Shirley Zindler is an animal control officer in Northern California, and has personally fostered and rehomed more than 300 dogs. She has competed in obedience, agility, conformation and lure coursing, and has done pet therapy. Zindler just wrote a book The Secret Lives of Dog Catchers, about her experiences and contributes to Bark’s blog on a regular basis.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
November 13 2013
I've always been fascinated by watching dog friends together. They play, they cuddle, even lick each other. Many dogs are very bonded with their fellow canine housemates but its funny how sometimes dogs have a special friend who doesn't live with them. I love to see how dogs will find a friend at a dog park or other social gathering and pair up, just as people connect with certain other people. Once they've connected, when they see that dog again, they rush toward each other joyously and spend all their time together until they must part.
My own dogs enjoy each other very much although any of them will gladly ditch the others for a day out with me. They do sometimes find another dog who fascinates them for whatever reason. I once had a large spayed female Borzoi who was rather reserved with most new dogs but small intact male dogs were her thing. Let some little un-neutered Chihuahua come along and she was head over heels, acting flirtations and comically silly. My current dogs love to meet and greet other dogs at the off-leash beach. Occasionally one of them really hits it off with another dog for no rhyme or reason but it's always fun to watch.
I recently had the joy of watching two young dogs meet each other for the first time and make that instant connection. One dog was Lily, a one year old, Pointer/Lab mix who I had fostered since birth and who was adopted but back for a short visit with me. The other was Spur, a friend's five month old Cattledog pup. They were in a group of other dogs of all ages and sizes but the two youngsters bonded immediately. My friend and I must have sat for a good hour watching them wrestle, run together and thoroughly enjoy themselves. They paid very little attention to the other dogs and spent the entire time in close physical contact. I don't think they ever got more than a few feet apart and their play was spontaneous and joyful. There was no posturing for dominance, no competition or concern for who was in charge, just dogs having fun with each other. It was a delight to witness.
Does your dog have a special canine friend?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
October 17 2013
In my job as an Animal Control Officer, I spend 10 hours a day working with dogs and then come home to a houseful of my own dogs. I love dogs and it’s such an honor to spend my life in their company. Anyone who has a close relationship with a dog would likely agree that dogs share many of our emotions, social needs and characteristics. Dogs are often our closest non-human companions. Horses, cats, birds and some other animals can bond very tightly to humans too but dogs most consistently choose to willingly follow us on almost any adventure or trial.
Studies have shown that dogs communicate better with humans and understand us better than any other animal on earth. In studies asking multiple species including dogs and non-human primates to interpret human body language to find a treat, only dogs understood human communications consistently.
People get very excited to think of dogs as little people in fur coats but I find the best thing about dogs is their very “dogness.” I have a lot of wonderful people in my life but sometimes no one can comfort or share a day with me in the way a dog can. My human family loves me but they don’t go into transports of delight ever every time I walk into the room. When I get home from work and my dogs greet me and then I take them for a run, I can feel the stresses of the day start to fade. They race and play with the same joy and abandon every single day.
Dogs live so fully in the moment. They never say, gee, I’m tired of this same walk, same ball chase, same Dog Park etc. It’s new, and fun, each time. Dogs find joy in the simplest of things. Just about anything I want to do, my dogs think is a blast. My wonderful friends and family are great to spend time with but they aren’t always available, or don’t always want to do the things I want to do. My dogs have never once said no thanks or I’m not in the mood, to a car ride, a hike, a cuddle or any other adventure. Not once.
Dogs are the perfect blend of similar enough to us enough to enjoy most of the things we do, and unique enough to be fascinating in their own right. Dogs are just perfect as they are.
Let us know what special “dog” things your furry companion does that make you glad he’s a dog.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
September 18 2013
As a child I was surrounded by dogs and was always fascinated by them. When I was 5 years old I walked up to a neighbor’s dog as it was chewing a bone. I reached to pet him and received a minor bite to the hand for my inattention. As I recall, my parents sternly reminded me not to bother dogs, especially if they were eating, sleeping, or chewing a bone. Lesson learned. It was the only bite I ever received as a child and to this day I consider dogs to be one of the greatest gifts in life.
When I was six my parents divorced and I went through a long period without a dog. I missed having a dog so much that I ended up moving to my dad’s house because I could have one there. My first dog that was all my own was a little shaggy mutt that followed me everywhere and slept in my bed at night. That dog was my constant companion through several moves, childhood traumas and a few teenage heartbreaks. His presence in my life is something I still feel the effects of today.
Kids and dogs can be one of the most wonderful or one of the most tragic pairings of childhood. As an animal control officer, I investigate dog bites almost daily. Most are minor, a few are severe, and many of them are to children. I have seen nice dogs euthanized for the most minor of bites and children scarred and traumatized for life by the more severe ones. In almost every case they could have been prevented.
