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Berkshire shelter sees more adoptions, but financial toll of virus looms

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PITTSFIELD — Adoptions are up, but donations are down.

In the age of social distancing, the Berkshire Humane Society has seen un uptick of adoptions — 48 animals went to new homes over the past two weeks, up from the usual 30 or so expected during that time span.

"It's because so many people are at home and realize this would be a great time to bring a new pet into the house — when everyone has the time to bond with it and give it lots of attention and training," said John Perreault, executive director of the shelter on Barker Road.

The shelter is currently closed to the public — adoptions and surrenders are still carried out, but by appointment only. Perreault said the organization has bolstered its social media posts, letting folks see the animals up for adoption, and giving Pro Tips in YouTube videos about caring for pets.

But overall, the coronavirus outbreak and the resulting economic tsunami has affected the shelter "dramatically," Perreault said.

Two Catwalk stores in Great Barrington and Lenox that sell vintage clothing to benefit the Berkshire Humane Society have closed with all their employees laid off. The cat shelter and boarding facility in Great Barrington — Purradise — has also closed, with all its furry residents moved to the main shelter in Pittsfield.

Ten employees have been laid off as a result, Perreault said.

"The spring vacation camp for kids has been canceled," he said, "and the way things are going there will probably be no summer camp."

And with the shelter closed to the public, all applications and discussions are done remotely, until an adopter is ready to meet and pick up the new family member.

"Everything is done by computer and phone now," Perreault said. "We are matching people with their pets from a distance."

When it's time to meet their new dog or cat in person, the adopter will come into the just-sanitized classroom through an outside door. There they will meet with the animal in a penned area, and when they're sure about the adoption, they will take the pet home, along with some supplies that have already been set out.

Signatures are no longer required on the adoption application, although the usual vetting process is still in place for adopters. Once they've left, the space is sanitized again.

A skeleton staff still shows up daily to care for the animals, feed the cats, clean their cages, walk the dogs and clean their kennels.

The pet food pantry is also still operating. Anyone who needs assistance with providing food for their dog or cat can call the shelter, place an order, make an appointment, and pick up food outside the front door, Perreault said.

He expects that service will increase significantly as the recession sets in, and he wants to help people hang onto their pets during the downturn.

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"Please give us a call and let us help you keep those pets in their good homes," Perreault said.

He hasn't seen an increase in people surrendering their pets so far, but he suspects that might also increase soon.

"That could change as things get worse," Perreault said.

Going forward, with donations already down, the Berkshire Humane Society has had to cancel several fundraisers because of the virus, at least four so far.

"We are a nonprofit with no income — without money it's going to be tough," Perreault said. "But the animals have to be cared for, so we'll keep doing that work. And we'll be here if there's anybody who needs help."

Right now, he said the shelter is home to 22 cats and 13 dogs.

Sonsini also struggling

The Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter on Crane Avenue in Pittsfield hasn't adopted out any pets lately — there are just four currently in house — and donations are way down, causing some concern among the board and management.

Director Katrina White said the shelter is closed to the public, and has asked its 40 volunteers to stay away during the outbreak emergency. The four paid staff are the only ones allowed in to take care of the animals — four dogs and five cats. Applications are done online, and meetups with potential pets are done by appointment, with sanitizing completed before and after the meeting. Donations of food and supplies, which have decreased lately, can be dropped in the outdoor bin.

White said the shelter also needs to see more monetary donations to keep up with the payroll and other bills.

"Our donations are way down — that's our biggest issue right now," she said. "And I'm worried about the staff. And worried that if they all get sick, who takes care of our animals?"

Like the Berkshire Humane Society, Sonsini has been getting a lot of calls from folks looking to foster an animal. But White noted that fostering a pet is not a temporary thing. The goal for pets who go to foster homes is to see what their character is like and to move them from there into a forever home, or to get adopted by the foster family. Returning to he shelter setting can further traumatize an animal, she said.

One good note, White mentioned, is that with the shelter closed, the dogs are less distracted and more content without constant traffic through the kennels. And the staff has more time to spend with them.

"It's been easier on the dogs," White said, noting that two are senior dogs and two are middle-aged. "So we've had a chance to work with them more, and they like that."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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