Meet Weston’s New Animal Control Officer Karen O’Reilly

As most know, Weston is filled with animals, many of them of the four-legged variety. When former ACO and baby bunny rescuer Rachel Hoffman left late last year to that teeny-tiny state to the north, what was Weston to do? Well, find a new ACO, that’s what.

The Weston Owl was excited to meet Karen O’Reilly, our recently-added Animal Control Officer, on a recent walk around what will surely be her nemesis…Cat Rock Park. If you don’t know what I am talking about, forget it. Since then, ACO O’Reilly has been busy getting to know her new stomping grounds, helping with new town policies on commercial dog walkers, and saving swans from certain death on the Mass Pike. You can’t make this stuff up. Actually, I probably could but reality is good enough.

Swanning around. Photo credit: Weston Police

You can read more about Mr. Swan on the Weston Police facebook page.

In her free time (none), Karen answered some extremely interesting questions from the Weston Owl:

What is your background and where did you come from before Weston?

I grew up in Watertown and received my BS in biology from Simmons College.  I have always worked in the animal care field in one aspect or another.  For several years, I was a pet sitter and worked as a veterinary assistant.  After that, I re-located to the west coast and worked for a company that manufactured veterinary diagnostic products.  I initially was a technical services rep who assisted vets and techs troubleshoot diagnostic tests.  I then switched gears at the company and ran the canine reproductive services division.  But when the company relocated to the Midwest, I decided not to follow. I returned home to Massachusetts where  I took a job as Animal Control Officer in Watertown.  I had no idea what I was doing at the time but dedicated myself to the field where I have worked now for 14 years.  During this time, I was able to complete my Master’s degree in Veterinary Medical Science with a concentration in Veterinary Forensics.  I am excited to start a new chapter in my life and career here in Weston.   

What does an Animal Control Officer do in Weston?

Animal Control Officers are responsible for enforcing local town by-laws and State animal control laws.  The role of an ACO has evolved tremendously over the last 15 or so years.  Legislators and animal advocates continually work on new laws as well as amend existing laws to better allow us to address animal welfare issues.  In addition to dealing with domestic animals such as dogs and cats, most ACOs address issues with wild animals that are sick or injured.  If the animal can possibly be treated, we work with wildlife clinics and wildlife rehabilitators to assist the animal.  The one issue we can NOT address is animals living in your attics, under your shed, etc.  I encourage home owners to deal with these issues humanely if possible.  MassWildlife and MSPCA have great information and fact sheets online to assist homeowners with wildlife issues.  

There are around 1000 dogs registered in town (998 in 2020). Has Weston ever monitored the cat population here? If people have outdoor cats, should they not also be rabies vaccinated? 

I am not aware of any efforts to track the cat population here in Weston.  Statistics tell us that approximately 35% of US households own at least one cat.  Dogs, cats AND ferrets are required to be vaccinated against the rabies virus per State law.  This applies to both outdoor and indoor cats.  From my experience, I encourage all cats to be kept indoors and safe from the elements [Ed.: and the birds safe from cats!] 

Who wins? Cats or dogs?

Cat vs. Dog??  All I will say is my two pit bulls are afraid of my cat!

Do you expect the number of registered dogs to increase for 2021 with the whole Covid puppy thing?

Great question!  When the pandemic hit, the animal welfare field was preparing for the exact opposite of what has happened.  Due to pet owner’s expected financial stress, we had been preparing to deal with a surge of animals being surrendered and/or abandoned.  The shelters were preparing to be inundated but it turned out to be the opposite with people reporting ‘The shelters have no dogs…where can I find one to adopt?!’  Many people were placed on waiting lists at shelters and rescues to get a dog.  Those quarantined at home took advantage of being homebound and adopted dogs, cats and other pets.  Spending lots of time with a new dog and being there to help the animal through the transition and acclimate is ideal and gives the animal a great start at a new life. 

[Ed: Remember that all dogs must be registered in Weston by April 30. For more information, see Link here. ]

What percentage of your calls so far have been calls about unleashed dogs?

I haven’t received any complaints of dogs being simply off leash.  The issue seems to be dogs running up to people, including small children, unwelcomed.  The two reported responses from the dog owner was, ‘It’s ok, he is friendly’ and ‘it’s a dog park.’  [Ed: Guess, just guess, where that response was noted?] As far as I know we don’t have ‘dog parks’ in Weston but rather mixed-use Conservation land.  We need to be responsible as dog owners and control our dogs so everyone can enjoy these beautiful spaces.  Even our friendly dogs need to be controlled when other people or animals are passing.  Some people out there have a fear of dogs and some just do not want dogs jumping on them.  This being said, most dog encounters I have had in my short time here have been positive.  It is important to keep in mind that typically the responsible dog owners and walkers far outnumber the irresponsible ones. 

 How many dog bites were reported in Weston since you joined?

So far this year I have dealt with two. 

Are you in charge of the new Dog Log?

I am not in charge of the Dog Log but am copied on any submissions.  So far we have had more positive than negative comments.  Although people are always more apt to report negative experiences, it is always beneficial to hear all comments/ experiences whether they be good, bad or neutral. It will give me an idea of what issues are hot at the moment and where to concentrate my efforts. 

What is the best part of your job? 

The best part of working as an ACO is helping animals in need whether it be an animal that is homeless or one that is not being cared for properly.

And the worst?  

The most difficult part of the job is having to deal with animals that are suffering on a regular basis.  A frequent animal call is one regarding a sick or injured animal.  Some days, the calls seem routine and I can keep emotions compartmentalized, but other days it can really affect you. 

What animal should be the mascot of Weston?

The most obvious answer would be dog but I am going with Opossum!  They are the only marsupial in North America and help out our dogs by eating thousands of those disease-carrying ticks.

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We are lucky to have Karen join the Weston Police Department and know she’ll be quite busy. Introduce yourself when you have a chance, or to reach her in person, you can call the main number at Weston Police (781-786-6200) or send her an email at oreilly.k@police.westonma.gov.

The Green Machine striking terror in the hearts of Cat Rock. Photo: Weston Police

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