Children are most likely to be bitten by their families own dog and yet for many children, the dog is their most precious friend and confidant. The value of dogs in many children’s lives is so precious that it should not be missed but children and dogs must both be kept safe.
Many breeders, shelters and rescues have hard and fast rules about what age the children must be for the family to adopt a dog. In my many years of fostering, I am often faced with the decision of deciding whether a family with young kids is suitable for a dog that I am caring for. There are so many variables that I find it impossible to pick an age and take each family on a case by case basis. The most important factor is the parents. Many parents want a dog that the children “can do anything to.” They tell me of some dog they know of that just lets the kids bounce on their backs, dress them in doll clothes and drag them around all day. I have seen dogs like that but I think it’s shocking that the parents allow the child to treat the long-suffering dog that way. And what happens when the dog gets arthritic or painful or just reaches a breaking point? Or when a child visits a friend whose dog is not so tolerant? When I see parents that understand a dogs needs, and teach them to their children, I know it’s a good start.
The second most important factor is the dog itself. Some dogs have a natural affinity for children while others don’t care for them. Unless a dog is truly dangerous, even grumpy dogs can succeed in households with children if the parents are diligent and the children respectful. Of course choosing a dog that is tolerant, easy-going and enjoys children is your best bet. It’s up to the parents to provide boundaries. In the case of children too young to follow directions adults need to be diligent and not put the dog in a situation where he feels the need to defend himself. Dogs try very hard to communicate with us but often we ignore their attempts to express their discomfort until it’s too late. A dog isn’t able to tell us in words that the child is hurting him, bothering him or invading his space. Careful observation of body language is critical, as is teaching respectful behavior toward dogs and separating them from kids if they aren’t enjoying the interaction.
I would love to hear about readers experiences with dogs and kids. Even negative situations can be a learning experience for us all and the positives between dogs and kids are truly priceless.
Dog's Life: Humane
August 24 2013
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Wallace the Pit Bull today. Wallace was a former shelter dog who had “issues” and spent a long time in a kennel. Thankfully a shelter volunteer and his wife took a chance on Wallace and adopted the problem dog. They spent a great deal of time working with him and he later became a champion Frisbee dog, winning many competitions and becoming an ambassador for Pit Bulls. A delightful book was written about Wallace’s transformation from unwanted dog to adored champion (Wallace. By Jim Gorant). Wallace passed away at a great old age, comforted by those who loved him, after a long and happy life.
As I walked through the shelter today I was struck, as I always am, by the number of wonderful dogs waiting hopefully behind the chain link. Many of them stare eagerly as I walk by, wagging their tails harder and harder the closer I get. Some are terrified and huddle at the back of the kennel, glancing at me furtively. A few are quite aggressive but most of them respond to a kind word and the offer of a cookie. The only difference between most of these dogs and Wallace is a person. One person willing to do whatever it takes to give that dog the life he or she deserves.
Shelter dogs are not flawed or bad. They just need someone to teach them how to behave and to manage them in such a way that they are set up to win. Most dogs will become a problem if allowed to roam or bark incessantly. I recently had a case involving an adolescent Great Pyrenees who barked day and night in the owner’s backyard until the neighbors complained. On investigating, I learned that the owners liked the dog but didn’t understand a dogs needs. The pup had food, water and shelter but they didn’t ever take him out of the yard. He didn’t come in the house, didn’t go for walks or have any kind of enrichment in his life. This puppy wasn’t a bad dog; he was just desperate for company. The owners surrendered the puppy to the shelter and he was adopted soon after. What a wonderful feeling it was to see that beautiful puppy leave with an adoptive family who understood his need for companionship, direction and exercise.
How I wish that every dog had the chance for a life like Wallace had. It wasn’t always easy, but Wallace’s family did whatever it took to help Wallace succeed.
I would love to hear from readers that were able to turn a “problem” dog into a happy pet. Tell me about your dog and how you did it.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
August 6 2013
A fellow animal control officer received a call to pick up a dog found lying emaciated and soaking wet in a creek bed. The tiny Chihuahua was rushed back to the shelter and examined by the shelter veterinarian. In addition to being skin and bones, she was too weak to stand, had a clouded eye and the look of long time neglect about her. She was immediately started on treatment but the prognosis was poor. Her blood work suggested that her organs were failing. Whether this was result of starvation or some other medical condition was unknown.
When I first saw the dog she was lying apathetically on her blankets in the shelter clinic. She looked terrible but the thing I noticed was the odor. She had that terrible “hoarder” smell to her sparse coat. Unless you’ve lived it, there is no describing it but it’s a combination of rotting garbage, feces, urine and filth that’s unmistakable. Every hoarder situation I’ve gone on smells the same, whether its dogs, cats or something else.
