize pets. Deroche said if the neglect and abuse of animals decreases so will violence among people.

“Each time we see an abused animal, we see an abused child in the house,” Deroche said. “People think of the animals like they’re toys. If you want a pet you have to adopt it out of love, not just for the convenience and companionship for you. It takes care, love and teaching.”

Since 1992, the Deroche’s have received funding and volunteer help from a non-profit organization called the Cat Caring Connection, which humane society representatives say is a much-needed group because of a cat overpopulation in the Tahoe Basin.

Dawn Armstrong, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said the Deroche’s commitment to the caring for these unwanted felines is invaluable to the community.

“The Deroche’s help our local community not only by paying money into the vets but also by taking colonies from apartment buildings,” Armstrong said. “They aren’t collectors. They are committed to this, and it’s not a mission to be taken lightly.”

Armstrong said pet overpopulation is so bad that for every child born in this country, there are seven cats and dogs. Armstrong said there are more abandoned cats on the street each year because they can reproduce at any time of the year and kittens are often given away for free.

She said 75 percent of those free felines will end up in a shelter of some kind.

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