The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 6, 2000


Looking out for Carlisle's farm animals

Whether it's a horse that gets loose from its paddock or an animal that looks as though it may have rabies, the Carlisle Police Department fields calls from residents and refers the call to one of the animal control team in town. The large farm animals in town are protected by volunteers Sally Lakness, who is the animal inspector, and field driver Deb Toher. The two share responsibility for animal concerns in Carlisle along with dog officer Bob Dennison and the police.

Sally Lakness has been the animal inspector since April, after taking over from longtime animal inspector and Carlisle veterinarian Peter Morey. She recently completed an annual survey of barns in town, one of the requirements of the job. Lakness, who arrives unannounced, does a visual inspection, but does not enter the animal's enclosure. The barn inspections are not intended to intimidate owners but to ensure that animals are kept in healthy conditions, she says and is glad to report that animals tend to be well cared for in Carlisle. Owners pay a personal property tax on all farm animals in town.

Police call field driver Deb Toher, a lifelong Carlisle resident, when there is a large-animal emergency. A field driver, the name a relic from our agrarian past, is someone who rounds up livestock. Since Carlisle is the only town in the area with a field driver, Toher is sometimes dispatched to assist with animals in Billerica, Chelmsford and other surrounding towns. She fields many calls from area residents, assisting people with medical questions about their animals. She has been the field driver since 1997, when she took over the position from Jackie Hamilton.

When a wild animal is in distress, however, as with a Great Blue Heron in town recently, police refer the caller to a person licensed to handle wild animals.

Animal tales

Over the years, Toher has her share of stories of rounding up horses and other farm animals that have gotten loose from their paddocks. When a pony was found loose in the middle of the night, she housed the animal in her barn until morning when the pony's home could be located. Late one night a horse was found wandering in Towle Field. Another time a horse jumped out of its trailer while it was being towed and ran off into the woods. To get the horse close enough to catch, another horse was brought over from a nearby farm to attract the horse so he could be approached.

Several years ago, some horses and their riders became stuck in the Tophet Swamp in Great Brook Farm State Park. The riders were not familiar with the watery peat bog conditions off the main trails and became mired in the swamp. That animal rescue required the help of both the police and fire departments.

Another time a cow got loose and was blocking a road at the time the school bus was due to arrive. A police cruiser put on its flashing lights for safety which frightened the cow causing it to charge the patrol car. Toher, who is more familiar with horses than cows, called Mark Duffy of Great Brook Farm. Duffy sent an employee who was familiar with bovine behavior to calm the cow and lead it home again.

Another interesting animal tale concerns an exotic animal, not a farm animal. Lakness' son has a three-foot-long iguana that escaped in June and was feared lost. However, one day in September, the iguana reappeared on their doorstep after surviving on vegetation in the woods all summer, apparently returning to its home for shelter when the weather turned cool again.

Testing for West Nile Virus

When a horse in Bedford died this summer from the West Nile Virus, Toher volunteered to assist with a research project conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. She helped to spot test 100 horses within a five mile radius of Bedford. The results from the blood tests will be completed this month, with officials looking to see how many animals test positive for the virus.

Toher said if an animal is healthy, it can fight the virus and survive, while very young and very old animals are most at risk of dying from the disease. West Nile Virus is carried by birds, and is transmitted by mosquitoes that bite an infected bird and can then transmit the disease by biting an animal or human. While there is concern about West Nile, there is no need to be alarmed about horses transmitting the disease, says Toher. Horses cannot pass the virus on to humans or to barnyard animals.

Rabies concerns

When a wild animal is hanging around and is not afraid of people, the animal control team cautions people to be wary, because the animal could have rabies and become aggressive. Police chief Dave Galvin, police sometimes assist by euthanizing wild animals that are not afraid of people or have other symptoms of rabies, distemper or other diseases. If a person or domestic pet has had an exposure, such as a scratch or bite from a wild animal suspected of rabies, the animal is euthanized and sent to the Department of Public Health for testing.

Lakness also assists if a domestic pet bites an adult or child. The pet must be put under quarantine for a period of time, so that it can be observed for any sign of rabies. The pet is quarantined, whether it has had its annual rabies vaccine shot or not. If there are no rabies symptoms, the quarantine is removed. If rabies symptoms appear in the victim, the animal may need to be euthanized so it can be tested for rabies.

It is important, say both Lakness and Toher, for owners to see that all of their animals, including both domestic and farm animals, receive all their proper vaccines, including rabies shots. "It protects the animals and it protects us," says Toher.

Carlisle an old farming town

Even though one of the new neighborhoods to be built in Carlisle has a private covenant that bars all animals except domestic pets, Toher says that horses have been here for years and will continue to remain a part of the town. "Horses are great for kids," says the licensed riding instructor who helps disabled children learn to ride. "Carlisle is basically an old farm town. Mark Duffy and Great Brook Farm are what the town is about," she says, adding, "This is a gem of a town and we're all blessed to live here." "Animals teach us love, loyalty and responsibility," says Lakness. "Besides that, large animals help to support the hayfields and open space and vistas that everyone loves."

Number of farm animals

in Carlisle:

Horses, ponies, donkeys: 128

Cattle, dairy and beef: 127

Goats: 17

Sheep: 11

Pigs: 4

Llamas: 3

Chickens: 224

Other domestic birds (turkeys, peacocks): 40

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito