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Mindy Deyarmin- Thinking Inside the Box
According to program support manager and cat rescuer Mindy Deyarmin, sometimes you have to think outside the box to get a cat to go inside the box. “The number one reason people give up cats is for urinating outside the litter box. Using a large, plastic storage container makes it impossible for a cat to urinate over the box, which solves the problem,” says Deyarmin.

Her rescue efforts began one snowy afternoon in 2001 when she and her daughter found two shivering, stray cats. She has since rescued about 1,000 cats, many at her own expense. A refrigerator magnet affirms her motto: “If someone looks at you long enough, you will feed them.” “You can’t not take care of a hungry cat that shows up on your doorstep,” notes Deyarmin with a smile.

Deyarmin uses a humane trap with a drop door. Once captured, the cats are spayed or neutered and inoculated. Typically, veterinarians mark a feral cat’s left ear either with a straight or diagonal cut across the top or a V notch to indicate that the cat has been fixed. Many adult feral cats are unadoptable and are eventually released in new locations.

“To successfully move an unadoptable cat to a new location, you have to isolate them for two weeks after being vetted to ensure they fully recover from surgery. The cats are then placed in a secure, sheltered enclosure for eight weeks where they can see the sky so that they can orient themselves. Then they are released in a new place,” she explains. “Many ferals either attach themselves only to the person who
Mindy and her cat, Goldie.
Mindy Deyarmin with her cat, Goldie. Credit: M. Deyarmin
feeds them or simply do not care for people. They would not hurt us, they are just totally afraid of us. They would starve to death before they would approach a stranger for food,” explains Deyarmin.

Adoptable cats must be carefully socialized, which is also a lengthy and complicated process. Kittens imprint to people and to other animals by eight weeks of age so a feral but young kitten can be socialized. “Cats all have personalities, just like people,” she says.

Cute kitten in a can› Larger image
One of Mindy's cute rescues playing in a can. Credit: M. Deyarmin
Goldie, a cat Deyarmin trapped some seven years ago, is her biggest success story. Goldie was so afraid of people that she would attack. Now she greets visitors and even allows some to pick her up. “People say ferals cannot be domesticated, but Goldie is one of the nicest cats in my house,” she says.

It was not easy. She first trapped, fixed, inoculated, and penned Goldie for eight weeks, after which Deyarmin deemed her to be unadoptable and released her. But Goldie thought otherwise; she came back. She lived outside for four years sharing her cat food with raccoons and even sleeping with them. “I got tired of feeding 25 raccoons, 2 foxes, and I don’t know how many opossums, in order to feed one cat,” says Deyarmin. She enclosed part of her outside porch, made a cat door, and lured Goldie inside where she spent the next eight weeks with a few other cats. Since her return, Goldie steadfastly refuses to go outside anymore.

Deyarmin works with the Patuxent Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which is affiliated with the Calvert Well Pet Clinic, and depends on donations to support their rescue efforts including spaying or neutering and inoculations. The average cost of spaying or neutering plus shots is about $90, which does not include day-to-day expenses. Because PAWS does not have
a shelter, volunteers foster adoptable rescues in their homes until they can be placed. Unfortunately there are too many cats and not enough homes. Deyarmin has so many adoptable cats waiting to be placed that she has not taken in any in several years.

Deyarmin urges anyone who finds a stray cat to contact a rescue group or consider fostering the cat in their home, which is the cat’s best chance. “We’re happy to teach people how to foster cats,” she says. Rescue groups can also provide behavioral advice and limited assistance in financial hardship cases. “Some cats, like some kids, need a little more guidance. We will do everything we can to help someone keep their animal. It’s much easier on the cats if the owners are able to keep them,” she believes. For Deyarmin, it is all about saving the cats.

Three kittens that Mindy has rescued.› Larger image
Three of Mindy's lucky rescues. Credit: M. Deyarmin
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Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.