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Anna G. Larson, Published August 01 2013

Pet project: Veterinarian starts international animal aid organization

If you go

What: TEDxFargo “Rethink Learning,” where Cathy King is one of several speakers.

When: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Aug. 9

Where: Fargo Theatre

Info: Tickets are $75 ($20 for students). For more information, visit tedxfargo.com.

FARGO - Cathy King spent the morning of July 18 in her office here scrambling to find veterinary medicines for a team of veterinarians in Quito, Ecuador.

The 40-year-old founder of World Vets, one of the nation’s largest veterinary aid organizations, explains that a permit to get medicines into the South American country was rejected.

“It happens sometimes, just for random reasons,” Cathy says, nonchalantly.

World Vets is headquartered on First Avenue North near downtown but has teams worldwide who help animals in developing countries. Cathy, a veterinarian, founded the aid organization in 2006 after traveling to Mexico to spay and neuter dogs.

Hundreds of thousands of dogs in the country were poisoned, electrocuted or drowned in efforts to control overpopulation, she says.

“It’s a never-ending cycle. They just repopulated. Skinny dogs are bad for tourism, after all,” she says. “Even as a vet, I didn’t know that.”

World Vets has 4,000 volunteers and programs in 39 countries. Cathy does minimal hands-on veterinary work now, spending most of her time securing funding for the organization, researching possible new programs and dealing with any situations that pop up, like finding medicine in Quito. She typically works 60 to 70 hours each week.

“I love coming to work every day, and not many people can say that,” Cathy says. “Something like this just isn’t going to happen unless you put in a lot of hours. Hard work is really the foundation of making something that’s successful.”

Karen Allum, of Valley Forge, Pa., met Cathy six years ago when she volunteered for World Vets. Allum says Cathy’s passion fuels the organization.

“For her to have the vision to shepherd a nonprofit from nihility to national reputation is amazing to me,” Allum says. “I’ve worked for a lot of nonprofits, and they almost always become stagnate after a couple of years. The energy just goes away. She continues to build on it.”

Cathy says her mother encouraged her to be dedicated to her endeavors and to always work hard.

“l learned early on that things don’t just get handed to you,” Cathy says. “You really have to work to have them. I think that really helped me in my career.”

Cathy started working at age 13 in her hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho. She was a dental assistant for her first job, and she’s been employed every week of her life since. Other jobs she had as a teenager included changing irrigation pipes on a cattle ranch every morning at 6 a.m. and working on her family farm.

The work ethic Cathy learned as a child helped her land her first paid veterinary job. After she’d interned at a veterinary clinic in Washington state, the clinic told her they weren’t hiring. Determined to work there, Cathy volunteered to work weekends and be on-call with no pay. Sixty days later, the clinic offered her a job.

“Rather than going in and saying here’s what I expect – I don’t work nights, I don’t work Saturday – I just said, ‘Give me a chance to prove myself,’ ” Cathy says.

Cathy’s longtime friend Susan Paseman, of Deer Park, Wash., helped start World Vets, and Paseman says Cathy’s integrity has been unwavering throughout the years.

“She cares for the well-groomed poodle as much as the street dog,” Paseman says. “She can relate to the owners of the dogs in such a genuine way.”

One Nicaraguan street puppy named Choncho came home with Cathy. Choncho and Oscar, a dog adopted from the Humane Society, are Cathy’s “kids,” she says.

“Every pet I’ve ever had has been an adopted pet or a homeless animal. To me, they just make the most wonderful pets,” she says.

Besides adopting the dogs and continuing to grow World Vets, Cathy and her husband have planted their roots in Fargo in other ways since moving from Washington four years ago. The couple came to Fargo after King’s husband, Dr. Mike Sornson, accepted a job at Essentia Health. Cathy sold her veterinary practice in Washington once they were engaged and moved World Vets to the Midwest.

The couple has a lake home, and they like to camp and hike in their free time. Cathy was once a weekend white-water raft instructor, so anything outdoorsy is fun for her, she says. She also travels to “places where other people don’t usually go,” opting to see how people in other countries live rather than going to tourist spots.

Cathy will go to Nicaragua later this year to check on the World Vets programs in the country. She says she can’t imagine her life without the organization, calling it her “dream job.”

“We’ve done a huge amount, but in some ways, we’re just getting started,” Cathy says. “You only live once, and you might as well go out and take some risks that are going to lead to maybe your dream career. I think so many people are capable of that.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525