Lacey Peterson
The Union Democrat

If Sonora Cat Rescue President Judith Rodan had one wish, it would be to spay and neuter enough of Tuolumne County's feline population so that the number of cats was equal to the number of available homes.

She's not waiting idly by for it to happen though. She works 70 to 80 hours a week to make that dream a reality.

"I think Judith Rodan is one of the most motivated, high-energy people I've known," said longtime Sonora veterinarian Dr. Wes Wittman, who is Rodan's vet. "That's a testament to the fact of what she's done to help Sonora Cat Rescue spay and neuter as many cats as she can."

In the past 12 months, Rodan and the cat rescue have paid for 3,000 local cats to be spayed or neutered.

When she started out as the rescue's president five years ago, the number was 300 to 400 cats being fixed each year.

Rodan makes one to three trips a week to a nonprofit veterinary group in Auburn that will often give her the entire clinic for the day. It has to - she takes 75 cats at a time. The day starts at 3 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m., with Rodan loading and unloading 75 cat carriers, at eight pounds each, four times.

"I tell people I do 24,000 reps," Rodan said of the workout she gets while doing her "cat lady" duties.

"My record is 158 (cats fixed) in six days and three trips," Rodan said. "I was sick tired."

The trips also include a mountain of paperwork. Each spay or neuter procedure requires eight forms to be filled out, she said.

"I'm getting good at forms," Rodan said.

Ironically, Rodan doesn't think of herself as a "cat person," but rather a "dog and horse person."

Rodan grew up in the Bay Area town of Woodside in San Mateo County and had seven horses and several dogs. She had a career in sales, publicity and printing, which has come in handy for promoting the cat rescue and its endeavors.

It was while living in France many years ago that Rodan first became interested in the issue of cat overpopulation.

Her husband of 25 years, Simon Rodan, a professor, was attending university near Paris, and the couple lived in France for nearly nine years.

Judith Rodan was walking down the street one day and saw an older woman feeding a troupe of stray cats. In her broken French, Rodan told the lady how irresponsible it was to have too many cats. The lady proceeded to read Rodan the riot act, explaining to her she was trying to help the cats and how the strays needed to be fixed. It sparked something in Rodan, and her mission became bringing cats justice, she said.

Rodan got some of her university contacts who were veterinarians and started getting the French cats fixed.

When Rodan and her husband moved back to the states, they ended up retiring to Tuolumne County. That was about 10 years ago. Rodan got involved with the Sonora Cat Rescue and, five years ago, took the helm and kicked things into high gear.

Right now there are about 250 kittens and cats in foster homes in Tuolumne County.

"It will never show up on anybody's spreadsheet, how big the problem is," Rodan said.

The feline overpopulation problem is huge, she said.

The problem is, because kittens go into their first heat sooner than historically normal, they are getting pregnant before owners think it's time to fix them, Rodan explained.

It used to be that one would spay or neuter their cat at six months old. Now, it should be done at four months old, Rodan said. She's seen even younger cats get pregnant this year.

Many people can't afford to fix their cat and, when it becomes pregnant, they either dump the cat in a field or they dump the kittens, she said.

That's where Rodan and her network of cat rescue members come in.

"Anyone who thinks there is not a horrific problem is invited to visit our kitten graveyard," Rodan said.

Perfectly nice domesticated house cats are being abandoned, and they don't know how to survive in the wild, Rodan said.

She's had cat autopsies performed on some that revealed kittens who ate gravel, just for something to eat, Rodan said.

"This is such an injustice. It just has to stop," Rodan said. "It takes two and a half weeks for a cat to starve to death."

Rodan has a plea to Tuolumne County residents who are feeding stray cats - "Please let me fix them."

Rodan and members in the cat rescue network trap, fix and either foster or put the cats back where they were found, if they were thriving there.

"It's a problem that can be solved," Rodan said of the huge overpopulation problem.

Rodan said half of her job is to tell people about how early cats need to be spayed or neutered now, and that she has to be careful how she approaches people when discussing the overpopulation problem.

"If they think I'm preaching to them, they don't want to hear about it," Rodan said.

"I'm really into this justice thing. I can't believe this is happening and nobody is doing anything about it," Rodan said.

However, she and the cat rescue volunteers are doing something, and they need more help, Rodan said.

The rescue needs volunteer foster homes, volunteers to man booths at events and at PetSmart (where adoptable cats are on display), volunteers for the new East Sonora cat rescue office, volunteer trappers and volunteers to do publicity and fundraising. They always need financial help too.

Many members pay for a lot of things out of their own pockets, and Rodan is no exception. She personally bought a van - dubbed the "Comfort Kitty Coach" - to take the cats to get fixed each week.

Rodan also adopts the cats who can't find homes, often the ones who are the worst off.

Animal abandonment, abuse and shooting animals is against the law, but many people don't know that, Rodan said.

The group is slowly but surely making progress, Rodan said.

In 2014, 419 cats were adopted out, which is a big number considering the small population, Rodan said.

"You will never adopt your way out of the cat overpopulation problem. Spaying and neutering is the only way to equalize the population of cats to the number of available homes," Rodan explained.

Three years ago, the group was fixing 1,000 cats a year and, now that it has reached the 3,000-cats-per-year mark, Rodan said victory is not far off. Pockets of strays keep popping up all over the county, but with continued public information campaigns and support, it can be handled, she said.

"We're actually going to solve this problem," she said.

If Tuolumne County can get its stray cat population under control, there would be enough homes for the kittens that are mindfully born, she said.

Rodan's next goal, after fixing all the strays, is to help people with feline health problems and to open a pet food pantry. Rodan regularly gets calls from people who have cats that need to be fixed, and when she arrives to take them, the cats have numerous health issues.

Rodan is quick to defend cat owners though, explaining that many can't afford the veterinary care or don't know what resources are available to help them.

"They are doing the best they can," she said.

Rodan is tireless when it comes to her cause.

She can be seen at PetSmart, at local farmers markets and on the street, handing out flyers with information and the cat rescue contact information.

"I'm everywhere," Rodan said.

"She's gone out and went through the bushes and shook the trees to raise funds for the cat rescue," Wittman said. "She's just a great person and very committed to her mission. I just have never met anybody that has so much devotion and follow-through. I wish I could bottle some of her energy and enthusiasm."

Rodan and the rescue also coordinate several fundraisers throughout the year to support their cause. In 2015, the group will spend $85,000 on spays and neuters alone, Rodan said. They also paid for untold medical issues of cats in their purview.

Rodan doesn't take time off or sick days, because to her, that time is better spent saving or improving the lives of living beings.

"It's their life. For every cat I fix, I'm saving hundreds of kittens from starving to death or worse," Rodan said.

For more information about Sonora Cat Rescue, call 288-9185, or go online tosonoracatrescue.org/. The office is at 14653 Mono Way, in the Mono Village Shopping Center in East Sonora.

11941546