A way with animals: Edgartown's Barbara Prada
Barbara Prada, a 16th-generation Vineyarder, had no career plans growing up. "I wasn't exactly college material," she admits.
But college isn't everything, and if you have a gift, and are fortunate enough to recognize it, the world could be your oyster - or in the case of Ms. Prada, Edgartown's animal control officer - your dog, cat, horse, and the occasional skunk or raccoon. She was born to work with animals.
When entering her department, the "Bow Wow Inn," the efficiency and cleanliness is immediately apparent: no pet smells, everything neat as a pin, kennels, all bowls and dishes washed and stacked.
Over the years her most constant tributes come from the stray pets that, she explains, have just shown up at the shelter for her attention. Many dogs know Ms. Prada by sight, recognize her vehicle, and come running to greet her.
Caring and protecting animals is probably the easy part of her job. Dealing with people is often something else. "Oh boy," she says. "That's the main part of my job right there -making sure that the owners know that I'm only trying to take care of their animal in a humane way, making sure that they don't try to deal with an agitated animal themselves if they aren't prepared to do so, and just allowing me to do what I need to do to keep everyone safe. It really isn't about animal control; it's people control. Education is one of the biggest parts of my job."
After a brief stint as Edgartown town clerk, Ms. Prada took a position from 1976 to 1983 as a kennel worker at Sonny Jackson's former Shady Oak Kennels in Edgartown. It was during her work there that she realized she had a special way with animals. Having grown up around horses, understanding and respecting animals was familiar territory.
When Jesse Morgan, the preceding Edgartown animal control officer, retired, Ms. Prada stepped up, and 27 years later, is considered the go-to animal control officer on the Vineyard. She is often consulted for her sound advice to the Island's newly hired town animal officers.
She follows the advice she got from Mr. Jackson - "Any dog can bite" - when speaking to anyone about handling dogs or cats in general. "I've never been bitten by a dog, although I did get a little nip from a cat once," Ms. Prada says. "I know how lucky I've been. Mostly, it's about reading the body language of any given animal, especially in a potentially dangerous situation."
Intuition is Ms. Prada's main tool - that and the rabies pole (a long pole with a loop at its end), which she demonstrates to show that even when animals resist, it holds them at a safe distance.
"There was this huge dog - a Great Dane/Bloodhound/Rottweiler mix - that was not only scary, but very smart," Ms. Prada says. "It had bitten the owner not just once, but twice. [The owner], a summer resident, called me in a panic because he was scared and had lost control of his own dog. This was one smart dog. He got to know my routine, my modus operandi." But eventually, she outsmarted and contained the animal and brought it where it needed to be.
Ms. Prada has been Edgartown's animal control officer long enough to become something of an institution. Edgartown selectmen take comfort knowing that when it comes anything animal-related, she is on it, and she has the autonomy she needs to get the job done as efficiently as possible.
Ray Whitaker of Oak Bluffs is a freelance writer who hosts local trivia nights and WMVY's "Just Four Guys".