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When Michael Leskouski, the animal control officer for Lexington and Bedford, arrived at the rest station he was called to, his heart sank at the sight greeting him: a distressed truck driver and a dying dog. Leskouski was quickly brought up to speed. The driver, a man from North Carolina, had pulled over for a quick pit stop in Bedford. The four-legged friend he traveled with needed a break as well, so the driver let his dog out of the cabin to get some exercise and relieve itself. The man realized his tractor trailer needed to be re-positioned, and he backed it up quickly. Too quickly. In a tragic accident, the driver had run over his own pet.
Leskouski gathered the bleeding animal in his arms, brought it into his cruiser, turned the car’s flashing lights on, and pressed the gas. They sped towards the Lexington-Bedford Veterinary Hospital, weaving through traffic. The drive was short, but not short enough. The dog did not make it.
"It was awful, it was the worst three minute drive of my life," Leskouski said.
This was one of the worst days in his 23-year tenure as animal control officer, a job that, for the most part, Leskouski finds exciting and enjoyable. A Bedford native, Leskouski applied for the position at the suggestion of a Bedford police sergeant. At the time, he was not an officer, but helped out by working on details in the area.
Covering two towns is becoming a more common practice for Animal Control Officers, Leskouski said, especially for towns like Lexington and Bedford that would not have enough incidents to employ a full-time officer on their own. In those early days, Leskouski said most of his calls were dog-related. Now, however, he’s seen an uptick in the amount of calls involving wildlife.
Coyotes, bobcats, fisher cats, bears and more have all been seen with more frequency, he said. He chalks this up to the increasing amounts of development in the area, which have forced some animals away from their natural habitats. More and more, this means that wildlife is being spotted by residents during the day, something many find unusual.
"We've always been led to believe that, if they're out during the day, they're rabid. That's not the case,” he said. “A lot of people get edgy about seeing wildlife during the day, but it's not uncommon anymore. They have to eat."
Finding actual rabid animals is very rare, he added. Leskouski said he’s never been truly afraid on the job, even when confronted with one of the most intimidating creatures the area has to offer: bears. In fact, black bears are normally more afraid of humans than we are of them, he said. They like to raid bird feeders in the autumn to bulk up for hibernation, and sometimes find their way into backyards. The key with handling bears, Leskouski said, is to stay back and not scare them. Last May, a bear in Arlington was driven up a tree by interested residents, causing police to issue caution and school to be delayed.
"I get it, everyone wants to take pictures and videos, but all it's doing is making it harder for us to settle the animal down, you're just stressing it out. But it happens all the time, people love wildlife," Leskouski said.
Besides the occasional bear, Leskouski said he frequently responds to calls for missing dogs, oftentimes because they were let off their leash while being taken for a walk in one of the area’s many conservation lands. More often than not, he’s able to return pets safely to their owners. But sometimes, danger strikes in the form of a coyote.
"You're in their domain. That's what they do, they're predators, they hunt. You have to respect their area. I know a lot of people don't like to leash their dogs, but there is a risk there," he said.
A growing concern for those in his profession, Leskouski said, is the introduction of rat poison into the food chain. When homeowners use rodenticide, he said, the rats frequently go outside before dying. There, they can be eaten by hawks, owls, or even domestic cats. When these animals ingest the poison, they often die too. Leskouski and other animal control officers are suggesting people use snap traps or dry ice instead.
Although Leskouski doesn’t have to euthanize animals himself, he is often tasked with breaking the news to pet owners that their companions aren’t coming home. It’s the hardest part of his job, he said.
"You go through it all the time. I'm not saying you become desensitized but you do get better at dealing with it,” Leskouski said. “You try to block it out, but you feel terrible for the animal, you feel terrible for the owner."
Although days like that, and incidents like the one at the truck stop are difficult, Leskouski said he doesn’t see himself retiring anytime soon. Interacting with the public and sharing his knowledge of wildlife is the fuel that drives him.
"I love it. I like being out in the public with the people, everybody loves animals,” he said. “The misconception about my job is that we're the big bad dog catchers. We’re not. We like to help people, educate people."
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