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Kennel Confidential: The Life of an ACC Animal Control Officer

Kristall Barber

Pets are the honorees of this issue, but the non- or semi-domesticated furry, feathery and scaly residents of Athens deserve their moment in the spotlight, too. Kristall Barber, Athens-Clarke County’s director of Animal Services, has intimate knowledge of their activities and how to respond to their occasional antics. A veteran animal control officer of nearly 17 years, Barber chatted with Flagpole about her experiences on the job.

Flagpole: What is your favorite part of working with animals every day? 

Kristall Barber: Every day is a different day. You never know what you’re gonna get. What kind of situation you’re gonna walk into and what kind of animals you’re gonna deal with—it changes from one day to the next.

FP: What are the most challenging parts of your job? 

KB: The sad stuff, like dog bites. Sick or injured animals that you have to euthanize is never a fun thing. Those are probably the most difficult, and then just being overwhelmed by the amount of animals that you can have at one time, whether that be on a scene or in a facility. 

FP: What portion would you estimate of your calls are those sad ones, and what portion are more along the lines of ridiculous situations you have to untangle? 

KB: 20% are probably sick and injured animals. Then probably 20% of our job is dealing with just weird situations. Like a couple weeks ago, I had a snake that had gotten caught in, you know when a garage door goes up and down, the doors are in four sections? Its back had gotten caught between two sections. This lady, who was probably in her 90s with her oxygen tank, couldn’t get in her house. She opened the door and closed it like four times, but the snake couldn’t get out. By the time I’d gotten there, the Winterville Police Department had actually got the snake out, but then it wouldn’t let her in her front door. So I got my snake tongs out and picked it up and put it in a tree. You just never know what you’re gonna get with those kinds of calls. 

FP: Could you share an interesting or amusing story from work? 

KB: I am extremely short. I’m not quite five feet tall. Even with the catchpole, I could not get this raccoon out of this tree. It was just literally hanging out on this tree with a peanut butter jar stuck on its head. I had to call Officer DeLeon, because he’s taller than I am by a foot and a half. We used a control stick and got him off of the tree, and then we covered him with a blanket, and I pulled the peanut butter jar off his head. As soon as his head was out, he just looked like, “What happened?” We let him go, and he just ran back up the tree. It was so funny; he could not get far enough away from us. 

courtesy of Kristall Barber

FP: What is the craziest thing you’ve seen on the job? 

KB: We picked up an emu one time. That thing wanted to kill us. There were like six of us trying to get this thing. It was like a turkey on steroids—he was taller than me. We chased him around for like 30 minutes, and then when we finally got it, we lassoed it with like six different leashes, and it was still trying to kill us. That thing was never nice. 

FP: What are the most interesting animals you get calls about? 

Any of the wildlife, because you just don’t see them every day. We get a lot of raccoon calls, a lot of possum calls, so I think the wildlife that’s not normal. We’ve had a baby deer here twice now. We get some livestock calls; we’ve picked up a couple of pigs and goats that have been roaming around. We had one chicken and guinea hen. Those wild animals that aren’t normal or the livestock that you don’t get every day are the most fun.

FP: Are you ever called with silly or unnecessary requests? Any examples? 

KB: That’s like every day here. We get calls every day that we don’t go out to, because it’s not that the request is silly, it’s just that it’s not the right department. People think that we have powers that we don’t have or that we’re law enforcement. Sometimes even the police will want us to clear the house. And it’s like, no, you have the weapon. You can clear the house. If there are animals, I will contain them, after you go in and make sure there’s no bad guys that can shoot me. 

Also—snakes outside. That’s a perfect place for a snake. We’re not gonna go remove it from your yard. Wildlife are probably the calls that we get the most that are like, yeah, we’re not going to do that. 

FP: What PSA do you want to send to the Athens community about animal care or ACC Animal Services in general? 

KB: The biggest thing is to make sure your microchip information is up to date. We spend so much time tracking down microchips, it’s ridiculous. Don’t wait to lose your animal to do it. But if you do have an animal that’s lost, as soon as you notice your animal missing, make sure your microchip information is up to date—and know that your pet has one. 

The second thing is to have some kind of identification on your animal. And then for wildlife, leave them alone. Ignore them. Or, learn to live with them. We have purchased this property and taken down all the natural resources for these wild animals. That’s our fault, not theirs. 

And then there’s kitten season—everybody sees a kitten, and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, mom’s obviously gone.” Generally cats don’t have litters of one, so probably she’s in the process of moving them. If the next day you’re still seeing that kitten, then interference is OK, but give the mother some time. 

FP: Is there anything else you want to add? KB: Just that I hate the proverbial idea that dog catchers are usually a short fat person with a net. I blame Disney for that. Yes, we do use a net occasionally, but we are very much animal loving people. A lot of people are like, “I couldn’t do that job. I love animals.” That’s why I do this job: I love animals. This is one of those positions that is a lot of times just misunderstood. I blame Disney—I’ve never seen them do a decent dog catcher.

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