An Interview with Erin & Cathy at Purradise
There is a little yellow house at 301 Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington. It’s full of two things: cats and love. Purradise is Berkshire Humane Society’s satellite feline adoption center and temporary home to felines in need of a little extra TLC, like Petey, a senior gentleman with an eye disorder who has been waiting for a home for more than 2 years. The women who run Purradise love their work as much as they love the cats they care for. Erin Starsja, BHS’s Feline Manager, and Cathy, a Feline Adoption Counselor, share their devotion to the cats in this conversation about BHS’s special South County shelter.
What makes Purradise so special?
Cathy: Purradise has a homey feel. It’s a place where we can give special attention to the cats that either need additional socialization or cats that are, unfortunately, growing older at the shelter. Like Petey. We can tend to them better here, and they are more comfortable. Petey might not get to go home, but at Purradise, he has a huge family that loves him and takes care of him.
Erin: Cathy is spot on. Purradise is a quieter, calmer environment for the cats, making it easier to give them the extra care and attention that they need. It’s also an opportunity for BHS to branch out into a part of the community that our main shelter—which is 20 miles away in Pittsfield—doesn’t reach as easily. We’re able to reach more people who are interested in adoption, and who might need support.
Cathy: A lot of people walk into Purradise and are very impressed. We have separate rooms, like the Sun Room and The Nook, which is pretty much like your bedroom at home, just without a tv. When you walk in, you feel like you’re walking into a home. We also like to decorate and make it cute. We make sure everything looks professional, but we also give it a personal touch so it’s an inviting place for both people and the cats.
Erin: Shelters, for good reasons, are built for cleanliness and sterilization. The ventilation system at our main shelter replaces the air 16 times an hour! It’s an amazing place to care for animals, and it’s more commercial. Purradise is a house that has been modified to shelter the cats. They have already been through their quarantine, and we’re not as concerned with segregation when they come here. We keep things extremely clean, but we’re also able to have a softer environment. Wood floors instead of concrete or tile. Painted walls instead of cinder block. Textures you would find in your home, which helps the cats acclimate to something similar in their future forever homes. Plus, we have lots of cat-friendly furniture! It’s set up as if they ran the place.
How are cats selected to come to Purradise?
Erin: We try to keep a variety of age, sex, and temperament, but we do focus on cats that have been overlooked at the main shelter. Some cats just need a change of location and a fresh set of eyes to find a home. We do well with seniors because of our environment. We also take on cats that have medical issues. Our capacity is smaller, which allows us to give each animal more time and attention. And some cats just can’t handle the hustle and bustle of the main shelter—they need a quiet place to feel comfortable so they don’t hide under their bed or resist meeting potential adopters.
Cathy: I always push for the older cats. We can make them more comfortable until they go home. We’ve had several cats who were here for years.
Purradise is great for that.
Erin: King, who went home recently, had stress-induced asthma. An active, busy environment can trigger an attack, so being here was very good for him. We were able to help him go 6 months without an attack.
Cathy: Petey is doing well here because he doesn’t have to be caged. He has the entire upstairs room to himself. As he ages, he’s developing more issues.
Erin: Not being confined keeps his joints moving. We couldn’t do this at the main shelter.
In Pittsfield, we have the Feline Mall where each cat gets to run around for a little while during the day. We also have get-acquainted rooms, but again, it’s tile floors and painted cinder block. It’s a very lovely facility, but you can’t have blankets all over. Here we have The Nook and the Sun Room. The cats can see birds on the feeders. They can watch the cars go by and people come and go. They get to lounge on the windowsills and bask in the sun, which is good for their mental health.
Do people enjoy visiting?
Cathy: We constantly hear about how nice Purradise is. People are shocked by what we have in the cages, which surprises us because we give them what cats should have. We provide toys and other kinds of stimulation. We make things for them, especially the ones that aren’t comfortable enough to come out of their cage. We have to be creative.
Erin: People enjoy being able to interact with the cats a little more easily at Purradise. That’s not always the best for the cats, but people love it. We have these comfy rooms that the cats are already comfortable in.
Cathy: People can really get a feel for what a cat is like here. We have so many options for scratching posts, beds, toys. We know what they like, and we can share that.
Erin: I think it’s really cool to the adopters that we can give them specifics. This cat really likes this material to scratch on. They love this type of bed, or they really love feather toys. It adds a little extra something to the process.
Do you recall any unique or special cats who were transformed by their stay at Purradise?
Cathy: Definitely! Petey is number one in my heart. I love them all like my own pets, but he’s definitely touched my heart. Also Princess. Seeing her leave…happy tears. It was amazing. She’s one we had to coax out of her shell. For the longest time she wouldn’t do anything. I think she was depressed. We worked with her for months, trying different things to see what she liked to do. And we found things. She started feeling better. She actually enjoyed coming out to play. We got to see her bloom into this amazing cat.
Erin: I fell in love with Princess the day I met her at the shelter. There was something about her. I could see it in her eyes. We were able to show her, with time, that she was safe. I think that between diet and exercise and love, we were able to help her feel good about herself, which helped her show better. She finally wanted people to see her and pay attention to her.
Also, Tootsie. She was with us for over a year. Tootsie came in with kittens, and they all carried the feline herpes virus. The stress of relocating into a shelter made the virus active. Just some runny eyes and cold-like symptoms. This meant they had to be isolated because it’s contagious. We were able to get all their symptoms under control, and all the kittens found homes. People will overlook a lot of things for a kitten. They are willing to take on pre-existing medical conditions or behavioral issues because kittens are fun and cute. But mom wound up sitting with us for a very long time.
Being at Purradise helped keep her stress very low. We were able to show her she was loved. She never gave up hope. She would meow at everyone who approached her, and rub her head on the bars, and say ‘come pet me, come see how much love I can give you.’ It was super special for us when we found that person who said, ‘okay, so she’s got an issue.’ Don’t we all?!
Cathy: She always kept that motherly aura about her.
Erin: She did! She wanted to care for everyone around her. Even people, even us. We were trying to care for her and she was caring for us just as much.
How can people support Purradise?
Cathy: You can sponsor an adoption, cage, or room. We have lists on all the cages with things you can buy for the cats, either while they are here or when they go home.
Erin: We’re entirely volunteer and donor driven, just like at the main shelter. We’re able to do this work because of our community. We can’t give the cats what they need if we don’t have the funds. Monetary donations go a long way. Also, supplies. We clean constantly and we send cats home with things that smell like them, so donations of blankets, toys, food, and cleaning supplies are all a huge help.
What do you love most about your job?
Cathy: I love being with the cats every day. Bonding with them. Helping them find their forever home. I think we do a really good job because we treat them like they are our own pets. I like that I can come be here for them. They need somebody. I don’t like leaving them at night. I wish I could take them all home!
Erin: People ask us all the time, how do you let them go? I completely understand where they are coming from, because we do form these intense bonds with the cats. But ultimately, the work we’re doing is for them to be in a home where they will be loved and spoiled for the rest of their life. Even though we have to say goodbye, it’s worth every emotional tear we go through. It all comes down to helping them, helping people who want to adopt them. As long as we can keep helping, we’ll be happy.