Meet The Country's Only Elected Dogcatcher, Vermonter Zeb Towne

Mar 16, 2018

It’s a political insult that dates back to the 1800s and has been used as recently as last fall by the President: "He couldn’t get elected dogcatcher." Often considered hyperbole, since there are no longer elected dogcatchers in the U.S., there's a town in central Vermont where it could be taken quite literally.

During the lunch break of the annual town meeting in the small Vermont town of Duxbury, voters line up in the Crossett Brook Middle School cafeteria for a $5 potluck put on by the town’s historical society.

The first guy in line is a tall red-head with a graying beard, plaid shirt, wool vest and a camo baseball hat. Everyone here knows his name: Zeb (short for Zebulon) Towne and he is Duxbury's elected dogcatcher.

Duxbury elects a dogcatcher at town meeting every March.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

Towne guesses he’s held the post for about 15 years, although he hasn’t really kept track. He gets paid $500 a year, mostly to make sure there aren't dogs running loose around town. It’s a one-year term, so he gets elected at Duxbury’s town meeting each year.

"When I first started doing it, I think it was holding up the town meeting because nobody wanted to do it," he explains. "So I said if it will get us along, I do it. And, plus, I had a Walker Coon Hound that was always out running. So, I figured, if somebody picked her up they’d have the number to call."

So, it wasn't exactly a dog-eat-dog election.

There was one year though when Towne faced some ruff competition:

"And I said, 'Good. Go ahead. These are the types of calls you’re gonna get,'" recalled Towne, before explaining the nature of the position.

"And at the end of it," Towne said, he "was the only one that was ... elected because everybody else said, 'We don’t want that.'"

But when it comes down to it, he really does like the job.

And those calls aren’t all about dogs.

He says he's taken calls ranging from "there’s an ermine in my porch" to "there’s these beef cows running through the woods."

"And none of it’s really what I’m here for," he says. "But, it’s fun, interesting."

Towne guesses he gets 20 to 30 calls a year, and he says about half of them go something like this:

"'Well, I'm just calling to let you know.'

'You don't have to do anything, but I want you to know about it.'

'So don't write anything up or call anybody, but this is what's going on.'"

Duxbury voters attend to town business, including electing a dogcatcher, at the annual town meeting held at Crossett Brook Middle School.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR

All joking aside, Towne takes his job seriously.

"It’s basically also for the animals," he says. "I have had to go and take some out of homes that were being not treated correctly and been left," he admits. "A few other serious calls were saying, 'dogs were biting multiple people.' You know, that’s when ... I get serious on it."

It’s obvious that Towne cares for the animals he’s elected to protect.

And Duxbury resident Phyllis Berry says they like him too.

"All I can say is all my dogs love Zeb," she says. "So, we don’t have to look very far if they get loose. They end up at his house anyway."

Of course, a man can't live off a dogcatcher's stipend alone.

Towne is something of a jack-of-all-trades. He surveys land, does construction and works at Mad River Glen ski area. He also produces maple syrup from his 3,500-tap maple sugar operation.

In October, President Trump made headlines for the tweet above, aimed at Sen. Bob Corker.

As for that infamous insult, saying Sen. Bob Corker couldn’t get elected dogcatcher, Towne says it doesn’t offend him.

"No, because I can," he says. "I’m the only person in the country who gets elected as a dogcatcher. So, I’m awesome, I guess."

Update 4/5/2018 9:45 a.m. Upon advice from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Duxbury has now also appointed Zeb Town as dogcatcher. According to Town Clerk Maureen Harvey, the town called VLCT regarding the procedure to appoint an assistant dogcatcher and was advised that, under Vermont statute, both dogcatcher and assistant dogcatcher must be appointed.