The tiny dog declined overnight and the discussion ensued about whether it was kinder to let her go. I certainly didn’t want to put her through anymore pain if she wasn’t going to survive but she didn’t seem to be in terrible pain, just incredibly weak and sick. I decided to take her home to foster. If she wasn’t going to survive, at least she should die in a quiet place surrounded by love.
As weak as she was, I couldn’t bear the stench of her coat and gently lowered her into a warm sudsy bath. She seemed to relax into the warm water and was soon clean and sweet smelling although she still looked terrible. I wrapped her in a warm towel and cuddled her close. She sighed, leaned against me and fell asleep.
I called the little dog Hannah and since she was unable to eat on her own, I carefully syringed a tiny amount of bland gruel into her mouth every few hours. People always want to pour high fat food into starved animals but in most cases that can be very harmful. The animal’s body needs time to slowly acclimate to eating normal foods again and re-feeding must be done very carefully. Within a day or two she was able to eat tiny amounts of food on her own and was able to stand and walk a little.
I was so encouraged by Hannah’s progress but was cautious about getting too excited as I knew she wasn’t out of the woods yet. Her gum color was still pure white as a result of anemia and I worried about organ failure. I worked closely with the veterinarian on her care and thankfully she continued to improve. After a week or so it looked to me like she might have gained a little weight. I put her on a little food scale and found that she had gone from less than 4 pounds to about 5 pounds. I was jubilant! As Hannah felt better her personality began to emerge and what a delightful girl. She followed me everywhere and began playing with toys and asserting herself with my 120 pound Great Dane.
I had been posting Hannah’s progress on my facebook page each day and a woman who had seen her photos expressed an interest in adopting her. After several weeks when it seemed obvious that Hannah would survive, we arranged a meeting. The introduction was successful and after Hannah had another thorough vet exam and was spayed she went to her new home. She had gained more than 2 pounds by then and was really starting to look good.
It is such an amazing feeling to watch a neglected animal blossom and get a forever home. I would love to hear from readers who have rehabbed a dog in need, or adopted one.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
July 19 2013
I recently wrote about Take Your Dog to Work Day and how I enjoy having my dogs along with me on the job. Often they help me coax insecure stray dogs in so that they can be safely reunited with their owners or adopted out. I recently had the unique experience of having one of my dogs help me rescue a cat in distress.
I usually have Sundays off but a fellow officer, Justin, called me on a Sunday afternoon to ask for help with a call. He had a report of a cat with a jar on its head and when he arrived, the panicked animal ran into a culvert. It was too small for him to climb into and he knew that if he tried to push her out from one end she would run out the other and be lost. He was wondering if I could bring one of my dogs and help him? Of course I would. This is so much more than a job to me and I have always told my co-workers to call me anytime. I loaded up Hula the Golden Retriever and Breeze the Doberman and headed out. Half an hour later we pulled up behind Justin’s truck and he showed me the culvert. My flashlight beam found the unfortunate cat smack in the middle of the pipe, plastic jug still firmly attached.
With Justin situated on one end of the pipe and ready with a net, I took Hula to the other end. Hula is as mellow and easygoing as they come and she’s also gung ho for any adventure. I showed her the pipe and told her to “go get the kitty.” Hula isn’t very tall and the narrow pipe was a tight fit but in she went. Justin called to her from the other end as she made her way through. The kitty didn’t see her at first due to her jug and Hula walked right up and sniffed her before the cat realized it and went bonking down the pipe with her burden. Hula followed her as she darted right into the net and was safe.
I put Hula on a sit-stay as we dealt with the cat who acted quiet feral. She appeared healthy and had a tipped ear (meaning that she had been trapped and spayed) so we planned to just remove the jar and release her but I asked Justin to scan her first. To our surprise she had a microchip so we took her back to the shelter.
Once there we carefully removed the jug and settled her in while waiting to hear back about the chip. Soon the couple who had trapped her and had her spayed and chipped came for her. The cat was truly feral but had kind people to care for her and it was great to see her returned home safely.
I would love to hear how our reader’s dogs have helped another animal.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The 4th of July from an Animal Control Officer’s Perspective
July 3 2013
As the fourth of July approaches, I feel my dread rising. I always volunteer to work as the on-call animal control officer on the fourth, even though it’s our worst day of the year. Why would I volunteer? I guess it’s the hope that my training and skills will make a difference to some of the panicked animals that will be suffering in our county with the onset of fireworks.
Last year was my worst 4th ever. Within minutes of the first fireworks going off, my phone rang with an injured dog. I rushed to the scene to find a stunning German Shepherd lying injured on a busy road. He looked well cared for and I’m sure he was a beloved pet but he had no tags or microchip. I scooped him up and rushed him to the emergency vet and held his big beautiful head in my hands as the vet started treatment. His blood stained my uniform and his terrified eyes bruised my heart but minutes later my phone rang again and I left him to rush out and pick up the next victim. When I got back to the clinic with the second dog, I learned that the Shepherd had died.
