GARNER — Fifteen years ago, Judi Lowry became the Garner police department’s first animal control officer. Now the department will have to find its second.
Lowry will retire from the department on Dec. 31 after helping the town deal with issues ranging from dog-fighting rings to corralling animals ranging from typical house pets to boa constrictors and child-sized iguanas.
The former animal technician has had a lifelong affinity for non-human creatures, and it showed in her work.
“My philosophy was that we’re humane officers. My job as a humane officer was to first ensure that all of our animals are safe and taking care of the owners,” Lowry said. “You have the entire police department to take care of you. The animals only have me.”
Lowry’s stated dedication to animals aside, Councilwoman Kathy Behringer said she has seen firsthand how Lowry strikes a balance when working with animals and people. She talked about a situation involving a neighbor where an owner allowed Labrador puppies to “run wild.”
“She was able to bring that to a conclusion without big fanfare and without anybody being mad at anybody. She understood the pet owner side and she understood the (other) side,” Behringer said.
Garner police spokesman Lt. Chris Clayton served as Lowry’s supervisor for a few years, and also talked about her passion for animals.
“She is very passionate about her job. She’s very driven,” Clayton said. “It was something above and beyond what happens in most communities; she has her finger on the pulse more than most people do.”
The nearly-retired Lowry, 65, will have time to spend time on the 10 (yes, 10) dogs that live in her house. And that’s not to mention the chickens and pair of peacocks she keeps in her yard.
“And we have a couple of black snakes on the property,” she said of the roughly three-acre property outside Garner where she lives.
Lowry’s stability in Garner doesn’t align with her early life. An army brat, she spent her childhood bouncing around. Born in Alabama, she also has spent time in the eastern seaboard, Europe and the Far East.
She spent a year and a half in high school in Okinawa, Japan, while her father, an army helicopter crew chief, worked during the Vietnam War. She also spent some of her high school years in Columbus, Ga., and Newport News, Va.
Even after high school she continued to move around. She said her first husband asked, “Why do we have to move every year?”
“I said ‘I don’t know but we have to,’” Lowry said.
Lowry eventually became a vet technician, assisting veterinarians in a number of ways by giving shots and assisting with surgeries.
She found some stability working for a number of years at Coral Springs Animal Hospital outside Miami before moving to Raleigh in 1992. For the next six years she worked at the N.C. State Veterinary School.
She thought she would stay there until she retired, but she had one more short move left in her. Someone she knew from driving an ambulance as an SPCA volunteer informed her about the job opening in Garner. She never thought she’d work for a police department; in fact, she was working as a receptionist at the time.
“I love animals, and thought maybe here’s a chance where I can educate some folks,” Lowry said.
Pit bulls and lizards
The department hadn’t had someone in the position before, which gave her the chance to establish something and make it her own as well.
Early on in her career, before Michael Vick’s dog-fighting arrest turned it into a nationally prominent issue, dogfighting reared it’s head in Garner.
While not a sworn officer allowed to make arrests, she was among the first on the scene in such cases, documenting it, giving detectives an idea of what she saw and advising on whether the department should pursue prosecution.
“We had a lot of guys that thought they were going to fight dogs in Garner and get away with it. Prosecuted several, (who) went to jail, I was very happy with that,” Lowry said. “The first five or six years were pretty hectic around here.”
She also made the point that fighting dogs like pit bulls are often unfairly maligned as dangerous. She said she’d rather deal with a reported vicious pit bull than a Chihuahua.
“The Chihuahua is going to bite me. The pit bull (I’m trying to get into a vehicle) is more likely to run me over for a treat and beat me to my truck,” Lowry said. “These (dogfighters) are in the pits with the dogs. If the dog is the least bit human aggressive, it’s going to bite them.”
Though dogs and cats were most common, she also dealt with a boa constrictor that escaped from a box for a full winter and spring after it had been reported on the loose. (She said she’d have charged the owners, who left town but had an unsuitable box in which they kept the snake on their porch.)
Another time a lady reported seeing “a dragon” which turned out to be a four-foot iguana.
Looking back at her time with the police department, she said there were ups and downs but she ultimately enjoyed the experience that proved her longest tenured job in nearly three decades working with animals.
“Can’t complain about my career here at all, it’s been good,” Lowry said.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland