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Domestic Partnership

Pet and people find homes and healing at Berkshire Humane Society



Photos by Megan Haley

A few hours a week, foster-care teens can spend time with half-grown kittens or a husky mix who wants a walk. When an animal finds a home, the kids know. In this, the Berkshire Humane Society helps animals, and it helps people. 

Women in abusive relationships, families in rough economic times, people who are sick or elderly and need care—all have reached out to the Berkshire Humane Society (BHS), says executive director John Perreault. For a shelter its size, BHS offers an unusual number and range of programs—from education for people and training for dogs to collaborations with the Elizabeth Freeman Center, Berkshire Medical Center, Elder Services, and local colleges.

And the number of programs keeps growing: Humane society instructor Lizzie Brown started the collaboration with teens in local foster care this year, working with the Key Program, an agency in Massachusetts. 

In its 25th year, BHS has become a refuge that never turns an animal away—parrot, ferret, llama, iguana, goat, goose, pony, or pig. It has cared for plenty of rabbits and guinea pigs, too. Almost all animals find homes within six months and often much faster—often within a few days, and sometimes even before they come in. Animals up for adoption can stay as long as they need to. BHS will euthanize an animal, Perreault says, only in the rare case when one is too sick, in too much pain, or too unsafe to adopt out. 

Perrault has led the Berkshire Humane Society through those 25 years. (A birthday bash and benefit will celebrate from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, October 22, 2017 at Pittsfield’s Colonial Theatre. More details at berkshirehumane.org.) During that time, animal welfare has changed. And his work has changed and grown. 

In the beginning 
Perreault began as an animal-shelter manager for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) in1987. Then, Berkshire County had many more animals than homes for them. Animal shelters had been around in the U.S. since the late 1800s, Perreault says, as havens for animals who were injured or mistreated. But in the 1960s, as people moved to the suburbs and had more room for cats and dogs, the animal population boomed along with the human one: “No one knew about spaying and neutering then,” he says. 

Most of Perreault’s job dealt with a constant stream of homeless animals. That meant choosing between euthanizing an animal or turning it away, knowing the owner would let it loose. “There was a time when kittens weren’t cute to me,” he says. Times have changed, and the humane society has expanded in ways he could not have imagined. “We got to this point because we have a community that does care.” 

Going local 

The MSPCA was a state agency run out of Boston, and in 1992 the state announced it would cut funding to the Berkshire shelter. The MSPCA gave the community a year to start its own organization. So, with the guidance of local attorney Robert Fuster, Perreault and a local group raised funds and created the structure for a new, local organization. 

“The community rallied around us,” Perreault says. The new humane society began with three employees—Perreault, Lisa Corbett, and Cheryl Truskowski— who are all still at BHS. Truskowski is the shelter manager, and Corbett is lead instructor for the family-dog school. 

BHS runs solely on donations and benefit events. Starting with an annual budget of $140,000, Perreault now manages a $1.3-million shelter that covers public programs, veterinary care, the new building, and a staff of 29 or 30, many of them part-time. They work alongside a corps of volunteers who walk dogs, clean, run educational events and the reception desk, and sometimes foster an animal. 

In 2003, BHS moved to its present building on Barker Road in Pittsfield. The satellite Purradise cat shelter opened in Great Barrington in 2010. BHS is the only open-admission shelter in the region, Perreault says, accepting any animal. Dogs are given a safety test to make sure they will not harm staff or adopting families; more than 90 percent pass. 

Changing times 
BHS has also worked hard to bring down the number of animals coming in. Instead of 3,000 animals a year Perreault saw in the 1980s, he now sees about 1,200. To prevent unexpected puppies and kittens, the shelter offers spaying and neutering programs, and works with a wide network of Berkshire veterinarians. “There’s probably not another model in the U.S. with this kind of relationship with local vets,” Perreault says. 

The family-dog school, which debuted in 1992, trains dogs and teaches people how canines communicate and act, so they understand what their dog is doing and why. The shelter keeps in touch with people who adopt a dog, which helps keep small problems from becoming large ones. 

Finding homes has become much easier, too. Perreault has seen a growing willingness to adopt animals who once would have been passed over. In his early years, people only wanted puppies. If someone brought in a two-year-old neutered male dog, good with kids and well-trained, 

that dog would never find a home. Today, people would be waiting in line. Perreault can even find a home for a 14-year-old dog or a cat with a chronic illness. 

BHS takes in sick animals and cares for them until they are adoptable. The shelter has also taken in animals found in abusive situations. Perreault recalls a dog named Lucas, who was tied in a garage and so matted that the fur on his legs had fused together and he couldn’t move. The family who adopted him sent photos of Lucas on hikes and camping trips. 

In the community 
Dogs are not the only survivors of abuse the humane society has helped. In 2000, the Elizabeth Freeman Center (a non-profit that provides services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault) approached Perreault: People were staying in abusive relationships because of their pets, he says. Abusers would threaten their partner—If you leave, I’ll run over your cat, put your bird in the microwave, stab your dog. So BHS started a program to board pets safely while their owners found a safe place for themselves. The shelter received more than a dozen requests in the first month. 

Some clients at Berkshire Medical Center and Elder Services had animal-related problems as well—I can’t have surgery because I have no one to look after my cat. So, BHS expanded its safe-pet program again. The shelter also has opened a pet-food bank to help people care for their animals in lean times. 

Beyond obedience school 
In a sunny classroom, BHS instructor Lizzie Brown introduces two inhabitants—cecropia moths named Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, now cocooned for the winter. She runs a summer camp and has also started Humane Heroes, a program for kids, aged eight to 14 who want to work with animals. The humane society can’t allow volunteers that young, but with Brown they can learn how the shelter works from the inside. 

Her class talks about timely and sometimes difficult topics, like animal testing, endangered animals, and puppy mills. She holds ethical debates with students, encouraging them to think through their opinions, to stand up for them, or to change them as they learn more. “They get hot over it,” Brown says. “That fire in their eyes—you’re not going to tell me what to do—just delights me.” 

She also dreams up creative projects, like asking the kids to invent their own constellations and stories, then cut their constellations out of tinfoil plates and sit in a circle in the dark, shining flashlights through the “stars” and talking about their homegrown myths. 

The kids can earn points by getting involved and rewards for levels of points. The highest honor they can reach is staff-for-a-day. The shelter estimates more than 2,100 people of all ages come through its programs each year. And for some the connection can run deep. 

This year, Brown has begun working with teens who live at a local long-term foster-care facility. They can’t have animals where they live, but they can earn the privilege of helping Brown at the shelter and spending time playing and socializing with the dogs and cats, puppies and kittens. 

Brown says this new partnership is deeply rewarding—the kids are excited to be there and are responsive to her: “On every level, they identify with these animals, wanting to be loved, wanting a home.” 

Looking ahead 
While Brown plans new college programs and action groups, the humane society is offering free vaccine clinics in North Adams and seminars on current topics in the animal kingdom, from wild horses to urban chickens. It is also actively addressing some hot topics. 

For example, the Internet gives people many ways to find pets, especially dogs, but Perreault warns that not all of these channels are created equal. People have largely stopped getting dogs from pet stores, so puppy mills now create websites calling themselves rescue groups. Other organizations have begun bringing homeless animals from parts of the country that still have the kind of overpopulation the Berkshires experienced 25 years ago. Some may get puppies cheaply and charge as much as $800 to bring one of them to a place like the Berkshires, where puppies are now in short supply. 

Massachusetts has laws about bringing animals into the state, so the buyer often meets the seller at a McDonald’s in New York or Connecticut to collect the dog—and after that, if the dog has any kind of problem, the seller is not responsible. 

BHS has begun transports of its own to make sure there are safeguards in place for both dog and owner. The shelter can look over the dogs, have them checked by a vet, and evaluate their behavior. 

As the number of homeless and unwanted animals shrinks in the Berkshires, Perreault expects his job to continue to change. He thinks, in time, animal shelters will evolve closer to the kind of haven they were in the 1800s, places for animals who need help and rehabilitation, and for people who need the same.


BONDING Community events raise awareness and support for the Berkshire Humane Society. At Jacob’s Pillow, National Dog Day was celebrated with a dance choreographed for dogs and their caregivers. “Partnering is fundamental to many dance genres, and the partnership between dogs and their companions is unlike any other,” says Pillow director Pamela Tatge. (Pictured to the right and in the photos above.)

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More information

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Cost: Free

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370 Beach Road
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View map »


Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
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View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
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Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery
5 Wykeham Rd.
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View map »


Sponsor: Gunn Memorial Library
Telephone: 860-868-7586
Contact Name: Sharon Morrissey

More information

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Website »

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Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
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Join us for a conversation between collector Jeffrey Horvitz and Alvin L. Clark, Jr., (Curator, The Horvitz Collection and The J.E. Horvitz Consultative Curator, Department of Drawings, Division...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield University Art Museum
1073 North Benson Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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A French Affair: Drawings and Paintings from The Horvitz Collection will be on view in the Bellarmine Hall Galleries from January 25 - March 29, 2019; an Opening Reception will take place on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield University Art Museum
1073 North Benson Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Grab a glass of wine and join us in exploring the basics of drawing the figure with artist and Aldrich staff member Noah Steinman. With a live model as inspiration, use a variety of materials such...

