‘The animals are his priority’

The story of one man’s fight to help the cats of Long Island


One word that would describe John DeBacker is selfless.

DeBacker, who lives in Seaford, travels all across Long Island to help save cats, or to trap colonies of stray or feral cats to do what’s called trap-neuter-return, or TNR. In TNR, cats are humanely trapped and then taken to a veterinarian to be neutered and vaccinated. The cats are then returned to where they were found. TNR is a safe and humane way to decrease stray and feral cat colonies, as no new litters are born, resulting in shrinking colonies.

TNR is crucial now more than ever on Long Island because with the onset of COVID-19, the feral and stray cat population has exploded.

“With all the programs being shut down last year, all the cats that were kittens last year, that were born last year, are now giving birth themselves,” DeBacker said. “The numbers have gotten way high.”

The 28-year-old DeBacker said he has always loved animals and has been involved with rescue organizations for many years. He got involved with TNR when he lived in Seaford some time ago and a neighbor around the block abandoned four cats that he trapped.

In addition to his TNR work, DeBacker travels all over Long Island helping cats that have found themselves in dangerous situations.

He recently helped shut down the Grand Central Parkway to save a cat that was stuck in a sewer. He also was able to get PSEG to come with a bucket ladder to save a cat that was trapped in a tree for a week.

“He goes absolutely all out for all animals,” said friend Dottie Zametti. “You can call him day or night and he comes out to rescue injured animals.”

Another friend, Kellie Shuart, agreed, and touched upon the great rapport DeBacker has in the community with rescue groups and veterinarians.

“People respond to John,” Shuart said. “The same people could call a rescue and they’ll be like, ‘Nah, we’re really full.’ And John will call and be like, ‘Hey, I have this cat, somebody is holding it now; when you get some space, can you take it?’ and they’re like ‘Yeah.’ He has the respect of people.”

Something that DeBacker said he does need help with is people willing to foster cats and kittens when shelters cannot take them. He is also currently in the process of creating a 501(c)(3) called Long Island Cat and Kitten Solution.

DeBacker also mentioned the need for more people to be trappers for TNR.

“We just need more people to get involved at this point,” DeBacker said. “There’s so few trappers, there’s no way we can be at every location at once.”

DeBacker posts frequently on Facebook, where he has built up a following of people who help him foster and reach out to him when they are in need. He also works closely with Last Hope Animal Rescue in Wantagh.

“John is just so selfless,” Shuart said. “He will go out at all hours and never has said, ‘Hey, you need to pay me for xyz.’ Everything is 100 percent donations, and when people cover the costs of the things that he’s doing for them, it’s truly appreciated.”  


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