How many times in life are we motivated only to become disillusioned? How many times do we feel led or called to do something, only to allow circumstances or others to derail us?
For Carol Barnes, being an animal control officer for over 30 years is no easy mission, yet she remains focused on the good she can accomplish.
She states, “We all have a calling in life, my mission is educate people and protect animals.”
Barnes’ mission is a passion every day and night.
Kim McMaster and daughter Mysti remark, “Carol is truly a Hometown Hero to our island animals. She is available to help them anytime she is called with professional advice on even the most unfair situations. This is very difficult when you see some of the horrific situations these animals are in. This takes a very strong person. For Carol it does not matter if it is day, night, weekend or the Super Bowl — she always answers her phone and is willing to help an animal or person in need.”
Barnes’ love for animals goes back to childhood.
“My mom would drive me an hour and a half away to ride horses. I later learned to clean stalls and care for horses so I could exchange my labor for hours of riding. Growing up I collected stuffed animals, to make up for all the live animals I wanted to have,” she says laughing.
Barnes eventually traded enough labor for a horse named Midnight. After high school she landed a banking position, but yearned to be with animals. When a local pet store advertised a minimum-wage position, she grabbed the job.
She says, “My parents were so disappointed; they told me I was giving up a promising career, but I knew it was the right decision for me.”
She later became a vet technician, a dog groomer, and boarding kennel worker. Being raised in Seal Beach, Calif., she dreamed of one day being out in the country around wildlife. She looked for jobs that called to her.
“I was told about a position with animal control on Whidbey Island in the early 1980s for what was called then a ‘Dog Pound Keeper.’ I knew that position was where I was meant to be.”
Barnes remembers the conditions of how homeless dogs were kept back in those days.
“It was dreadful back then, the animals were in horrific conditions and only had a few days to be adopted before we had to take them to King County Shelter for the slim chance they might find a home, but more likely be euthanized,” she said, grabbing a Kleenex and wiping her teary eyes.
“We tried various programs, such as pet of the week, anything to try and lengthen the dog’s chance of being adopted. I had an amazing staff. Each of us had to keep reminding ourselves that things would get better for the animals.”
She kept her focus of animal welfare and education, and working toward having the pound become a Humane Society shelter. She enlisted help in 1990 from Pam Lock. She states, “With the help of so many generous people in this community, the WAIF (Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation), shelter became reality in 1997. That was a very, very good day for the animals, and people too.”
She says sadly there are still some who treat animals horribly.
“The abuse and neglect gets to all of us in this work,” Barnes said.
She added that when she responds to an abused, abandoned, or neglected animal call, it is heartbreaking.
“We can tell when a dog is left abandoned; the dog will circle around the area they are left, waiting for their owner to come back. The dog loves their owner, and expects them to return for them, but they never do. It’s so sad. How could a person leave their companion, their best friend that loves them unconditionally, like that? Many times the animal has been shooed away, things thrown at them, hit at, or worse; it can take time until they can trust a human again. Sometimes it’s gone too far, and we cannot save the animal. There are very sad circumstances, frustrating and difficult days, tearful or sleepless nights and challenging moments. However we must continue in this work. The animals need our voices.”
Barnes says crimes against animals are unacceptable when there are many programs in place to help. There is zero tolerance for abuse and neglect. Some people give no thought to what it means to be responsible for an animal.
She says, “Other people want to do the right thing, and love their animals, but have fallen on hard times. For instance someone loses their job and can’t afford the license [fee] for their dog. I would rather give them more time to comply, and if needed find help for them. For example we were called out on a loose dog with no tags. The owner was a single parent, their child accidentally let the dog out, and their fence had a hole in it. That parent just needed some help. We got the fence fixed and found someone to help them with license fees. We make sure they know how to care for their pet, so this doesn’t happen again. I am a public servant, and I want to serve the people as well as the animals.”
