Robyn Barbiers, president of Anti-Cruelty Society

Robyn Barbiers has one of the best offices in Chicago, not necessarily because it's decorated to the hilt or has a fabulous view of the skyline. But if you're an animal lover, you'd be jealous of working where a cat can stroll in to be petted or where you can take a break from the computer to play with a revolving cast of cats and dogs.

Which Barbiers does. After all, she says, her animals are her children.

Barbiers, 56, has spent most of her career working as a veterinarian throughout Chicago, most recently at the Lincoln Park Zoo. In 2008 she became president of The Anti-Cruelty Society, 157 W. Grand Ave., which has been committed to helping animals in the community since 1899.

Barbiers lives in the North Mayfair neighborhood. Following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Q: Have you always wanted to work with animals?

A: When I was 5, I wanted to be a meter maid. I grew up in Michigan, and I saw them on the street and thought it looked like fun. By the time I was in junior high, I knew I wanted to do something with science.

Q: Why did you decide to become a vet?

A: Someone told me that a woman shouldn't do it. They said it was too dangerous. It was in 1976, and I was 19. It gave me a goal. (She received her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Michigan State University, where she graduated with honors in 1982.) When I went to vet school, it was 50-50 men to women. Now, it's about 80-30 women to men. The field has changed its focus from large animals to companion animals. Before, most of the people who were vets grew up on farms, but now most of the people going to vet school grew up in urban environments.

Q: Was it hard to transition from being a vet to management?

A: I miss the smell of gorillas. But I'm getting older, and I've done that part of my life already. I don't even visit the Lincoln Park Zoo too often anymore. I don't have the keys, and it feels odd to be a visitor. I get bored easily, so I need new challenges.

Q: What are some of the big challenges now faced by The Anti-Cruelty Society?

A: Funding. There are a lot more shelters out there, and there's a proliferation of small rescues. There are a lot of people who wanted to do something to help, so they opened shelters, and many of those are dog-specific. But dogs aren't an issue in the city. There aren't even enough dogs to keep up with adoptions, unless you want a pit bull, because we've done such a good job with spaying and neutering. Cats are the issue, so we always have cats to adopt, but we don't always have many dogs, which is what a lot of people want.

Q: Any other issues?

A: A lot of people don't realize that we do so much more than adoptions here. We have a vet clinic that's open to the public, and we have three full-time humane investigators who respond to allegations and abuse. We also have dog training classes, and we do tons of educational outreach.

Q: I noticed that the Anti-Cruelty website has real-time software now, so anyone can see the animals who have just arrived. Is it possible to put an animal on hold so it can be reserved while you run over to claim it?

A: We don't put animals on hold because so many people say they're coming in, but they may not show up and it could hinder the adoption process. Plus, we strongly encourage people to come and visit to see if they have a connection with the animals.

Q: Do you have pets?

A: I have two cats — Gus, an orange tabby, linebacker size, and a petite torbie, Peeps — and one dog, a geriatric chocolate Labrador, Jordan, all adopted from the Anti-Cruelty Society. I grew up with a beagle and other pets: a goldfish and turtles and mice. I always had an affinity for animals.

Q: How do you resist adopting every cat and dog that comes through the shelter's doors?

A: If you find an animal who really speaks to you, you can play the denial game: If they're here next week, I'll take them home. I have a bias toward orange tabbies, so I adopted one of those. The other cat (Peeps) came up to me, crawled into my lap and had unique markings and basically said, "Bring me home." They just speak to you.

Q: It seems like any job where you can play with animals if you're having a bad day would be amazing. What's the hardest part of your job?

A: Managing people and dealing with clients or unhappy employees.

Q: What do you like to do when you have time off?

A: First, I do the chores of life. Then, I like to ride my bike. I also like to travel. I'm (making plans) for a safari in South Africa.

Q: What are you favorite restaurants?

A: I love Thai food, (and) I rotate through my three favorites: Thai Aree House, the Elephant Thai Cuisine and Chai's Asian Bistro (all in Chicago). It's comfort food to me.

Check out the cats and dogs, as well as the useful information, at The Anti-Cruelty Society's website, Its site on YouTube also offers lots of entertaining videos.

Drawing inspiration: Robyn Barbiers shared one of her favorite quotes, often attributed to Walt Disney: "Strive for perfection, settle for excellence."

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