As a child growing up in Bellefonte, Deb Warner discovered something about herself.
She showed horses, but compassion made her happier than competition. So she took in cast-offs, her start as a rescuer. “I’m one of those, I’d rather go out and clean stalls than get dressed up and show,” she said.
Today, she’s still devoted to caring for animals, but on a much larger scale. Pets Come First, the nonprofit rescue organization she formed in 2005, primarily supports the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter in Centre Hall, but it also helps spay, neuter and find homes for hundreds of unwanted or stray cats and dogs.
That keeps Warner, 54, constantly busy. Some weeks, the crazy ones, her phone keeps ringing. She advises pet owners, organizes fundraising events and clinics, consults other rescue organizations and shelters, and posts animal ads on sites such as Petadoptionportal.org, Petfinder.com and her own, Petscomefirst.com.
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“This is my passion,” she said.
Five years ago, she and other activists worked to change the SPCA shelter, which had a high euthanasia rate. Out of the campaign arose Pets Come First, to ensure more adoptions from the shelter.
As that happened, the group widened its focus. An early effort was Operation Barn Cat Rescue, involving 48 stray kittens. Donations and adoption offers poured in, and Warner was off and running.
She and her volunteers call themselves the “Git ’Er Done” rescue. If that means getting dairy farmers to adopt feral cats as mousers, so be it. And if their Drifting farm is the only option, Warner and her husband, Rick Smith, welcome new guests.
So far, the menagerie includes 15 horses, eight dogs and three llamas. Among the several cats are a semi-feral pair of black shelter refugees.“I brought them back to my barn,” Warner said. “They’re cats again. They’re very happy.”