‘Friend to every creature’: Longtime Brattleboro animal control officer retires with stories to tell | Local News

BRATTLEBORO — After 36 years of being Brattleboro’s animal control officer, Cathy Barrows has retired and now plans to write a book about her career, as well as go fishing and spend time with her two grandsons.

“It was my passion to educate and protect the public,” Barrows said. “I will continue to be an advocate and a voice for animals.”

Barrows began working for the Brattleboro Police Department on Feb. 10, 1986, and retired July 4.

“Cathy was a friend to every creature great and small, whether two legs or four,” Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said. “We thank her for her commitment to this community and wish her the best in retirement.”

Barrows is “very knowledgeable” about animals and caring for them, Lt. Adam Petlock of the Brattleboro Police said. He described how Barrows was always willing to help out even when she wasn’t on duty, and how she developed “really good relationships” with the Windham County Humane Society and local veterinarians.

Barrows did a lot to help get animals vaccinated and humans financial assistance so they can afford their pets, Petlock said.

Brattleboro Police gets many animal-related complaints. Officers can’t spend as much time as Barrow could on such issues, Petlock said.

“She could really dive into them,” he said. “Surely, she’ll be missed, and it will be difficult to replace her knowledge and experience. It’s far beyond the work a typical line officer would perform.”

Over the years, Barrow noticed how the ACO’s role has evolved.

“Stereotypes die hard, but the image of the typical ACO has changed remarkably,” she said. “I can remember cartoons of net-carrying villains and mean dog catchers being the bad guys. That’s in the past. Now, ACOs are considered on the front line of protecting the community and animals.”

Barrows started her career as a regional animal control officer and animal cruelty investigator with the Windham County Humane Society. She was certified for law enforcement in animal control through the Vermont Police Academy and the New England Animal Control Academy.

In 1986, the Brattleboro Police Department opened its first ever full-time ACO position.

“After several hundred applications were reviewed, I was selected and hired by [then] Police Chief Bruce Campbell,” Barrows said. “There was a real need for full-time assistance to answer a large volume of calls and complaints within Brattleboro from the public.”

After working 40 hours a week for the town for a few years, Barrows said, the loss of her expertise at the Humane Society was felt by the rest of Windham County. Campbell made arrangements for the society to hire her for 10 hours a week, with the town getting her service for 30 hours a week.

Barrows assisted in securing grants to fund spaying and neutering to aid in curbing cat overpopulation, and low-cost vaccination clinics for the community. Since about 2005, she has been solely employed by the Brattleboro Police.

Barrows called her career “fulfilling.” However, she noted it can be dangerous, not only dealing with animals but humans, too.

“Having animal knowledge and skills, patience, sensitivity and empathy has helped me understand the human emotions that arise to effectively diffuse situations,” she said. “The hardest part of the job was seeing animals suffering. Having the ability to navigate difficult issues and resolve them so they didn’t was a reward in itself.”

Sometimes the job would bring her to court. She said she would prosecute cases that she wrote tickets for and wasn’t always well-liked by offenders or defensive pet owners; however, most times the defendants walked away with a great deal of respect for her and were apologetic once they realized she was only trying to get them to comply.

Some of her cases were “pretty significant and important,” said Bob Perkins, who retired from the Police Department in November and was her supervisor for several years.

“She was just a wealth of knowledge. People from all over the area would call if they weren’t sure about what to do with a specific case or animal or topic. She always seemed to have the information,” Perkins said.

One incident involved a toddler who was mauled to death by a wolf-hybrid dog in Townshend.

“Everyone was too afraid to remove her,” Barrows said of the animal. “She was covered in blood and being very protective of her litter. With guns drawn by troopers around me and prepared to shoot, if she attacked me, I was able to remove the wolf hybrid and her litter of without incident.”

Barrows said she investigated “many extreme hoarding cases.”

“Generally, the owner’s mental health and/or lack of funds plays a role in the way animals are kept and cared for,” she said.

Barrows recounted how “a very sweet elderly lady with a history of mental illness had 82 cats in her home. She felt she was helping the cats, but it was just the opposite. She never let any of them out because she didn’t want them hit by cars, which is generally wise; however, their living situation was very unsanitary. They lacked proper nutrition and medical attention. There was rotting garbage all over, no place to walk unless you walked on top of things.”

