If you had the opportunity to enjoy a Dr. Pepper (P.S. one of his favorite beverages) while chatting with a young Galen Barrett during his freshman year at Iowa State University, the conversations might have surprised you.
Sure, basketball and football would have been addressed, maybe even hunting and fishing. But the topics that may have shocked you hovered around aircraft and spaceships, not kittens and puppies.
It’s a little surprising to discover he entered college with a major as an aerospace engineer. He quickly discovered his passion lay in realms much different than gears, numbers and traveling miles high above earth. Looking back, many of his friends growing up enjoyed spending time outdoors, and their passions evidently rubbed off on an impressionable Galen.
So, during his tenure in college, his major changed to fish and wildlife biology; and the rest, you could say, went down in history.
Growing up in Shelby, a rural Iowa community, one might assume he spent time on a farm, caring for livestock and owning a multitude of pets. Quite frankly, the opposite was true; and while he did own a few pets, he wasn’t a poster child for a career working with animals.
An emerging Hitchcock Nature Center in Pottawattamie County gave Galen his first taste of a career in the outdoors, where he served as Park Ranger from 1993 to 1998. Back then, there was a lodge, but no visitor center, a stark difference to all that Hitchcock offers guests today. He worked alongside a naturalist to assist the public in experiencing what the Loess Hills had to offer.
All the while, he felt the need to serve the public in another capacity, so he began a second career in 1994 (this one voluntary) with the Crescent Volunteer Fire Department. He has served as their solo fire chief for the last 20 years and continues to offer his skills while sharing his strong, yet calming demeaner to the citizens located just north of the Metro.
His life was about to take a redirection, however, as a new opportunity presented itself in 1999. Galen became the chief animal control officer for the city of Council Bluffs, where his office would be located in a small, white and green building that sat visible off Interstate 80, having been recently demolished as it was no longer needed.
All animal control services for the city are now handled in a portion of the building owned by the Midlands Humane Society, where the city leases space.
Asked about his most interesting day on the job, a chuckle ensued, followed by a story of two emus running at large near the Mall of the Bluffs. Very new to the job and armed with nothing more than dog leashes, he was dispatched to capture the large birds.
Luckily, a couple police officers and concerned citizens assisted Galen in the chase. The owners were located nearby, and the emus returned to graze in peace.
On the flip side, when asked about his worst day, he paused, then humbly said, “It’s never a good day when I have to euthanize an animal or when I encounter a household that hoards animals, and they’re not in good shape.”
Galen expressed a simple sentiment when it comes to pet ownership: “While it’s true that pets are property, these animals do have feelings and emotions and should be treated as members of the family.”
In pressing Galen a little further, I inquired what animal would he own, if he could own any animal on the planet. Without missing a beat, he replied, “Wolf.”
“They are the coolest creatures, and they’re all about family. They take care of their youngest and oldest members. Humankind could learn a lot from this majestic animal.”
In actuality, the pets that Galen, along with his wife and two children own are two chihuahuas. Go figure.
During his free time, Galen started a private taxidermy business, Barrett Taxidermy LLC in 2018. He attended several months of specialized schooling in St. Charles to learn this trade. He has completed mounts from large to small, among them deer, badgers, fox, squirrels and birds.
What advice does Galen have for those wanting to pursue a career in animal control?
“Expect every day to be different. Expect tough situations with people and animals. But, also expect to be rewarded by knowing that, at the end of the day, both people and animals were helped because of actions you took. This career is demanding and can be difficult to get in to. But if your passion is helping animals, keep pursuing your dream.”
Even though retirement is still several years away, Galen does look forward to more time spent with family. And while he’d be perfectly content with the view from his own front porch, he’d probably prefer spending a little more time at his favorite vacation destination … Hawaii.
If the public has questions for Animal Control, needs to report an animal at large or report an animal abuse situation, they can be reached at 712-328-4656.
MHS Animals of the Week are brought to you by Wolf Brothers Western Wear:
Optimus is a Pitbull/Boxer mix that arrived at MHS as a stray in early April. He is a 1 ½ year old that would really enjoy another playmate. Optimus is a busy, playful boy who would do well in a household that enjoys adventures. He does need to be adopted to a home outside the city limits of Council Bluffs.
Ranger is a Lab mix who would be a great fit in a home with older children. He can be a bit pushy with certain dogs but may get along well with the right dog companion.
Buttercup really wants someone to be her person. When entering her cat colony, she is the first to jump right into your lap for some attention. This sweet little Tortoiseshell is about 3 years old and came in as a stray.
Titan is a large, handsome, grey and white cat with dreamy long hair. He is an older boy, at 9 years old, so this gentle giant would be thrilled to be in a home again so he can lounge on the couch.
Come see these great pets and all their friends at the Midlands Humane Society today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or Monday through Friday from 12 to 6 p.m. You can also check out adoptable animals on our website midlandshumanesociety.org.