ST. ALBANS — When it comes to caring for cats, Deborah Navari, 60, doesn’t mess around.

Navari, who lives in South Burlington and has volunteered for Franklin County Animal Rescue – formerly the Franklin County Humane Society –  for more than five years, is known as “the cat lady” at the shelter. In the past year alone she’s fostered more than 70 cats and kittens at her home, and also volunteered for the animal rescue on a weekly basis to do whatever is needed most.

This may mean cleaning cat kennels, fundraising, or even buying a new washing machine.

“She has an endless amount of energy and enthusiasm for taking care of animals,” said Rusty Posner, Franklin County Animal Rescue’s shelter director. “We’ve got so many really great volunteers here but Deb’s really exceptional.”

For this reason, the shelter nominated Navari for the Purina Cat Chow Shelter Volunteer of the Year Contest, a nationwide competition among 50 cat-focused shelters. The winning volunteer will garner a $25,000 makeover for his or her shelter with the help of Purina Cat Chow team members for one day.

Runners-up also will win cash and other prizes.

Voting for the top volunteer ends on Sunday, March 15. Anyone who wants to support Navari can vote daily on by clicking on the “Building Better Lives” icon on the main page and finding her volunteer story. The link is also available on

Navari’s story

According to Navari, even though she lives in Chittenden County, she’s always had an affinity for Franklin County Animal Rescue after adopting her cats there more than a decade ago.

“Franklin County just has always had a special place in my heart,” Navari said by phone Thursday. “I guess it’s just a sense of community.”

Navari began by volunteering weekly with the shelter and according to Posner, she’s been an asset ever since.

“She’s pretty much here every single week and when she’s not here, she’s usually out fundraising for us,” said Posner. She pointed to a frame on the shelter wall filled with photos of a rummage sale that Navari and her husband, Peter, held in May 2013 to raise more than $4,000 for the shelter.

“She’s just totally invested in the shelter,” added Posner.

Navari said that when she first arrived at the shelter, she helped with anything – mowing the lawn, cleaning cat kennels, working with the animals themselves.

Her past experience as a landlord came in handy when repairing things such as door handles and kitchen sinks, dog fences and even a shed.

“We could just see what needed to be done,” Navari said.

Since she retired from hairdressing two years ago, Navari said she’s been able to do a little more for the shelter, too.

“I’m not bored, that’s for sure,” she said.

Included on the long list of tasks Navari has done for the shelter is repairing the water connection for the shelter in order to use its washer machine, stuffing fundraising envelopes, installation of new lights and sinks in the shelter’s surgery room, ordering new, safe kitten kennels and even buying a new washer machine for the shelter this past Christmas after the old one had a broken door.

In addition, Navari picks up pet food each week to bring to the shelter, helps at the shelter’s rabies clinics and supports the shelter’s remote adoption sites, too.

Navari is also a dedicated foster mother for injured cats and abandoned kittens, caring for dozens each year. Last year, she fostered 74 cats.

Posner said, “She gave up her hot tub room and turned it into the foster care room.”

When asked why she does everything she does for the shelter, Navari said it’s about the animals.

“I think I love animals and I really want the best care possible for them,” she said. “You want to get the animals treated and get them into good, great homes in the community as quickly as possible.”

Navari added that she also appreciates the work the shelter staff does, and she wants to do as much as she can to support that work.

“You see how hard they work and they could not do their job without having the basic things done for them,” Navari said.

And ,according to Franklin County Animal Rescue kennel manager Karla White, Navari is the woman to ask to get the job done.

“I always said she could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo – she does not take no for an answer,” said White. “She’s wonderful.”

The contest

Navari said she was honored to be nominated for the Purina Cat Chow Shelter Volunteer of the Year contest for the State of Vermont.

“It’s also a privilege to have worked with the Franklin County Animal Rescue,” said Navari. “It’s been very rewarding.”

If Navari wins the contest and the shelter makeover, Posner said the shelter would most likely try to add more space to its current 3,500-square-foot building.

“We would really love to have a meet and greet room inside the shelter for dogs,” said Posner.

She added that any of the prizes from the contest, which include cash, cat food and care supplies, would be helpful.