A local animal group’s mission is to control the cat population––Berkshire Animal DREAMS
Stacey Carver spends time at the Berkshire Humane Society, which partners with her Berkshire Animal DREAMS with stray cats that are adoptable.
Photo Megan Haley
Here’s an acronym Stacey Carver would like you to learn and love: TNR. It means: Trap-Neuter-Return. And if it takes having a bunch of people sprinting down the streets of Dalton this May clutching stuffed animals to draw your attention, so be it.
We’re talking about cats—stray cats, feral cats, not that fat cat snoozing over there by your window as if in a post-spa stupor.
Berkshire County has an estimated 13,000 stray and feral cats, only two percent of which have been spayed or neutered. Who knew? And who knew cats breed like rabbits—in fact, more efficiently than rabbits?
Carver knew. And so do the dozen or so volunteers she works with, and so does anyone living in the vicinity of the county’s many wild-cat colonies.
This problem and the TNR solution are the reasoning behind the 2nd annual Cat Dash on Saturday, May 12—a 5K-relay-race-meets-pub-crawl. (See below.) The funds raised go directly to the organization Carver leads, called Berkshire Animal DREAMS, which seeks to eradicate the county’s stray and feral cats the only humane way possible. That is to say, not by the catch-and-kill method, but rather by capturing cats, spaying or neutering them, and then releasing them back where they were found, thus putting an end to the breeding cycle.
Since its founding in 2001, a total of 2,000 cats countywide have had the TNR treatment. As a result, some of the county’s more notable cat colonies have since died off—including that famous feline favela in the vicinity of the present-day Triplex Cinema in Great Barrington. In fact, Great Barrington is where it all began for Berkshire Animal DREAMS, when a resident there, Yvonne Borsody, took a liking to a stray cat and discovered that the kitty had many, many similarly adrift feline friends.
Borsody founded and ran the all-volunteer nonprofit until her retirement six years ago. Carver was her natural replacement. She and her husband, Allen Harris, founder and owner of Berkshire Money Management, had helped the organization with fundraising. Carver herself was a past president of New England Basset Hound Rescue. She loves animals, owns a whole bunch of them, and has become an ardent proselytizer of TNR’s benefit for cats themselves and the communities in which they live.
Neutered and spayed cats are healthier cats, she says. They roam less, and they are relieved of the stresses from pregnancy. The communities most affected by stray and feral cats, says Carver, tend to be poorer neighborhoods, including Pittsfield’s west side and certain sections of North Adams, where the cats find shelter under porches and in abandoned buildings. Rural areas also experience plenty of problems.
“People who no longer want their cats will drop them off near a farm thinking that, well, this will be a good place for them to live a happy life,” says Carver. “Meanwhile, not all farmers want more cats. The food gets expensive, and then pretty soon they have a lot more cats, and the population just grows.”
Berkshire Animal DREAMS, which operates in the spring, summer and fall months, only takes action when they are asked to by what they call “community cat caretakers.” That is to say, by residents living where the cats have colonized.
Volunteers from Animal DREAMS see to it that a trap is placed on the site. At first, the trap is rigged so it won’t spring. Food is placed within it so that the cats become acclimated to it. Once that’s accomplished, the trapping begins. The cats are then taken to be neutered. They are then given recovery time in the organizations “Catty Shack,” located off the unfortunately named Barker Road in Pittsfield. Within 24 to 48 hours, the cats are then released where they were found.
A problem the group encountered over the years was what to do with kittens who might make good pets. The DREAM team didn’t want to get into the adoption business. They approached the Berkshire Humane Society and asked if they might be willing to collaborate.
The answer was a resounding yes.
“It was one of the best decisions in terms of helping animals that we’ve ever made,” says John Perrault, executive director of Berkshire Humane Society: “They do good, important work, and we are happy to help them do it.”
The Humane Society takes care of the adoption side of the equation and also has given Berkshire Animal DREAMS a workstation, storage space and a place to park that Catty Shack of theirs. Moreover, the two organizations have teamed up to jointly apply for and receive grants, including a recent $32,000 grant from PetSmart Charities, which paid for the trapping, neutering and release of 500 cats.
“I don’t know if there will ever be a day where there are no feral or stray cats in Berkshire County,” says Carver, “but that’s our goal.”
Berkshire Animal DREAMS is looking for teams to sign up for its 2nd Annual Cat Dash fundraiser, which will be held on Saturday, May 12. The 5K relay race begins at 3 p.m. at Zip’s Bar & Billiards. Team members are stationed in various bars around town. Each member must down a 16-ounce drink of their choosing and then run to the next bar and pass a stuffed animal cat baton to the next team member. The race ends with a party at Zip’s. Register at Zip’s or Berkshire Humane Society.