A Fox among Cats

Deborah Fox always thought she would spend her retirement traveling to Key West.

Instead, she retired a few years early from her work as a software tester with IBM and cashed out her company stock to found Cat Angels Pet Adoptions in 2006.

“It was a real leap of faith,” she said, because she wasn’t entirely sure how she would fund her retired life without the nest egg she’d been building for nearly a quarter-century.

She was determined to make it work, though, and even with the threat of financial uncertainty, she’s found unwavering support from her husband, Michael J. Fox (who, much to the confusion of ever-younger restaurant waitstaff, is not the actor of the same name).

“He said, ‘If you want to do this, let’s do this.’ So we did, and God bless him. Every day he’s been amazing at his support for this,” Fox said. Mike often comes in after work to help with errands around the Cary shelter, or goes grocery shopping for her so she can spend a little of her precious time at home enjoying her cooking hobby.

Born in Chicago, Fox grew up in a small town in northern Illinois. “When I first came to Cary in about ’79, it felt like home. It felt very much like the little town McHenry. It was very small. It just felt perfect,” she said. She and Mike now live in Chatham County, where they decided to move in order to have enough land to house their horses and, of course, several cats.

A self-declared “artsy-fartsy” person – she loves working with stained glass – Fox dreams of someday opening a craft-related venue to help raise money for Cat Angels. She also sees a spay/neuter clinic “on the horizon.”

When designing the Cat Angels facility, Fox made sure to incorporate a little bit of her beloved beach locale in the décor. There’s a purple Hemingway room, named after the author whose Key West homestead has dozens of free-roaming cats. The Jimmy Buffet room is “Yellow Submarine yellow,” and the other two adoption rooms are pink and teal. All of them come furnished with scratching posts, stacking cubby beds and lots of toys to ensure a homey atmosphere.

To date, Fox has rescued more than 500 cats. Cat Angels is the only area rescue she knows of that allows people to surrender their own animals. “Sometimes there are really valid reasons for relinquishing animals,” she believes. She is sympathetic to situations where someone in the military gets deployed and doesn’t come back, or when a senior is put into a nursing home and nobody in the family is able to properly take care of the animal. Usually she decides whether to take owner surrenders on a case-by-case basis.

Other times, though, she doesn’t have the luxury of contemplation. One afternoon in mid-August she sat down at 3 to take a quick break. She checked her e-mail and learned that 65 cats had been confiscated from a hoarder, and if they weren’t picked up by 5, they would be sent to a kill shelter.

She knew she had to help. “I got in the car, slammed as many carriers as I could in there. I didn’t know what I was going to find,” she said. What she found was “a sea of blue eyes, brown ears, tails up in the air all looking at me when I came in: ‘Hi, are you going to be my friend?’”

That day, 25 cats went back to the shelter with her. “At the time I was up to my elbows in cats and I didn’t really have a place for them,” Fox said, but that didn’t stop her from going back the next day for the remaining 11 who were healthy enough to be rehomed. Fortunately, anonymous donors came forward to cover the cost to have them spayed.

That money was invaluable at the time, and monetary donations are always welcomed, but ultimately Fox says, “Really, if I could get nothing else from anybody ever again (what I need) is getting enough help to do the day shifts. That would be a godsend. Because I do want to open up during the day, and I just can’t.”

She hopes that in the future she will find enough daytime volunteers to open the shelter to potential adopters every afternoon, but until then it will be open for weekly “Adopt-a-thons” on Saturdays from noon-4 p.m.

Whatever the future brings for Cat Angels, Fox knows she won’t stop helping needy kitties find the homes they deserve. “I really do feel that there’s a lid for every pot out there, and these cats are lids,” she believes. “There’s a pot out there waiting for them to be their lid. It’s going to be there. It may take a while to find that lid, but we will find it.”

For more information on Cat Angels, including dates of monthly yard sales and its annual silent auction, visit www.catangelsnc.org.

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