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Brighton Beach cat lady: I want to keep my 45 kitties!

Brooklyn Daily

A Brighton Beach cat hoarder says she will give up her rent-stabilized home and live on the street rather than part with all but two of the 45 kitties with which she shares her one-bedroom apartment.

Barbara Berger has been ordered by the landlord of her building on Coney Island Avenue near Neptune Avenue to get rid of her furry friends by March 14 if she wants to remain in the apartment, for which she pays $153 a month.

But the cat lady says she and the felines have no where else to go, and she is the best person to take care of her pals Yoshi, Montgomery, Blake, Caca, and all the rest.

“They need a place to live and so do I,” said Berger. “I love the cats too much.”

Berger said she offered to keeping just 10 cats, but the landlord, Herald Realty Group, said “no.”

If the landlord has its way, Berger will be allowed to stay in the apartment if she whittles the feline colony that’s scratched up the walls and left her place smelling of litter and urine to two, attorneys for the landlord said in housing court last week.

Herald Realty Group declined to comment on Berger’s case.

Some of Berger’s neighbors — who call the 51-year-old the “Brighton Beach cat lady” — can’t wait for the animal exodus to begin.

“It’s disgusting.” said Julie Obraztsova, who lives on the same floor as Berger.

Yet Berger believes she would be hurting her cats if she let them go.

“I don’t want to neglect them,” she told us.

The ASPCA removed three of the cats at one point, but Berger refused to give any more away, a spokesman for the animal rights group said.

The city has no laws that limit the amount of cats or dogs per household, although city Housing Authority residents are limited to one cat or one dog, according Bret Hopman of the ASPCA.

And a friend of Berger’s defended her right to keep the cats, claiming that many of them are so sick or old, no one would want to give them a home.

“A lot of the cats are not that adoptable,”said Andrew Kent.

Berger says she lives on disability checks and whatever she can get from collecting recyclables. She moved into the one-bedroom apartment, which is subsidized by the city, with 15 cats in 2007, but that number ballooned as she took in strays off the street and accepted unwanted kittens from neighbors and friends.

Some borough veterinarians were horrified to learn of the cats’ living conditions.

“With that number of cats I think you’re bordering on abuse,” said Edward Osterman of the Kings Bay Veterinary Hospital in Sheepshead Bay.

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at dbush@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

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Reader Feedback

gene from sheepshead bay says:
how can she afford food and kitty litter for all of them on disability?????
Feb. 24, 2012, 6:50 pm
Marilyn from Sheepshd Bay says:
My heart goes out to Barbara Berger, truly does, but it is very, very expensive and time consuming to care for so many cats. And if they're not altered/spayed, they probably multiply rapidly.

Judging by the photo above, of a lady sitting on the floor surrounded by cats, I think she is the lady I often see in Stop & Shop on Ave Y, cashing in recycled bottles and cans...a very nice woman.

Gosh, it'll be so difficult for Ms. Berger to give up those cats, knowing most will be euthanized. But there really isn't any alternative, is there?
Feb. 24, 2012, 8:26 pm
Ilene from Brighton Beach says:
Where are the local cat rescue groups? Why aren't they helping her and the cats?
Feb. 24, 2012, 10:49 pm
Cynthia from Clinton Hill says:
@Gene, Its obvious she looks like s@#$. she prob takes care of her cats, and not so much herself, I say let her keep her cats and let her be happy.
Feb. 25, 2012, 2:07 am
Andrew Kent from Manhattan Beach says:
I have been working with Barbara to find placements for her cats, and we do have a few commitments to take at least some of the younger and more adoptable ones, several of which are still kittens. The problem is that some of the cats still must be spayed or neutered, medically evaluated, and vaccinated before they can be placed in private homes, and many of the rescue groups and shelters that may have this capability are already filled to the max, many with cats they have been rescuing on just a few hours' notice from the City's Animal Care & Control Agency's infamous death row. Add to this the increase in abandonment and decrease in adoptions due to the troubled economy, and the crisis for homeless animals, like the crisis in human homelessness, continues to spiral out of control.

Barbara is concerned that, if her cats aren't adopted or placed for adoption in no-kill shelters, they will end up at AC&C, where many may be euthanized, either because they are too old or feral, or simply for administrative convenience to free up cage space for younger and more adoptable cats. This constant threat of extermination is why so many who begin as well-intentioned animal rescuers evolve into so-called "animal hoarders," caring for more cats than they can handle if only to save them from a far worse fate.

Ironically, one cat Barbara rescued from AC&C's kill list some fifteen years ago may again face euthanasia if taken by AC&C, this time due to its age. With luck, she will be able to find sanctuaries for the several older cats where they will be able to live out their final years in comfort and freedom.

I have sent emails to more than 150 local rescue groups, shelters, sanctuaries, animal activists, and advocates, have posted on dozens of Facebook pages, and am now following up with phone calls. If just a fraction of those reading our plea w0uld take just one or two cats, Barbara's and her cats' dilemma can be solved. In the meantime, we are hoping for offers of free or low-cost vetting, transportation, legal advice or advocacy, and leads on pet-friendly buildings in the Brighton Beach/Sheepshead Bay area so that Barbara can move with the ten personal cats she hopes to keep before she is evicted for having more than the two to which the landlord has agreed.,