Barnes says, thankfully, there are happy stories too. Most recently on a windy, stormy day she received an emergency call that a young horse was loose running around in the middle of traffic on Highway 525. She was concerned about the horse and the people in the cars too.
Barnes enlisted volunteers Sharon Edwards to make Facebook postings and calls to find the owner, and Melissa Newman who had a horse trailer. Barnes says thanks to this community the horse and the owner were finally reunited.
She also praises organizations such as Oasis for Animals, WIAF, Old Dog Haven and many more, that are all invaluable for education and the protection of animals.
“If you look up thankless jobs, you will find Animal Control Officer with Carol’s photo,” wrote Ron Kerrigan, of Old Dog Haven. “Her position itself probably engenders a lot of animosity, advocating for animals from those who do not treat them well. Out of her own pocket, she kept dogs and cats alive before WAIF became a reality and she helped with spay and neutering.
“It was Carol’s love of animals that caused her and Island County [Sheriff’s Office] Sgt. Laura Price, Laura’s mother Pam and Wylie Farr to form, WIFAAP (Whidbey Island Farm Animals Assistance Program) to help care for abused or neglected large animals.”
Barnes says, “Our hearts are torn apart many days from the neglect and abuse of animals we see at the hands of some humans, but we in this work know we are needed.” She adds, “I believe I was put in this position by God for a reason.”
Shari Bibich, manager of WAIF, also remarks what a thankless job Barnes has.
“In the 20 years I have worked with Carol, she knows when to be tough, and shows great compassion for animals and those in need. She worked alongside the founders of WAIF to create a better environment, and this relationship continues today. I have witnessed the difficult situations she has had to deal with that can take an emotional toll, however Carol continues daily with a smile. She has dealt with severe health setbacks, only to bounce back quickly so she could get back to work and serve the public and the animals.”
Bibich says Barnes’ faithfulness to the cause is a testament to her character, and an inspiration to all to keep the mission in sight.
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT CAROL BARNES
“She is the kind of person that gives 110 percent at everything she does: family, friends, church and work. She’d do anything she could if someone, anyone, was in need. She loves serving the people and animals of Island County. Her job can be very hard at times but she has persevered and always looks for the positive in everything she does. Carol has also had some huge personal obstacles in her life that she has overcome, just one of them being cancer. She hardly took any time off during that battle; most people had no idea what she was going through. But that’s the kind of person she is. She doesn’t want to be in the spotlight or draw attention to herself, she is humble in spirit and always gives the Glory to God.”
Tina Youderian, friends’ of Carol’s for over 32 years
“I met Carol when I first started as a reserve deputy in 1999. She is a ‘force’ all on her own and I knew when I met her we would become good friends. Carol and I are sisters at heart; we share the same passion for animals, a good laugh and sometimes a good prank. Carol always puts the animals first when she works. They are the ones who need a voice; Carol is their voice. Most people don’t realize, but she works this job with no other personnel. Whenever she retires, the county will have a hard time replacing her dedication and love for the animals.”
Sgt. Laura Price, Island County Sheriff’s Office, co-founder WIFAAP
“Carol Barnes has a heart for all animals and their owners. In her many years of service as Whidbey Island’s Animal Control officer she often goes above and beyond her official duties. Carol often volunteers her time to do outreach and provide information about responsible pet ownership at festivals and events. Her job places her in some very difficult and heart-wrenching situations, yet she draws upon her loving spirit and professional experience to always strive to do what is right for our whole community.”
Helen Price Johnson, Island County commissioner
“Carol is contracted by Island County and works under my authority as sheriff to investigate cases of animal cruelty, declaration of dangerous animals, and other related crimes such as animal neglect. She also works closely with the prosecutor in deciding whether or not probable cause exists to charge someone with a crime associated with these animal cases. I would like to acknowledge Carol for being selected as ‘Hometown Hero.’ That is exactly what she is. No one I am aware of is more knowledgeable about animal control laws and how they apply to the facts of a case than Carol Barnes.”
