By Siri Espy
Many busy people manage to squeeze in some time to volunteer. But talking to Nancy Barylak, it’s hard to imagine how she fits the rest of her life around her volunteering.
Nancy has an unparalleled passion for stray and feral cats. Her work takes place outside the walls of Animal Friends. She can most often be found, traps in hand, rounding up the next batch of homeless cats for the TNR (trap, neuter and release) program in conjunction with Animal Friends’ Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Program.
Growing up in a family of animal people, Nancy found her way into the cause in Atlanta in 1985, where she worked with noted writer and animal activist Cleveland Amory. Nancy carried her involvement back to Pittsburgh with her.
By 1996, Nancy hit full stride when she first visited a colony of 300 cats living along the Ohio River. Then funding her efforts out of her own pocket, Nancy initially trapped 40 cats for spay and neuter surgeries. She’s been known to stay out trapping all night.
She also became a colony caretaker, feeding and caring for the cats in all kinds of weather. Today, Nancy sees the results of ending the reproduction of unwanted cats. “That colony is down to six – four of the original cats, and two who were dumped there.” She currently feeds and cares for several colonies seven days a week, and shares responsibility for still others.
Over the years and thanks to Animal Friends’ resources, Nancy has found homes for countless strays that were able to be socialized. Her own home includes both permanent feline residents and a rotating group of foster cats. Her supportive husband pitches in.
As the Manager of Public Relations for Alcosan for 22 years, Nancy works with local officials and residents, skills she puts to good use in persuading others to support her cause. She’s always pleased to teach others about TNR, and will even share her secret recipe for trapping (courtesy of the Colonel) – KFC. The aroma of the fresh, warm chicken seems to attract cats into the traps every time.
Nancy guesses that she has trapped over 1,000 cats. “When I hear the trap go off, I know there’s one down” in the battle to curb overpopulation, she explains. Add to this her position as vice president of a South Hills volunteer fire company, and it’s hard to imagine how it all fits into a 24-hour day.
Despite her successes, Nancy knows there is a great deal more to be done, and is proud to be part of an effort that includes many unsung heroes. “Sponsor a spay or neuter surgery at Animal Friends,” she encourages. “It’s a great feeling to know you’ve made a difference in a cat’s life and well-being.”