Everyone in the cat world of Santa Barbara of the old days knew of Berka. I don’t think it would be far-fetched to call her the Original Cat Lady of Santa Barbara. It started with one stray cat when she and her husband, Jim, ran the Redwood Inn restaurant, which featured German food. Berka did the cooking while Jim baked the pies. That historic Brinkerhoff Avenue house is still standing, as is its huge redwood tree. After they closed the restaurant, Berka operated Redwood Antiques there, for many years.
Taking in that one stray and ailing cat was the start of her feline philanthropy, and it grew wildly from there. She never could turn away a cat in need. It was Berka I called in 1990 for help when my daughter told me about some stray cats behind a shopping center. A coworker mentioned a blonde woman who was always at St. Francis Pet Hospital with cats when he brought his cat in. St. Francis gave me her name, and she and I were out trapping that very evening. We sat there night after night until all the cats were trapped and neutered. What a great feeling — those stray cats would never again need to struggle to care for their kittens. That first episode of trapping actually became the catalyst for Catalyst for Cats.
Over the years, Berka opened up several second-hand shops to fund the care of the cats. When she went nonprofit, she chose the name The Tenth Life Foundation (now Ten Lives Foundation) because her specialty was caring for older and disabled cats no one wanted or that people could no longer care for.
When Jim died, it became increasingly difficult for Berka to properly care for the large number of cats, and when the city intervened, changes had to be made; this proved to be a difficult time for her. Despite many physical ailments, she did the best she could for her beloved cats. For the last few years, she lived in an assisted-living situation, and care of the remaining cats has been taken over by Rafael Macias and his family, who also love them, and who reported to Berka daily.
An era has come to an end with Berka’s recent passing. Donations can be made to the Ten Lives Foundation, 615 Bradbury Avenue, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, to help with the care of the remaining cats.