Cost: $12; $10.80 member

Where:
The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
258 Main Street
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Jampa Mackenzie Stewart of Valley Spirit and Wellness Center in Washington Depot, CT presents TaiChi & Meditation an Introduction.  Join us for a...

Cost: Free and open to the public

Where:
Gunn Memorial Library
5 Wykeham Road
Washington, CT  06793
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Sponsor: Gunn Memorial Library
Telephone: 860-868-7586
Contact Name: Margaret Ferguson

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Thursday, Jan. 24 Author Talk: Stephanie Land - Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother's Will to Survive, 7 – 8:30 p.m. Maid is showing up on almost every best of, must read, don't miss list of...

Cost: free

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 203-762-3950
Contact Name: Wilton Library
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Members and guests are invited to join us for the Election of Trustees, followed by an artist talk by eight photographers with work in the current exhibit. Visit our website at...

Cost: 0

Where:
Carriage Barn Arts Center
681 South Ave.
Waveny Park
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Join New Morning Market’s new knitting club! We’re crafting wearable items for Safe Haven of Greater Waterbury and welcome all levels to join! Instructors will be on-hand for beginners. Yarn,...

Cost: Free - registration requested

Where:
New Morning Market
129 Main St North
Woodbury, CT  06798
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Sponsor: New Morning Market
Telephone: 203-263-4868
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Blending nature and spirituality, Connecticut artist Lori Barker explores the rhythms of life in a new collection of mixed media works on display at the Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery from...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery
5 Wykeham Rd.
Washington, CT  06793
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Sponsor: Gunn Memorial Library
Telephone: 860-868-7586
Contact Name: Sharon Morrissey

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The Bruce Museum is organizing an exhibition of small artworks created entirely by the public for the public. We invite art lovers of all ages, interests, and abilities to submit a depiction of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bruce Museum
One Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

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In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Zachary Zaitzeff is a painter living in the Hudson Valley who has incorporated his extensive world travel, including his 2011 summit of Mount Everest, into his artwork. Zachary spent 2018 studying...

Cost: free

Where:
RT Facts Gallery
8 Old Barns Rd
Kent, CT  06757
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Sponsor: RT Facts
Telephone: 860-927-1700
Contact Name: Natalie Randall
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Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

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We invite families to drop-in and enjoy interactive pop-up activity stations, gallery games, and art projects around the KMA.  Get inspired by Outrageous Ornament: Extreme Jewelry in the 21st...

Cost: Member price: Free Non-Member price: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Katonah Museum
134 Jay Street
Katonah, NY  10536
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Sponsor: Katonah Museum of Art
Telephone: 914-232-9555
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Calling all fans of Scottish food and Diana Galbaldon’s Outlander series. Don your tartan, make like Jamie’s clan motto and be ready! You’re invited to an amazing Outlander...

Cost: 100.00

Where:
Hunt Hill Farm
44 Upland Road
New Milford, CT  06776
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Telephone: 860-355-0300
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Friday, Jan. 25 Wilton Library Mini Golf Tourney for Adults, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. The kids had so much fun at last year’s Mini Golf fundraiser, that Wilton Library is holding one for adults only...

Cost: $50 and up

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 203-762-3950
Contact Name: Wilton Library
Website »

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Original members of the Billy Joel Band featuring Liberty DeVitto on drums, Richie Cannata on saxophone and Russell Javors on rhythm guitar. The band recorded and toured extensively with Billy Joel...

Cost: $40

Where:
The Ridgefield Playhouse
80 East Ridge
Ridgefield, CT  06877
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Telephone: (203) 438-5795
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Born from humble beginnings in the Black Rock section of Bridgeport, CT The Alpaca Gnomes cut their teeth in the neighborhood bar scene by playing marathon shows filled with originals and a wide...

Cost: $15.00 - $20.00

Where:
Wall Street Theater
71 Wall Street
Norwalk, CT  06850
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Sponsor: Jeanne Moore
Telephone: (203) 831-5004
Contact Name: Jeanne Moore
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Are you a lifelong with a passion for sharing history? Find out about becoming a Museum Docent! Docents are trained volunteer educators who present guided tours and other education programs to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Bring the baby and enjoy a lively conversation inspired by the art on view. Enjoy light snacks while socializing with newly-made friends. Crying babies welcome and activities provided for older...

