by Sandy Hickman
LACEY TOWNSHIP, NJ – How do you tell a story about a storyteller? It’s hard. In fact, this may be the most difficult story we’ve ever had to tell and the thing is, it’s not about an animal. It’s about thousands of animals, and how those animal’s lives have been impacted by our favorite storyteller, Barbara Lathrop.
Barbara’s library of stories came from the half a century she spent devoting her life to the plight of animals in need. It began in the early 70’s, when Barbara and her mother, Charlotte, began rescuing dogs. Back then, Animal Control services in Monmouth and Ocean Counties were dismal, to say the least. Charlotte and Barbara recognized the need for an alternative to the typical, “dog catcher”, so they began their own rescue, right out of their home.
Their work with animals soon became widely known and Charlotte quickly became known as the, “Dog Lady of West Creek”. Soon, they were receiving calls to help injured wildlife as well and that’s when they began making connections with veterinarians and others in the animal welfare field. Those connections are how a young man came to meet Charlotte and Barbara when he found a stray dog and her puppies, living on the Parkway. The young man was directed to Charlotte and Barbara for help, and so began a friendship that spanned over five decades, and also brought about the formation of Associated Humane Societies Forked River branch.
Barbara and Charlotte were instrumental in building our facility in Forked River which is also the home of Popcorn Park Animal Refuge. They worked tirelessly with committee members and townspeople to enable AHS to purchase the acreage that our facility stands on. During this time, they forged relationships with key figures in AHS, and that young man that wanted to help the dog and puppies? He is now the director of Popcorn Park.
After Charlotte passed away, Barbara made it her goal to continue their important animal welfare work. She joined the AHS Board of Directors in the late 70’s and was a key contributor of the beliefs and values that AHS stands for today. But Barbara was never just a Board member….
To know Barbara was to be inspired by her. Barbara had an innate gift of leaving every student she taught, every animal she came in contact with, and every person she met, with a bit of her passion and enthusiasm for helping animals. Barbara could strike up a conversation with anyone, which inevitably turned in the direction of animal welfare, and the good that we do at AHS/Popcorn Park. Barbara’s pride in our organization was infectious. She wore Popcorn Park shirts everywhere she went and nothing made her happier than being asked about her shirt, then taking the opportunity to give a full history of our organization, along with a tale or two of the latest dog, cat, lion or bear that we rescued.
It was never about herself though. Barb never bragged, though she had plenty to brag about, had she wanted to. She was the kind of person that would hear of someone down on their luck that had a pet that needed surgery, and she wouldn’t hesitate to pay for that pet’s surgery. As she sat down to a family Thanksgiving dinner once, she learned that there was a family nearby that didn’t have enough to eat. Barbara and her mom packed up their dinner, and brought it to that family. That was just Barbara.
She was also the kind of person that didn’t take, “no” for an answer when it came to helping an animal. A dog needs surgery for a torn ligament? Barbara would help raise the money. Our bears in our Refuge needed a pool to cool off in? Barbara worked to get them a swimming basin. Our older Animal Haven and Kitty City residents were suffering with arthritis? Barbara did whatever we asked of her to help raise $28,000 for our own laser therapy.
Barbara was known to stroll through our shelter, passing out blankets to animals, holding a bunny or turtle, hugging a dog or cuddling a kitten. When the holidays came around, Barbara was happy to put on the Santa suit and visit with our shelter pets and the wildlife, exotics, and farm animals in our Refuge.
Barbara’s compassion extended to people as well. Upon hearing that a staff member collected Elvis memorabilia, Barbara added it to her list of items to look for while out garage sale-hopping. Barbara took care to get to know every employee and volunteer, and always remembered special things about them. She’d ask how this person’s child was doing in school, or how that person’s mother was feeling. She cared, she genuinely cared.
As a beloved English teacher in the Lacey Township school system, Barbara inspired so many of her students too. She actually inspired our Director’s daughter to become a teacher. She encouraged so many to care deeply about animals, as she did. Many of our staff members are with us today due largely in part to Barbara’s inspiration. When you heard Barbara speak so proudly of animals that had been helped by AHS, you couldn’t help but want to be a part of it.
We are very deeply saddened to say that our dearest friend, Barbara Lathrop, passed away on Saturday, Nov. 20th. Many people will say, “she is at peace now”, and we are confident that she is. However, we can imagine her joyous laughing and clapping as she is greeted by so, so many of the animals whose lives she has touched over the years. We tend to think that the line to greet her at the Rainbow Bridge is several miles long right now…..
To say that Barbara will be missed is the understatement of the year. Barbara has impacted so many of us, so many animals, so many students. She was a loyal, fierce, best friend to many of us and there will never, ever be another like her. We can strive to be like her though, and live our lives with the same undying love, devotion, and compassion for animals. We are better people for having Barbara as a part of our lives. Animals will continue to benefit from all she has helped to create here at AHS/Popcorn Park, and we know she would be most proud of leaving that legacy.
Barb- you are free of pain and you are whole again. You are with your mom, your daddy, and we hope you’re sharing in that favorite sandwich you liked from the bakery in Manahawkin, and that you have an infinite amount of liverwurst to pass out to all of the dogs. We will miss you beyond description, and love you forever. Until we meet again, dear friend….
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, January 8th from 1pm to 5pm at Maxwell-Tobie Funeral Home, 573 Mill Creek Road, Manahawkin, NJ. Donations may be made in memory of Barbara to AHS/Popcorn Park, PO Box 43, Forked River, NJ 08731 Attn: In Memory, or donate at www.ahscares.org)