Kelley Kim

A best friend for felines

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A Torrance woman is on a quest to end cat overpopulation in the South Bay

Casey, a seven-year-old domestic shorthair tabby, sleeps with Debra Corwin's husband, Dale, in his upstairs bedroom of their home in Torrance. Photo by Kelley Kim

Casey, a seven-year-old domestic shorthair tabby, sleeps with Debra Corwin’s husband, Dale, in his upstairs bedroom of their home in Torrance. Photo by Kelley Kim


Debra Corwin tells everyone she knows to go to Africa. Driven by her love for animals, she has gone to the continent four times, visiting Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda to see gorillas, jaguars, rhinoceri, and elephants in the wild.

“I just think nature and animals are so important,” Corwin, 65, said. “I love Africa. If I were younger, I would have moved there.”

Once while on safari, Corwin was moved by the unabashed love between two cheetahs.

“You pull up in a Hummer and see two cheetah brothers on a huge ant hill,” she said. “You just enjoy the moment with them….They all have something to give back. And they give their all.”

A lioness shows playful tendencies while resting in the shade in the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area in Tanzania. Courtesy of Debra Corwin.

A lioness shows playful tendencies while resting in the shade in the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area in Tanzania. Courtesy of Debra Corwin.

A cheetah sits on an anthill in the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area in Tanzania. Courtesy of Debra Corwin.

A cheetah sits on an anthill in the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area in Tanzania. Courtesy of Debra Corwin.

At home in Torrance, Corwin spends her days with a different kind of cat, and many of them. She lives with her husband and 20 indoor domesticated cats, twelve of which are up for adoption. While she doesn’t mind the term, Corwin is not a crazy cat lady. She has dedicated her life to cat welfare and in 1998 co-founded PURRfect Partners, a cat rescue and adoption group based in Redondo Beach.

The organization is unique in that it provides a full-service approach to cat rescue and adoption. Corwin and about a dozen active volunteers trap, neuter, and return (TNR) feral cats; provide advice, food, and supplies to new cat owners; hold adoption drives at Centinela Feed in Redondo Beach every weekend; and maintain a website adoption listing. Despite the array of services the 501(c)(3) non-profit provides, Corwin makes it clear that the organization’s approach to maintaining the South Bay feral cat population is more preventive than palliative. Corwin’s main objective is to pass mandatory spay-and-neuter policies in as many cities as she can, starting with those in the South Bay.

“I like to think out of the box when it comes to animal rescue,” Corwin said. “It’s so out of control — the overpopulation of animals.”

RISE OF THE CAT CHAMPION

Corwin has been saving animals all her life. As a young child living in the Hollywood Riviera neighborhood of Torrance, Corwin and her family would take in dogs they found on the street, nurse them back to health, and keep them as pets. As an adult, she worked as a paralegal in real estate for many years. A turning point came fifteen years ago, when she found a litter of kittens abandoned in the rain on the corner of 190th Street and Inglewood Avenue in Redondo Beach. Soon thereafter, she co-founded PURRfect Partners.

“It just seemed to be a calling,” Corwin said. “I can’t explain it.”

The organization, run by volunteers and funded wholly by public donations, realized a problem lay in the ever-multiplying feral cat population, exacerbated by the lack of mandatory spay and neuter programs for both pet and free-roaming cats. Corwin said there are thousands of feral cats in Redondo Beach alone.

“We have an epidemic going on, and we’ve had an epidemic for several years,” Corwin said. “There’re too many dogs and cats and not enough responsible homes….It’s the two legged creatures that have created this problem.”

Corwin said too many pet owners abandon their animals in a park or even the Redondo Beach pier. Many pets get run over trying to find their way home or starve to death because they are last in the pecking order within established feral cat colonies.

“People need to realize when you have a pet, you are their whole world,” Corwin said. “I don’t think people realize that with the disposal factor. Where is the word ‘responsibility’? Where is integrity?”

PURRfect Partners holds an annual Valentine's Day bake sale fundraiser in front of Centinela Feed and Pet Supplies to raise money for cat rescue and adoption. Courtesy of PURRfect Partners

PURRfect Partners holds an annual Valentine’s Day bake sale fundraiser in front of Centinela Feed and Pet Supplies to raise money for cat rescue and adoption. Courtesy of PURRfect Partners


Traditionally, rescue and adoption groups work on “socializing” cats — or spending one-on-one time with a feral cat in efforts to domesticate — to make them suitable for indoor living with owners. But Corwin realized she could nip the problem in the bud and help control rampant population growth if she lobbied for mandatory citywide spay and neuter programs.

