Berne highway super candidate accused of animal abuse despite contrary evidence

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel

Barbara Kennedy, of East Berne, holds a piglet named Arnie, whom she rescued after Arnie’s father ate all his siblings soon after they were born, and nearly ate Arnie.

BERNE — The Berne Democratic Committee’s candidate for highway superintendent, Barbara Kennedy, was accused of animal abuse on social media last week, with an anonymous post of a series of photos on social media that purportedly showed unhealthy animals and moldy food at Kennedy’s East Berne farm.

Kennedy has denied these allegations, and a visit to Kennedy’s farm by The Enterprise this week supports her account.

The Albany County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the allegations.

Kennedy told The Enterprise that the 17 photos posted to the Berne Believe It or Not Facebook page on Sept. 8 were originally taken by a former tenant of hers, Brandi MacLeod, while MacLeod was residing on Kennedy’s property with her fiance, Tristan Keyes, and that MacLeod is using the photos as revenge after learning that Kennedy is taking the couple to small claims court over unpaid rent and other expenses.

The Enterprise corresponded briefly over social media with MacLeod, who initially agreed to answer questions by phone, but then stopped responding after the Hilltown reporter sent proof of identity through a messaging service, and she didn’t call the number she was provided before publication. 

Kennedy said that the photos unfairly and untruthfully illustrate harsh living conditions at her farm, which The Enterprise visited on Sept. 13. 

For instance, the most disturbing photo shows a horse with an open wound on its torso. The horse is owned by a woman named Nona Young, but is being cared for by Kennedy, who told The Enterprise that she didn’t know where the wound came from, but that it was addressed right away, which Young confirmed in a public comment on Facebook. Young could not be reached by The Enterprise for further verification.

Kennedy said that she first had to ask Young for permission, since Young was the owner, and that Young revealed she couldn’t afford treatment. 

“[Young] said, ‘I don’t have the money,’” Kennedy told The Enterprise, “and I said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ll pay the bill. You pay me back a little at a time when you get the money.’ She’s not working; she takes care of her son, who’s handicapped.” 

From a short distance, The Enterprise evaluated the spot where the wound was and saw that it healed with no obvious signs of prior damage. “If I had neglected that cut, would it have healed so nicely?” Kennedy asked rhetorically during the tour.

Kennedy said that MacLeod asked Kennedy if she could take a photo of the wound before and after treatment, with MacLeod reportedly saying that she hopes to be a veterinarian one day and would use the photos for educational purposes (MacLeod’s Facebook profile says she works as a veterinarian’s assistant at Schoharie Valley Veterinary Clinic). None of the photos on the Believe It or Not page show the wound stitched up. 

That same horse is depicted in another photo with blood around its nose, which Kennedy said occurred after the horse found an apple tree with thorns on it and got repeatedly pricked as it tried to eat from the tree. She said that MacLeod was the first to notice the horse’s injury, while Kennedy was away from the property.

Some of the photos posted are actually evidence of Kennedy’s caretaking, not abuse, as people have interpreted it. Although a photo of a horse with duct tape looks alarming to those without animal experience, some veterinarians recommend using the tape to treat abscesses, which is what Kennedy, who has owned horses for decades, was doing.

“To clear an abscess up, you soak it twice a day in epsom salt,” Kennedy said, “and then what I do is wrap it with salve, and I put a sheet of cotton in the shoe, and then I duct tape it.” She added that the blacksmith who puts shoes on her horses — an Amish man she travels an hour-and-a-half to see — advised her to keep the horse mobile, since the abscess “works its way out” when the horse is moving around. 

Another photo of what looks like moldy chicken pellets is actually a mix of yogurt, rice, and pellets that Kennedy was feeding to a chicken who was ill, she said. The Enterprise was not able to immediately verify that this is a veterinarian-recommended treatment, but chicken-owners on forums and blogs appear to use similar methods, though at least one advises against feeding chickens of yogurt

A few photos show chickens that are sparsely feathered in some areas, which, Kennedy said and a simple Google search confirms, is what happens when chickens molt — a weeks-long process they undergo at least once a year. 

“People think chickens lose all their feathers at once,” Kennedy said. 

Some of the photos on the Believe It or Not page are unclear in their purpose, such as one of an alpaca that looks to be in decent condition, and another of a horse outside with its nose to the ground.


