Pat Pinkham stands about 5 feet tall. She has a pronounced limp that she’s had her entire 63 years of life.
Don’t let any of that fool you.
By any measure Pat Pinkham is probably one of the toughest folks in town — and also one of the most devoted and tender.
Pinkham has served as Bangor’s only Animal Control Officer for the past 30 years, and earlier this week announced her plan to retire at the end of the summer.
She’s the first to say, with a bit of stubborn pride, that there are some folks in the city who will be glad to see her go.
That doesn’t seem to bother her much.
“I’ve had quite a few people complain about me,” she admitted during an interview at the Bangor Humane Society this week. “But as my boss once said, ‘I hired her because she’s good with animals, not people.’”
Her job is a tough one, sometimes amusing, occasionally dangerous and often heart wrenching. Chances are she’s not going to apologize for the colorful words she may utter when she, for example, is trying to extricate an unhappy seven-foot boa constrictor from a street side garbage can, all while the garbage workers stand a safe distance away and watch.
Or when she’s trying to coax a rat out of a toilet or when she’s dousing herself once again in “Massengil Douche” (it works the best she says) to rid herself of the odor left behind by another scared and angry skunk.
Or when she’s rescuing yet another overheated dog from a locked vehicle and then being accused by the owner of stealing it.
“Everytime I get a call about a dog locked in a hot car, [Bangor Police Lt.] Steve Hunt will come over the radio and say, ‘Pat! Don’t break the window!’” she chuckled.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at picking the locks and Union Street Towing is really good about coming over and getting the door open, but if that dog is in dire straits I don’t give a damn. I’m breaking the window.”
A couple of months ago she got a call from a strapping Bangor police officer saying she needed to remove a cow from the middle of Ohio Street.
“So I get out there and slapped it on the ass to get it out of the road, and I was trying to get it up the driveway when I noticed it wasn’t a cow at all,” she recalled.
“You damn fool that’s not a cow that’s a bull,” she shouted at the officer. “He’s got all his hangy down parts! It was a good thing he was nice bull.”
Pinkham grabbed her “capture pole” used to control everything from rats, dogs, and apparently stray bulls, and led the bull back to pasture.
“The next day I see a picture posted at the [police] station of me trying to lead the damn bull up the driveway with the caption ‘I think I’m gonna need a bigger pole.’” she recalled.
Pinkham’s love and respect for all types of animals began early in her life.
In 1949, at 4-months-old, Pinkham contracted polio.She underwent countless operations and treatments. When she was 5, she was stuck in a cast from her hips to her ankles and unable to play with other children, so her parents got her a puppy to keep her company.
His name was Topper. He was half Pit Bull and half Boxer. Topper spent his long life as her constant companion.
“I was a little girl, so I did what little girls would do. I painted his friggin’ toenails. I dressed him in tutus. I had him for 14 years,” she said.
Later, a doctor advised her parents to set her up with horseback riding lessons to help strengthen her legs muscles.
She would later serve seven years as a member of the Pine Tree Equine Search and Rescue Club.
Among her memorable rescues was a harbor seal pup with its umbilical cord still attached. The folks at the New England Aquarium told her how to make formula for the pup, but he wouldn’t eat.
“I got thinking that maybe it simply wanted its mother, so I had this big German Shepherd at the time and I made him lay down and that pup squirmed right over and nestled right in beside him. I took a baby bottle and got it hooked over Max’s shoulder and offered it to the seal and he couldn’t get that milk into him fast enough.”
She then made arrangements for the pup to be flown to the aquarium in Boston.
When she was new to the job, she found a tiny Pygmy goat chained to the stray-dog kennels the city used to have out by the airport.
“He was just a baby and he was scared to death, of course.”
Pinkham took the goat home until she could find a farmer willing to take him.
The goat took a liking to Pinkham’s son.
“The minute Lance would sit down that goat would trot over and jump in his lap. Well one night Lance went to bed and I heard that goat go down the hallway and pretty soon Lance came to the top of the stairs and yelled down, “Mom, I don’t care what you say. I’m not sleeping with a goat.”
Most of Pinkham’s time is spent picking up stray dogs, checking on the welfare of animals, keeping track of dog licenses, investigating dog bites and educating the public.
She also works hard at trying to reunite lost dogs with their owners, stopping in at the Bangor Humane Society each day to keep track of the dogs she has brought in and checking lost and found reports.
“It’s never mundane. You never know what’s going to happen next,” she said. “That and my love of animals is what has kept me here so long.”
In 2005 that love compelled her to use her vacation time to head to Louisiana for a week to help care for the thousands of pets who were displaced because of Hurricane Katrina.
Pinkham and three other Maine women slept in small tents pitched on the stony grounds of the Lamar-Dixon Exposition Center in Gonzales, La.
There, in the sweltering heat and humidity of a southern summer, she cared for starving, dehydrated, frightened and injured animals.
This week as she limped over to a chair to prepare for this interview, I mentioned that the job wasn’t the easiest for someone in near constant pain.
“Nope, I suppose it’s not,” she said, “but my mother always said, ‘You rest, you rust,’ and I think that’s true. I think this job is what’s kept my legs going all these years.”
But the winters are getting harder for her and she has a son in Florida, so she has decided to move south.
In true fashion, however, she’s already scoped out the two humane society facilities in the area and has chosen one at which to volunteer.
She’s achy most of the time, but she’s tough and the tender side of her won’t rest as long as there are animals in need of care.