Carolyn Howell was between jobs last May when she attended the Laurel Main Street Festival.
It was there that she met Helen Woods, a long-time volunteer with Laurel Cats. The nonprofit organization, without an office or much overhead, works to try and get stray "porch kittens" off the streets in Laurel.
"I found myself without a job. Instead of sitting around … I wanted to talk to someone," said Howell, a Laurel resident. "I needed something."
Howell now works as the volunteer coordinator with a new pilot program between Last Chance Animal Rescue, of Waldorf, Laurel Cats and the Maryland Department of Agriculture that helps to find new homes for cats through Last Chance's adoption center at the Laurel PetSmart.
"A component of Maryland's Department of Agriculture spay/neuter grant program to minimize the euthanasia of animals in Maryland shelters includes best management practices to evaluate and rehome friendly community cats," according to information in a news release from Laurel Cats. "As part of this partnership, Last Chance will place kittens socialized by Laurel Cats up for adoption in their in-store adoption center at the Laurel PetSmart. Laurel Cats volunteers will assist Last Chance with providing daily care and adoption help to the cats in the store's adoption center."
"All of these cats that you find [outside] are living off the charity of humans," Woods said. "We have not been able to get these cats off the streets. There are so many cats and so few homes. They get stuck in foster care a lot unless you have a contract with a pet store."
One of Howell's goals is to find at least one volunteer to come into the store every afternoon and help play with the cats and be available if any customers come in and show interest in adopting a cat.
"What I do is coordinate volunteers who are willing to go in after 1 or 2 p.m. and give the cats some tender loving care, scoop litter boxes, etc. We are there at peak hours in case people want to adopt," said Howell, a Laurel resident.
Howell, who is now working in childcare and home healthcare, currently has about seven volunteers to cover every day and she stops into the store herself a few times a week. PetSmart employees feed and clean the cats before the store opens in the morning, according to Howell.
One of her volunteers is Karina Hurtado, a senior at Laurel High School.
"I love cats and I have two cats at home," Hurtado said. "I am doing this for my community service hours [through Laurel High]. I check to see if the cats have food and water and clean their windows and play with them and ask people if they want to adopt them."
Her mother, Marci Hurtado, said their family lives in the Ashford neighborhood of Laurel and has worked to help build shelters for cats.
Howell was in the store Saturday when a couple came in with their 4-year-old daughter. They looked at some of the cats and then came back Sunday and adopted a domestic long-haired cat that was given a number but had no name.
"Laurel Cats spays and neuters more than 300 Laurel cats and kittens every year, most of which are outdoor cats living on our streets," Woods said in a released statement. "This partnership will allow us to rehome many of these animals through the Adoption Center at PetSmart. Not only will they find loving indoor homes, but Laurel's community cats will find homes within the Laurel community."
Laurel Cats focuses on the spay and neutering of cats and hopes to reduce the community cat population in Laurel to zero through trap-neuter-return, or TNR.
"This is a wonderful collaboration of groups working together to reduce euthanasia in shelters and improve the lives of animals in our community," Cynthia Sharpley, executive director of Last Chance Animal Rescue, said in a statement.
For information on volunteering with Laurel Cats, call 301-886-0161 or write to email@example.com.