Over the last 24 years, the Siamese Cat Rescue, founded and operated by Siri and Darrell Zwemke, has helped over 12,000 Siamese cats find loving homes. 

This amazing feat could not have been achieved without their loyal volunteers, one of the first being Debrarae Karnes. Karnes dedicated countless hours to ensure cats reached their new homes, and when she passed away in 2020, she bequeathed half of her estate to the rescue.

Around the same time as this generous gift, the organization had to end its active rescue program. To ensure Karnes’ donation could still go to good use, the group decided to donate some of this money to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in her memory, creating the Debrarae Karnes Siamese Cat Rescue Veterinary Scholarship.

Founded in 1998, the Siamese Cat Rescue began as a network of volunteers and foster homes and grew to include physical shelters, and, at its height, boasted 900 volunteers. 

After adopting her own cat through the rescue, Karnes volunteered for many years. She was one of the first volunteers in what was affectionately dubbed the “Meezer Express”— the rescue’s transportation system in which drivers relayed cats across the eastern third of the United States, recognizing one of the breed's nicknames.

“We covered 16 states and our transporters drove over 2.8 million miles—that’s to the moon and back,” said Darrell Zwemke. 

Karnes “would always volunteer. She would show up bright and early, always on time,” Siri Zwemke said. 

The prevalence of trap, neuter, release (TNR) programs, increased networking over the internet, and other factors altered the way animal rescues operate. Combined with an aging volunteer population and the pandemic, the Siamese Cat Rescue had to evolve. 

Last year, the organization announced it would end its active rescue program and to donate to a veterinary college because of the impact that veterinarians had on the rescue.

When deciding which college to donate to, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine was a natural choice because of Virginia Tech’s and the college’s reputation. Another longtime volunteer, Kay Carlson, worked at the college’s Center for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Diseases for 23 years, and that connection cemented the college as a choice.

“We are glad to help Virginia Tech’s veterinary college, and it’s doubly good that we get to honor Debrarae as well,” said Darrell Zwemke.