Veteran animal control officer battles cancer

Carol Barnes, the county’s animal control officer, plays with a dog at one of the island’s animal shelters. She’s struggling to continue working while battling colon cancer. - Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Carol Barnes, the county’s animal control officer, plays with a dog at one of the island’s animal shelters. She’s struggling to continue working while battling colon cancer.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

For the last quarter of a century, Carol Barnes has been a friend to creatures great and small on Whidbey Island.

But for now, the county’s well-known animal control officer sometimes isn’t able to respond to as many critter-related calls for help, at least not as quickly as she once did. Barnes is fighting colon cancer and trying to continue working while undergoing ever-increasing doses of chemotherapy.

“My overall concern is providing the services to the best of my abilities,” said Barnes, an unrepentant animal lover. “However, I have been getting great support from the Island County Sheriff’s Office and the commissioners.”

Chief Administrative Deputy Wylie Farr has set up an account at Whidbey Island Bank to help Barnes with medical expenses.

“So many people in the county wanted to help her out,” she said. “They all love her.”

Farr explained that when a county employee gets sick, the other employees can donate vacation or sick time to help them. Although Barnes is a commissioned officer, she works a contract position for the county. That means she doesn’t have the county’s health insurance and other employees can’t donate sick time to her.

So, Farr set up the bank account to provide employees a way to aid their friend. Of course, you don’t have to be a county employee to donate to the Carol Barnes fund.

Barnes discovered she has colon cancer in the most unsettling way. One night in early January, she started having breathing problems at home and ended up calling an ambulance. The doctors at Whidbey General Hospital found that her heart was very weak and there was fluid in her lungs.

The cause, they discovered, was colon cancer.

“I had been sick for so long and didn’t know it,” she said, adding that the untreated cancer had stressed her heart.

Barnes was sent to St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham, where doctors performed colon surgery. Unfortunately, her colon had perforated and the cancer had spread.

As a result, Barnes is on a regiment of oral chemotherapy pills for six months. The potency of the medicine will continually increase over time, making it more and more difficult for her to work.

“There’s good days and there’s bad days and we do what we can,” she said.

As for animal control, Barnes said she and her two part-time employees continue to handle as many calls as they can, which includes everything from dog barking complaints to animal abuse allegations. She ended her week last Friday dealing with pitbulls at a home eviction.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said deputies have been handling as many animal-related calls as they can while Barnes has been sick, though they need her for certain cases that require investigations.

“Animal control is extremely important,” Brown said, pointing out that the county receives more than 1,300 calls for service related to animal problems each year.

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