When Barrows entered the home, she said, flies landed on top of her head and covered her hair. She saw the woman was covered in what appeared to be flea bites and scratches. Barrows asked the woman what she had eaten that day and she said she had split a can of cat food with her kitties.

Barrows said she assured the woman she came to help and the woman allowed her to take the cats and kittens, who were treated for health issues and released for adoption. The woman eventually was able to get four cats back, which was part of the agreement if the woman received medical attention and counseling herself.

“She wrote me often to tell me how much she appreciated my kindness,” Barrows said. “Her case worker kept me abreast of how the owner and cats were doing until she died several years later.”

Domestic abuse and animal abuse go hand in hand, said Barrows, who discovered abuse and neglect of women, children and vulnerable adults while investigating cases.

“Drug addiction and mental health issues often times are prevalent,” she said.

Barrows once received a call about a man dragging a kitten up and down Main Street in the middle of winter. He used a heavy chain around the kitten.

With the help of a couple of police officers, Barrows located the man in an apartment. She said that when an officer knocked on the door, the man suddenly opened up and “flung the heavy chain out the door, skimming past my head and hitting another officer in the chest.”

The man was arrested and had extraditable warrants in Florida. As he was being handcuffed, Barrows spoke with him about the incident and he told her he brought the cat outside for a “magic carpet ride” because she was bored.

“It was obvious he was high on drugs,” Barrows said. “When he was frisked, he had a large amount of money and drugs on him.”

The cat survived and was treated before being adopted.

Another story did not have a happy ending. Barrows said she responded to an apartment in Brattleboro where a man had become upset with his cat after the animal scratched him, and his reaction — throwing him against the wall and trying to squish him with a bookcase — ended up killing the animal.

Barrows estimates that she has picked up hundreds of rabies vectors — such as racoons, skunks, foxes, coyotes and woodchucks — that were sick, injured or displaying signs of rabies and were deemed an immediate threat to the public. She also saved the life of a teenager who initially did not want to get treated after being bit by a cat that later tested positive for rabies.

Barrows recalled catching a rabid fox that put Brattleboro Union High School and Oak Grove School on lockdown, and picking up animals believed to be dead in roads but were not.

Several years ago, a rash of calls of cats being found dead with their feet bound together and blood drained mostly in wooded areas in West Brattleboro area led to research that pointed to Satanism. Barrows said that in the suspect’s basement, police found a sacrificial altar, animal blood, paintings of pentagrams, items used to kill and torture, and videos of sex with young girls.

“Needless to say, the individual was given a very long prison sentence, and the finding of deceased cats that were sacrificed stopped,” she said.

Barrows also responded to an incident where a 6-foot alligator was kept in the basement of a house in Brattleboro. She said “Al” ended up “in a very nice rehab center in Massachusetts, where the owner and his family could go visit him.”

Other calls Barrows mentioned involved a 9-foot boa constrictor being hit by a car on Marlboro Road and then rehabilitated, and an illegally acquired monkey biting someone at a basketball game.

Brattleboro’s low-cost rabies vaccination, dog licensing and microchipping clinics were “quite popular and the public was very grateful for them,” said Barrows, who ran them for 32 years until COVID-19 hit. She credited her husband with helping to put up signs to promote the clinics and run them. She also thanked local veterinarians who volunteered their services for the efforts. Proceeds benefitted the Brattleboro Police Cadets, a nonprofit organization for youth interested in law enforcement, the Brattleboro Police Union and the Windham County Humane Society.

Barrows also thanked the society staff, Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife game wardens, the Vermont Department of Health, veterinarians, rehabbers, law enforcement agencies, Windham County State’s Attorney’s Office and court staff. She expressed gratitude for the public for their support and using social media as a tool to locate pets.

“Special thanks to Jane Fletcher for being at our clinics licensing dogs for the convenience of the public and to her co-workers with Brattleboro Town Clerk’s Office for their hard work licensing dogs, compiling a monthly update for me and looking up vaccination and owner’s information when I needed them,” Barrows said, “and to the members of the Brattleboro Police Department and parking enforcement who are my extended family.”

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