Cost: Member price: Free Non-Member price with Museum admission: Free

Where:
Katonah Museum of Art
134 Jay Street
Katonah, NY  10536
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Sponsor: Katonah Museum of Art
Telephone: 914-232-9555
Website »

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Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
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Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

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In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

Blending nature and spirituality, Connecticut artist Lori Barker explores the rhythms of life in a new collection of mixed media works on display at the Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery from...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gunn Memorial Library Stairwell Gallery
5 Wykeham Rd.
Washington, CT  06793
View map »


Sponsor: Gunn Memorial Library
Telephone: 860-868-7586
Contact Name: Sharon Morrissey

More information

Winter Guided Hike @ Woodcock Nature Center Saturday January 26th, 10-11:30am, FREE ​ Join Mr. Sam for a hike where we'll investigate whats going on in nature in the winter season and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Woodcock Nature Center
56 Deer Run Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Woodcock Nature Center
Telephone: (203) 762-7280
Contact Name: Sam Nunes
Website »

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The Bruce Museum is organizing an exhibition of small artworks created entirely by the public for the public. We invite art lovers of all ages, interests, and abilities to submit a depiction of...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bruce Museum
One Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-869-0376
Website »

More information

Heather Gaudio Fine Artis pleased to present “Jae Ko: 漂流 Drift,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at the gallery.   In addition to showcasing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Heather Gaudio Fine Art
66 Elm Street
New Canaan, CT  06840
View map »


Sponsor: Heather Gaudio Fine Art
Telephone: 203-801-9590
Contact Name: Rachael Palacios
Website »

More information

Saturday, Jan. 26 Mini Golf Family Day in the Stacks at Wilton Library, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Wilton Library will hold its 2nd mini golf fundraising event. There will be food (each paid admission will...

Cost: $5

Where:
Wilton Library
137 Old Ridgefield Road
Wilton, CT  06897
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Sponsor: Wilton Library
Telephone: 203-762-3950
Contact Name: Wilton Library
Website »

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  Touchon transforms verbal language into handsome geometric compilations, to reveal the beauty and musicality of language characterized by warmly colored shapes, interlocking irregular grids and...

Cost: free

Where:
Canfin Gallery
39 Main Street
Tarrytown, NY  10591
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Sponsor: Canfin Gallery
Telephone: 914-332-4554
Contact Name: Jean-Claude Canfin
Website »

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Zachary Zaitzeff is a painter living in the Hudson Valley who has incorporated his extensive world travel, including his 2011 summit of Mount Everest, into his artwork. Zachary spent 2018 studying...

Cost: free

Where:
RT Facts Gallery
8 Old Barns Rd
Kent, CT  06757
View map »


Sponsor: RT Facts
Telephone: 860-927-1700
Contact Name: Natalie Randall
Website »

More information

Here’s a holiday idea for the whole family – a private tour of the Peter Parley Schoolhouse! The Ridgefield Historical Society maintains and operates the 1756 Schoolhouse, also called the...

Cost: Suggested donation $10 for adults, kids are free

Where:
Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Intersection of West Lane and CT Rte 35
Ridgefield, CT  06877
View map »


Sponsor: Ridgefield Historical Society
Telephone: 203-438-5821
Contact Name: Peter Parley Schoolhouse
Website »

More information

Saturday, January 26th from 1:00 - 2:00 PM, Ages 4+ Attend for groovy crafts, snacks, games, and more in celebration of the Pete the Cat book series. This event is free and no registration is...

Cost: Free

Where:
Keeler Library
276 Titicus Road
North Salem, NY  10560
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Sponsor: Keeler Library
Telephone: 914-669-5161
Contact Name: Carolyn Reznick
Website »

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Hudson Chorale, the area’s largest mixed voice chorus, is poised to please.  The group will begin its 2019 season with two matinee concerts on Saturday, January 26, 2019 at 3:00 pm and Sunday,...

Cost: Advance Sale-$25; Door-$30; Students-$10.

Where:
The Chapel at Maryknoll
55 Ryder Rd
Ossining, NY  10562
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Sponsor: Hudson Chorale
Telephone: 1-800-838-3006
Contact Name: Anne Norum
Website »

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Join us for a very special evening of music from these four accomplished singer songwriters: David Ray, Mike Latini, Dave Goldenberg, George Mallas.  

Cost: 20.00

Where:
Hunt Hill Farm
44 Upland Road
New Milford, CT  06776
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Telephone: 860-355-0300
Website »

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Join us for another incredible evening of music featuring four local singer songwriters performing original music! Doors open at 7pm in New Morning’s handicapped accessible Community Room on the...

Cost: Free

Where:
New Morning Market
129 Main St North
Woodbury, CT  06798
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Sponsor: New Morning Market
Telephone: 203-263-4868
Website »

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