By Liam Martin

WATERTOWN (CBS) – When the pandemic began, Leah Pappalardo figured she might need to find a hobby.

Never did she imagine the one she chose would explode into a popular small business.

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Leah is a 911 dispatcher by day, working for Massachusetts State 911 Department. By night, she is now a painter. And she specializes in pets.

“Working in a stressful environment as a 911 dispatcher, it’s very exciting to come home and put a smile on somebody else’s face,” she told WBZ-TV from her apartment painting studio.

Leah Pappalardo. (WBZ-TV)

Leah mostly paints pets that have passed away, giving the owners a unique way to grieve and memorialize their dogs or cats.

She does paint living pets, too, but the memorial paintings carry special meaning for Leah.

“Because I feel like it means more to them because it’s a piece of their animal that they don’t have anymore,” she says.

Some of Leah Pappalardo’s paintings. (WBZ-TV)

One of those grieving customers is Carolyn Francis from Amesbury. She’s still broken up about the death of her beloved dog, Lucas, in August.

“I think it was because of the special bond we had because I rescued him and he rescued me,” she says.

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Lucas helped Carolyn get through some real rough patches with a breakup and major medical issues. And when she got a painting of Lucas from Leah, after the dog had passed away, she couldn’t believe the likeness.

“I said, ‘Oh my God,’ how could you capture his noble grin, his loving eyes, his temperament, his essence?” Carolyn says. “It was as if she knew Lucas as well as I did.”

That gives Leah a lot of joy.

“It’s the most rewarding part, because then I know that I did a good job,” she says.

And the wildest part about all this is that Leah has no formal training. It’s a hobby that she started just last year when her own cat died.

“The only way I felt like I could express myself without crying or talking about it so much, I felt like I needed to paint,” she says.

Liam Martin’s dog painted by Leah Pappalardo. (WBZ-TV)

And paint she has — dozens in the span of 11 months. She’s now getting requests from all over and has started painting people, as well.

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To see more of her work or contact her for a painting, you can go to Leah’s Instagram page or Facebook page.