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Two Pittsfielders face 15 animal cruelty charges after mass cat abandonment in January

Asst Shelter Manager Erin Starsja and Arlo (2).JPG
Berkshire Humane Society
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Berkshire Humane Society
Berkshire Humane Society Assistant Shelter Manager Erin Starsja with Arlo, one of the recovered cats.

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced today that it has filed 15 felony animal cruelty charges against two Pittsfield residents who allegedly abandoned the cats in freezing temperatures in January.

The story begins earlier this winter.

“Friday night, January 28th, one of the coldest nights of the year with a predicted storm coming in for late Friday night into Saturday. My shelter manager was getting ready to leave, noticed there was a message on the machine," Berkshire Humane Society Executive Director John Perreault told WAMC. “The message was, it was the animal control officer from the town of Richmond saying there had recently been bunch of cats abandoned out in Richmond near the shores, and that he did not have a vehicle, he would not be going, but there was somebody on the scene. So the shelter manager called some volunteers, some staff, gathered supplies, and off they went.”

Of the cats recovered that night, one was found dead and another had died by morning.

“Saturday morning, we're getting another phone call bought some other cats that were abandoned in Lanesborough," said Perreault. "And we had a Good Samaritan bring in one cat. And then a few hours later, another Good Samaritan brought in three cats.”

When the dust settled and the surviving cats stable and accounted for, the Berkshire Humane Society started to connect the dots.

“One thing we realized is these were two groups of cats both abandoned just about the same time, just not in the same area," Perreault said. "[We] put out $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for this. We got some good leads.”

Leads in hand, the authorities were contacted.

“The Lanesborough and Massachusetts State Police departments were quite involved in the investigation, and our officers jumped in to help," said MSPCA Director of Communications Rob Halpin. “After evaluating the evidence that we were able to find, we charged two individuals, both of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, with 15 counts of felony animal cruelty for abandoning these cats outside.”

Kelly Hathaway and Arthur Raney are scheduled to be arraigned in Central Berkshire District Court on March 18th. Raney did not immediately respond to a request for comment from WAMC. WAMC was not able to reach Hathaway.

“Animal cruelty is a felony crime in Massachusetts, and felony crimes bring with them pretty steep consequences," said Halpin. "A first time conviction for animal cruelty in Massachusetts is punishable by up to seven years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000. So these are very serious charges. This is a very serious crime.”

Halpin described the case as particularly startling.

“There are avenues that are humane and safe, right, to abandon otherwise healthy animals if we can no longer care for them," he said. "And those avenues would be animal shelters. You can also call an animal shelter like Berkshire Humane Society or the MSPCA and say, look, I'm struggling, I need help with my animals, I don't really want to surrender them. And every shelter to more or less a degree has programs available that can help. That didn't happen in this case. This is a particularly disturbing case, because given those avenues existed and weren't exploited, this couple decided to leave them outside on one of the coldest days of the year. So to us, it is outside the bell curve in terms of its cruelty, and we're going to do everything we can with our fellow investigators to seek justice on behalf of these cats.”

Perreault says that while at least one cat involved in the rescue is still missing in Richmond, those in the Berkshire Humane Society’s custody will be easily re-housed.

“If the heroes that night didn't go out to rescue them- I mean, I'm not sure many of them would have made it through the night," he told WAMC. "It was a very, very bitter night with snow coming in. So the real heroes are the people that that really cared for the cats and were out there looking for them.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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