By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – “I have always been involved with animals,” recalled Leona M. Pease, who is the recently retired Shrewsbury Animal Control Officer.
As a child, Pease, her siblings and friends were the neighborhood “specialists” for removing animals out of basements and such, she recalled.
A native of the Brookfields, she grew up with the local “dog officer” as her neighbor. As a young girl she knew she wanted to have Mrs. Gustafson’s job.
“A career is what you are paid for; your calling is what you were made for. I would hate to have died and never had the opportunity to do the thing that I was born to do,” she stated at a recent retirement event held in her honor.
Pease has been Shrewsbury’s Animal Control Officer since 2002 and has worked with dogs in a professional capacity since she was 15 years old.
However, her animal career was sidetracked when she was took a secretarial post in the legal department of the Worcester State Hospital. Then she moved over to the Department of Environmental Protection. Because of department restructuring, she took the chance to change careers. What she found instead was her calling.
“Since I was 18 I’ve always been a groomer…I’ve always worked at kennels, managing them on the weekends and I had the handling skills,” Pease noted.
Through contacts she learned of an opportunity to apply for the positon of animal control officer in Shrewsbury. She was almost passed over for an interview, save for the fact that she “knew someone who knew someone” who called in a favor to get her an interview.
“I told them it would be my dream job,” Pease said.
In her role, Pease has been instrumental in slowing the birthrate of cats. When she began in 2002 there were no laws regarding cats. She instituted a program called Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR.) This involved trapping stray cats (particularly the feral variety,) getting them spayed or neutered and then returning them to the places where they were trapped.
Shrewsbury is one of the first communities in the commonwealth to have cleaned up its feral cat population and her work has inspired a group to form in Worcester called Spay Worcester. She estimates that about 6,000 cats have been impacted.
Most recently, she has had interesting experiences with the town turkeys and free range coyotes.
“It keeps me hopping. If people would just keep driving – slowly, then they will get out of your way but I get called downtown at least once a week to get the turkeys out of the middle of town,” she stated with a chuckle.
She has taught errant fowl to follow her by enticing them with turkey food. Interestingly, over time, they began to recognize her and her van. They would follow Pease while she led them to the cemetery where they live.
Pease also said it was important that people should not feed the turkeys, or else they will keep coming back to the area.
Regarding coyotes, she said that they are everywhere and advises folks to keep an eye on their pets, keep them on a leash when outside, even in their own yards, especially if they have small dogs.
Pease is looking forward to her retirement. She plans on gardening with her mom, kayaking and in keeping with her longstanding love of animals, has plans to breed Yorkshire terriers, cockatiels and also hamsters for local pet stores.