There's a lot more to this story, so, if you want to know more or can help in some way, please email me at ASKent@msn.com or call me at (718) 791-3628. Thank you for letting me share :)
Feb. 25, 2012, 2:44 am
Alan from Sheepshead Bay says:
Barbara is a very sweet and personable lady. She is very pleasant to talk with (even though she may call everyone Mr. or Mrs. Segal, as she refers to us, though we are not Segals). The only time I have ever seen her upset is when she and the Chinese Lady compete for our bottles. (Maybe the latter needs equal time here.) We save our bottles and cans in a big bag for her every week and she is most appreciative. Truthfully, I think we are accustomed to Mrs. Segal's weekly visits (we followed her lead in name referral) as part of our regular routine. Reading between the lines of the article, it looks like she has done an amazing job of not allowing her apartment to become a cat-sty. There are no allegations of urine or feces in the apartment. Cats do scratch. So does my dog. (He also nibbles.) Yes, litter can smell of urine, and it obviously accumulates with 45 cats. So here is my recommendation: People who know and accept Barbara's unconventional but unquestionably humanitarian lifestyle should petition the court to give her time to reduce the number to the compromise 10, provided she doesn't take in any new refugees. They should also question friends and relatives, post ads, etc., to make a serious, concerted effort to find homes for the adoptable. Local vets and big box pet empires like Petco should be asked to contribute (financially and/or medically) toward the neutering/spaying of her existing brood. Then we can help Barbara and her 10 cats live their allotted, destined and harmless lives.
Feb. 25, 2012, 3:02 pm
friend on ave o from midwood says:
barbara you are the greatest, help her by offering to take some cats, she really loves them and does not want to see them harmed, these are her children, she takes good care of them but i understand her neighbors, she collects all the bottles she can to feed them and take care of them. My family collect all the bottles and save them for her, she rings my doorbell each week with a big smile and gives me all the updates of her family and her cat family.
Feb. 26, 2012, 3:12 am
Clare from Sheepshead Bay says:
Barbara really is a sweet heart. She is intelligent and pretty much content on her own. It is a heartbreaking situation..Andrew I know yourself and agencies have tried to help. If there is no light in the near future she will have to accept the assistance available to save her apartment.
My family also saves our deposit cans for Barbara, she knows where to find them in the yard. So many people trust her on their property but adopting a pet is only for people that actually want, or can care for, a cat. I hope for the best.
Feb. 26, 2012, 8:46 am
Mike from Sheepshead bay says:
I can imagine the smell around her apartment
Feb. 26, 2012, 3:42 pm
Adam from Chelsea says:
Would love to see this place as a Livestream.com channel. Any chance you could stream all 45 kitties to the Internet with a webcam?
Feb. 26, 2012, 7:56 pm
Dan from Mill Basin says:
Here are the web addresses of 3 rescue shelters, in order of proximity to Brookyn, that may be able to assist this woman:

bobbyand the strays.org
tabbysplace.org
friedscatshelter.org

Please pass this information on!
Feb. 27, 2012, 9:53 am
sharon from marine park says:
If she's so scared of them being put down she should insist the aspca take them in. They do not put any of their animals down and have a lot of volunteers for foster care as well.
My question is, how could she possibly justify keeping the cats because "a lot of them aren't adoptable"? If the reason they aren't adoptable is because they are sick/disabled it is terribly cruel to keep them alive, especially when forced to share their living space with 44 other cats!
One last thought: if the apartment is subsidized by the city then the city obviously has a right to intervene and just remove the cats, right?
Feb. 27, 2012, 11:07 am
Solomon from Brooklyn Heights says:
Here's the solution: The Landlord and each tenant in the building should adopt one cat (assuming the total is more than 43). That would elimate the odor problem and save the cats. Of course Ms. Berger must agree not to repopulate her apartment with new cats.
Feb. 27, 2012, 2:10 pm
Lore from Sheepshead Bay says:
Also, Sharon- that's not true. The ASPCA will not put cats down themselves, but they only have a few weeks there. Then they get shipped to the ACC so that they will then put them to sleep instead, which the ASPCA can still officially be no kill themselves.

Due to the high number of cats both places work with, it's understandable- because without euthenasia they would be full up to capacity within a day from all the owner abondons there are.

ASPCA will not take all cats as well. They hold on to the ability to turn them down. If they feel they won't be adoptable for any reason, they say no. That's how "no-kill" works. If they don't put animals to sleep, they CAN'T blindly accept all- even if there's still a limited amount of time they can hold cats, they do their best with that time. And, animals at the ASPCA have a minimum of 2 weeks I think, rather than just a few days at the ACC-

But- ACC has to accept every single animal that shows up, ASPCA doesn't- and so the differences in time animals get at each place.
Feb. 29, 2012, 9:56 am
Lore from Sheepshead Bay says:
I've been working with the Brooklyn Rescue Umbrella who's helping Barbara with her situation.

We spent all morning at the vet gettting cats tested; vaccinated; de-wormed (Just to be on the safe side! This stuff is just routine) and checked out for our adoption/foster event at petco on stillwell avenue on March 2-11, the cats are surprisingly healthy and so super friendly!

Donations, if anyone would like to contribute, need to go out to Dr. Robinson so that we can continue to bring more cats in on friday. North shore is taking 5 cats and I'm going to be driving them there in the coming week.

Dr. Robinson
1951 Bath Avenue
Brooklyn 11223
718 256 1900

I was sitting in the vet's office this morning with 6 of her cats, in the office with 2 other people. There was no smell coming from the cats at all. It's easy to clean an apartment- but if cats come from certain conditions, the smell sticks with them for quite a while, even with baths- and there was no sign of that at all.
Feb. 29, 2012, 5:49 pm
Steve from Brooklyn says:
She's what's referred to as the CRAZY CAT LADY!

There's no man in her life because of her obnoxious ways so to compensate she collects these felines as though they were her own husband/children as to convince herself that everything is okay.

That house and her must stink something awful; you rarely hear about some man doing this nonsense.
March 6, 2012, 2:06 pm

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