“In this day and age, if you’re in rescue you don’t have time for socializing,” Corwin said. “You want to prevent births.”

Still, Corwin has a spot in her heart and home for feral cats she believes she can socialize.  She uses a bathroom in her home to socialize three rescued cats — Rusty, Houdini, and Zippy — and often takes naps in the room to let them acclimate to a human presence.

In the outside world, the buck stops with Corwin. Because the gestation period for felines averages 65 days, a fertile female cat can be pregnant even when her current litter is still nursing. So when Corwin finds a litter of kittens, her next step is to find the mother cat and spay her.

MANDATORY SPAY AND NEUTER PROGRAMS

The Carson Animal Shelter, which takes in all animals captured by the Redondo Beach Animal Control, euthanized 408 cats in the 2014 fiscal year.

“The euthanasia part is the worst part of this job,” said Sergeant Justin Guzman, who works at the Carson Animal Shelter. “It’s not the first, go-to answer for everything.”

Once areawide spay and neuter programs are instituted, animal shelter euthanizations and feral cat populations can be reduced by up to 23 percent within a year-and-a-half, according to Corwin. Two years ago, the City of Lomita instituted a targeted spay/neuter program for pet cats and dogs funded in full by a $12,000 Petsmart Charities grant. The program was highly popular and provided pet owners a free voucher for spay/neuter services to use at the veterinarian of their choice. Corwin has been urging the city councils of Torrance and Redondo Beach to follow suit, but to no avail as of yet.

PURRfect Partners thus works with private, local veterinary clinics to spay and neuter rescued and feral cats. Many doctors speak highly of Corwin and charge discounted surgery rates of $25 per cat.

“She’s the one who brings the most in,” said Dr. Satish Kumar Srungaram who provides low-cost neuters and spays for feral cats in his Hawthorne clinic. “We’ve been dealing with her at least ten years or more.”

Corwin recalled a particularly poignant instance wherein she brought a cat with advanced feline AIDS to Dr. Steve Liebl of Hermosa Animal Hospital. Its skin looked like Rice Krispies because its immune system was so compromised. Corwin wanted it to be “put at peace.”

“How about tomorrow?” Dr. Liebl said, before seeing the animal, as recalled by Corwin.

“No, now,” Corwin said.

Once Dr. Liebl saw the cat’s condition, he quickly took action. He knew what he had to do.

“They’re discounting to help reduce,” Corwin said about the doctors she works with. “They know what the problem is. Unfortunately, the City of Redondo Beach and other cities don’t, or they don’t want to deal with it.”

Corwin is emphatic about her idea to use a part of the one percent of the City of Redondo Beach sales tax to fund a voucher program for low cost spaying and neutering. The idea has yet to catch on with city officials, but politicians such as California State Senator Ted Lieu give Corwin hope. Lieu, a self-declared animal advocate, supports mandatory spay and neuter programs and mandatory microchipping. He is currently pushing SB 1323, a bill that requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to deposit fees collected from the Pet Lover’s specialized license plate program into a special fund, providing a consistent funding source for spay and neuter programs.

“I’ve always supported spay and neuter programs,” Lieu said. “I think it’s important to be compassionate toward animals and make sure we don’t have an overpopulation.”

Alberto, in foreground, a three-month-old tabby kitten, and tabby brothers Billy and Bobby, two-years-old, live in Debra Corwin's master bedroom. Alberto is up for adoption. Photo by Kelley Kim

Alberto, in foreground, a three-month-old tabby kitten, and tabby brothers Billy and Bobby, two-years-old, live in Debra Corwin’s master bedroom. Alberto is up for adoption. Photo by Kelley Kim


Though at times it can be a tough and heart-wrenching job, Corwin’s love for animals propels her to continue her work.

“When people rescue a stray, it’s like you’re out at sea with a sinking ship and you’ve thrown out a life preserver,” Corwin said. “This is my way of giving back to those who helped me. I always believe in giving back. That’s what it’s all about.”

Adopt a cat with PURRfect Partners from their weekend adoption drives, held from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday at Centinela Feed and Pet Supplies, located at 413 N. Pacific Coast Hwy. in Redondo Beach.

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Website: www.purrfectpartners4cats.com