Rebecca Edwards on being Leland’s Animal Control Officer
Rebecca Edwards loves her job as Leland’s Animal Control Officer.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Megan Deitz
When I first meet Rebecca Edwards, I am struck by her blue eyes and gentle voice. She is petite and unassuming, asking me to simply call her Becky. Her hair is styled in a simple pixie cut, her face free of makeup. Small pearl earrings and a wedding band are her only adornments.
But then I get to her uniform, complete with all of the accouterments that come along with being a member of Leland’s police department.
Edwards is the town’s animal control officer. She spends her days helping the lost and stray animals of Leland find their way back to their owners or to a vet for medical help if they have been injured.
Nine years ago she was looking for a job and was scanning the classifieds. When she saw the ad seeking an animal control officer for the Town of Leland, she quickly applied.
“I’ve had a lot of jobs,” she says. “First of all, I’m a mom. I’ve driven a potato truck, tutored and taught elementary school. I lived on a working farm, and I’ve always loved animals. I thought the job would be a good fit. I would get to be outside and help people. I would also get to be around animals.”
For the past nine years, she has spent her days reuniting lost dogs and cats with residents of Leland. And when they cannot be reunited with their owners for some reason, she relocates them to Brunswick County so they can be adopted into new loving homes.
“I can keep dogs for a few days in the kennel, enough time for the owners to call or come looking for them,” she says. “But if they don’t, Brunswick County does a good job of finding them new homes. They have a great facility and hold adoption fairs quite often. “
Edwards helps winged and scaly creatures as well.
“I have a friend who is a wildlife resource officer,” she says. “I’ve taken her an owl that was shot and an injured pelican. Both were able to be returned to the wild.”
She says that’s the best part of her job, when she can return an animal to where it belongs, whether it goes home or back into the wild.
Edwards works primarily with domestic animals, but she has had a few run-ins with wildlife, such as snakes, raccoons, squirrels and one very angry loon that bit and pierced her nose.
“I got a call from a woman who was very distressed,” she remembers. “She had a sick loon on her property. I went out to see what I could do, and the bird wasn’t looking very good. I slipped a pillowcase over it and picked it up to move it somewhere safer. It didn’t like that idea I guess, because it turned around and bit me right on the nose and held on.”
Edwards also sees many cases of abuse and neglect, “days when my husband calls and I tell him I can’t talk because I have to see to drive and can’t cry,” she says. “But there are a lot of rewards to this job as well.”
In speaking of her husband, Edwards lights up, telling me of a conversation they had when she first took the job.
“He said to me, ‘Promise me you won’t bring home any animals!’” she says. “But then I would call him and say ‘You have to come down and see this dog.’ And it would end up at our house.”
Edwards and her husband have a 4-acre property,
with 15 dogs and three rescued cats, a mini horse and several chickens.
“Oh, and a guinea rooster that just showed up one day out of nowhere!” she says.
When I ask her what Leland residents can do to help her with her job, her answer is clear: Don’t feed strays.
“It sounds harsh because people are good and can’t see any animal go hungry,” she says. “But when you feed them, it brings the wildlife in and creates more problems.”
Her advice is to call an animal control officer if you see a stray animal. “I will come and set traps, try to catch the animal and help it,” she says. “I serve the Town of Leland exclusively. If you need help with an animal, please call!”
That also holds true if you see an animal being abused or being left in a hot car.
“Heat stroke for a dog can happen in ten minutes, and they can be gone,” she cautions. “A dog’s core temperature is 102. They feel heat ten degrees warmer than we do. I carry an oven thermometer in my car just to show people that the temperature in their car can be 120 degrees in just minutes. Just like you would not leave a child in the car while running into a store, don’t do that with your pet either.”
Another part of Edwards’ job is tracking down strays, a task that has major challenges.
“A lot of times they are just so scared, but I will try to talk to them, show them a leash, ask if they want to go for a ride,” she says. “You see some dogs that you just know are somebody’s pet. They are so sweet and gentle. But they have no collar.”
She shakes her head sadly. “I can keep them for a few days, but after that I have to transfer them. I wish people would call if they lose their pet. I’m here to help them look, or I might already have their pet in the kennel.”
N.C. statute mandates that animal control officers must pick up and impound any animal without a collar. So Edwards says people need to remember that and always keep a collar and tags on their pets. “I can look at the rabies tag, call the vet and find you,” she says. “If you have them chipped, keep your information up to date as well. “
It’s also very important to keep your pets’ vaccinations current. There are several cases of rabies each year in Brunswick County.
“Residents can find clinics a few times a year for affordable rabies shots,” Edwards says. “Bark in the Park does free vaccinations for dogs yearly.”
Of course she says having your pet spayed or neutered is very important in helping control the pet population.
“Fix a Friend is a great resource for affordable spaying and neutering,” Edwards says. “It’s all they do.”
When I ask her about cases that have really touched her heart, she tells me about a stray pit bull she tried to catch for three years: “She lived in the woods behind this woman’s property. She would come to the fence line and sniff my hand, but if I stood up she would run away. I could tell she was gentle but very scared. I could never get my hands on her to help her, even though I checked on her often. She never had puppies until last year. After they were old enough, I had to remove them. There were four — three males and one female. Three of the puppies went to very good homes. But one of the boys…”
At this point she takes her phone out and shows me a picture of a beautiful pit bull puppy looking into the camera.
“He came home with me,” she tells me, with obvious affection.
Edwards does her job with a heart and love for animals and a spirit of service to the Leland community. She can be reached by calling the department at (910) 371-0562 or dialing 911 for emergency cases.