Mark Brown, Island County sheriff
“Carol has a great love for animals. I remember helping her pick up a horse, and how gentle she was with the horse and how nicely she handled the situation. Carol is a very kind person and she does a great job taking care of the animals in Island County.”
Melissa Newman, of Setter Ridge English Setters
“I have been Carol’s friend since the early 1990s. Our mutual love of dogs introduced us, but her kindness and love of animals kept us friends. We have traveled and laughed together and sometimes cried together. I appreciate Carol’s sensible and realistic approach to life challenges. Carol has managed to deal with the sadness and sometimes dangerous job of animal control officer for longer than most people could or would. It seems that in her work you just can’t make too many people happy. Carol keeps on because she is there for the animals. I admire her dedication and perseverance.”
Sharon Edwards, animal advocate
“Carol is one of the most caring people I know; she takes her job to heart. I am lucky to work in the same office as her and we have become very close friends. Carol has a way of dragging me out on calls with her at times and it’s always an experience to remember. She really is a hero.”
Wylie Farr, Island County Sheriff’s Office chief civil deputy
“I met Carol Barnes more than 15 years ago when I was a young reporter, and have written stories about her cases regularly ever since. She doesn’t like to be in the spotlight, and hates having her picture taken, but she understands the importance of educating the public about animal welfare. As I remember, the first time I wrote about her was a sad case in which some residents had moved away and left their iguanas behind to starve. I can still remember the shriveled green bodies. Her love of animals has never waned over the years. She’s handled vicious dogs that’ve attacked adults, children and other animals, but always treated the dogs with compassion. She saves her choice phrases — her own unique brand of gentle curse words — for the people who neglect and abuse the critters she loves.”
Jessie Stensland, Whidbey News-Times editor
“I first met Carol about 20 years ago, when I volunteered at the Island County Animal Shelter. Carol has always cared deeply about the welfare of animals, as head animal control officer. When the budget crisis hit Island County, her staff was cut and Carol remained as the sole animal control officer for all of Island County, excluding the City of Oak Harbor. That’s a lot of territory to cover for just one person! Carol has to prioritize the calls she receives, answering the most urgent first. She faces many challenging situations, with many little lives depending on her. I thank Carol for taking the time to call and trusting Oasis to step in and assist, when she needs us.”
Jean Favini, president and founder of Oasis for Animals
CAROL BARNES biography
Birth: April 14, 1956
Born: San Antonio, Texas; raised in Seal Beach, Calif.
High School: Huntington Beach, Calif.
Spouse: Bob Wood
Children: Justin, Rebecca, Retha and Robert
Grandchildren: Marcus, Trent, Haley, Cameron and Addison
Time on Whidbey: 36 years
Hobbies: Family gatherings, 4-H and WAIF events, dog shows, observing obedience competitions and agility trails.
South Whidbey people she appreciates: Shari Bibich, Sgt. Laura Price, the late Pam Price, Mike, Michele, Taryn McKee, Wylie Farr, Ron Kerrigan, Jean and Jerry Favini, Melissa Newman, McMaster Family, Mike and Michele McKee, Wendy Thorn, Kim Knott, Steve Metcalf, Chuck Kelso. All WAIF staff and volunteers, as well as 4-H leaders and volunteers, who teach our young people to respect and care for animals and people.
Q&A WITH CAROL BARNES
What motivates you?
“In the morning, a good hot cup of tea, and giving thanks to God.”
What do you struggle with?
“Having to make a decision to euthanize an animal.”
How do you handle criticism?
“I don’t respond right away. It may be someone just lashing out and upset, and may have nothing to do with me. I reply when I am ready or I might just let it go.”
What seven words would you chose for your epitaph?
“She lived to help animals and educate.”
What were three turning points in your life?
“Having my son attend and join our church, and being hired on as Animal Control for Island County.”
Where can people learn more about Whidbey Island Farm Animal Assistance?
“Look us up online or Facebook, or call 360-240-8421 or write PO Box 402 Coupeville 98239.”