Kennedy as caretaker

Throughout the tour of Kennedy’s farm and home, which lasted around two hours, there was no sign of suffering animals or badly neglected living spaces. Rather, it seemed, as Kennedy described it, “a typical working farm.”

Kennedy, 61, is retired and lives alone, and has put her focus toward caring for a large variety of animals, such as pot-bellied pigs, sheep, an alpaca, turkeys, ducks, horses and rabbits, many of which are rescues.

Her latest addition is a young goat named Emma that she got at a meat auction. “She came up to me and I bent down to her and she immediately started sucking on my chin, and I’m like, ‘That’s it, you’re coming home with me,” Kennedy said while walking, followed closely by Emma.

Kennedy explained that she finds it difficult to turn an animal away if it’s in need or on the chopping block. Such was the case with a sheep named Lambchop, one of three triplets whose mother could only feed two offspring, and her alpaca, Fred, who, like Emma, Kennedy found at a meat auction.

“I said, ‘They’re not eating him, no way,’” Kennedy recalled. “Fred is just Fred. He’s funny looking, but he’s cute at the same time.”

Another recent rescue was a piglet named Arnie who was bred by a farmer, but whose father ate all 10 of his siblings, leaving Arnie with gouges in his head and blinded by mud, Kennedy said, so she adopted him and has spent the past two weeks or so stripping him of the condensed mud that covered his body, and still has to finish up his face, where she has to use more gentle treatments.

“The only way I could get it off was to take my fingernail and lift the mud up, then run a blade down his back to peel it off,” Kennedy explained of getting the mud off Arnie’s body after a bath failed to do the trick. For his face, Kennedy uses a warm washcloth with baby oil, and for his eyes, she used medicine until he was able to see again.

If nearly getting eaten and imprisoned in mud weren’t enough, Arnie also has an overbite that prevents him from sucking on a bottle, so Kennedy had to teach him how to feed using her finger. “I had the patience, but some nights I was like, ‘Oh my god,’” Kennedy said.

There are still more instances where Kennedy’s devotion to animals is evident, at least as she tells it: a bonded donkey pair who are too fat to protect other animals like she thought they might, but who she won’t let be split up; a chick she gave mouth-to-mouth; the dog she got after her son, Peter Kennedy, died tragically in 2007 at the age of 27, and now accompanies her almost everywhere. 

“You can call me a bitch and you can call me anything else,” Kennedy said. “Never say I abuse animals.”


Kennedy as landlord

Kennedy told The Enterprise that the accusations against her are a result of a poor relationship she had with her former tenants, MacLeod and Keyes, whose complaints have been weaponized for campaign purposes ahead of the November election. Kennedy is running against Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger, who is also chairman of the Albany County GOP. 

Bashwinger did not respond to an Enterprise inquiry about who might run the Facebook page where the photos sprung up soon after Kennedy had her tenants summoned to small claims court. 

While Kennedy talked to The Enterprise about her animals, she also described the “living hell” she went through with MacLeod and Keyes, who she said, essentially, were messy and irresponsible during the six months the 20-something couple stayed with her. 

Kennedy claims that, among other things, MacLeod and Keyes ignored advice Kennedy gave about storage of materials that attract mice and rats, then blamed an infestation on Kennedy’s reluctance to use rat poison because of the danger it poses to other animals.

Kennedy also said that MacLeod kept goats at the farm, and after a pregnant goat died, MacLeod blamed Kennedy for letting it eat baling twine. A document signed by MacLeod and Keyes reviewed by The Enterprise says that the death was caused “due to negligence to acknowledge bailing twine within hay by [Kennedy]” and that the couple did not give Kennedy permission to feed their animals. 

Ultimately, tensions over animal care led Kennedy to say that the couple couldn’t continue living at her property unless their animals were relocated, and so the couple moved out earlier this month, Kennedy said.

However, MacLeod and Keyes are demanding more than $1,400 from Kennedy for the death of the goat, the mice and rat infestation, and other matters, according to a document signed by the couple, while Kennedy says the couple owes her more than $5,000 in back rent and other expenses. 

Kennedy said she worries that the allegations, particularly around animal abuse, will hurt her as she attempts to start up a traveling petting zoo. 

“What happens if someone inquires about me and they say, ‘Don’t go to her because she abuses animals?’” Kennedy asked. “It just takes something stupid like that to ruin me.” 




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