I continued getting calls all night long, and each time, I would race out and pick up the injured dog and rush it to the ER. And each time, the dog I had picked up previously would have died of his injuries while I was gone. In one case, I arrived on a rural road to find a beautiful young woman in tears as a young red heeler bled his life away in her headlight beams. She had come across the critically injured dog on her way home and been kind enough to wait for me. I rushed the heeler to the vet where he also died.
Only one dog that I picked up last Fourth of July survived and his foot pads were a bloody mess from his panicked run. One is enough to make me feel that I made a little bit of a difference, but I’m haunted by those dogs whose terror caused them to jump fences they wouldn’t normally jump, break through windows or rip through doors. I also had a case of a terrified dog a few years ago that escaped and then tried to climb into a van full of strangers. 4 or 5 people were bitten in the dogs panic to get away from the noise and the dog had to be quarantined.
It’s critical to plan ahead for a safe Fourth of July. Ideally, we would stay home, with our dogs inside with us. If that’s not possible, dogs should be safely crated inside, in an interior room, with a radio, air conditioner or other noise to help mute fireworks sounds. Some pets may need sedation so talk you your vet ahead of time if you think that might be the case. All dogs should have tags and microchips and please check and make sure your information is current.
I even know of one family that goes camping in a remote area every year on the fourth. They do it just so they will be far from the fireworks for the sake of their beloved dog.
Please share with us what measures you take to keep your dog safe on the fourth?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog to the rescue
June 20 2013
June 21 is “Take Your Dog to Work Day.” For those of us who treasure our dogs company, being able to have our companions with us on the job is such a bonus. I’ve been blessed as an animal control officer to be able to bring my girl Breeze, a rescued Doberman, with me to work. On a rough day in the field, just being able to reach over and stroke Breeze’s silky coat can make the day bearable. I provide a soft bed next to my desk when I’m in the office and she’s expected to lie there quietly while I work. Of course, sometimes when there are several employee dogs wanting to socialize, we do allow them a play break. In the truck, she snoozes between calls and gets a potty break when I take mine. She doesn’t leave the truck unless invited and I take every precaution to keep her safe.
When we have our dogs join us at work, It’s critical that they be clean and well-behaved, and that we protect them from well-meaning but pushy or in-your-face people. Make sure your dog is comfortable with strangers and always expect that people will do silly thing to dogs. Even the nicest dog can bite so make sure your dog is enjoying any attention from co-workers or customers.
An added bonus to having Breeze along is that sometimes a scared stray will come to another dog but not a person. If my offers of treats, sweet talk and toys haven’t done the trick with a loose dog, sometimes bringing Breeze out is all it takes. On a recent call, two 5-month-old hound mix pups were dumped far out on a rural road. Sadly, one pup was killed by a car the first day, while the terrified and traumatized littermate wouldn’t come anywhere near people. He had taken up residence in an empty shed, but the minute I pulled up he took off through the pasture toward the nearby forest. Breeze was sitting next to me on the seat watching the pup intently. I got permission from the property owner and then took Breeze into the pasture where the shed was. Breeze loves everyone and is sort of the social greeter with dogs and people everywhere she goes.
The pup stopped at the sight of Breeze. With his tucked tail and hunched posture, he was the picture of dejected loneliness. I unclipped Breezes leash and said “get the puppy, Breeze.” She raced across the pasture, eager to meet a new friend, while the pup watched warily. As she reached him his tail began to wag and he curled his body into a submissive gesture of appeasement as she gave him the sniff over. Feeling more confident, the pup began to kiss her muzzle and press himself as close to her as he could.
As soon as I could see that they were buddied up, I sat down in the grass to be less threatening and pulled out a handful of treats. I called to Breeze, who came running with the pup close behind. I gave Breeze a treat and tossed one to the pup who stopped just out of reach. His body language was still terribly afraid but he clearly wanted to trust. Within minutes the pup worked his way close enough to take cookies out of my hand. In no time at all, he crawled into my lap, wiggling and wagging and soaking up the attention like he could never get enough. I slipped a leash on him but he immediately panicked. Obviously, he had never had one on so I scooped him up and carried him back to the truck with Breeze trotting by my side.
The hound pup was adopted soon after and he was just one of many examples of Breeze’s presence making my job easier.
I’d love to hear from readers who also take their dogs to work. Tell us the best part of having your buddy along on the job (or the worst!).
News: Guest Posts
Really need you
June 8 2013
I’ve always had a soft spot for old dogs. The gray muzzles and cloudy eyes get to me every time. One of my own dogs, Rocky, a rescued Pug/Chihuahua mix, is quite elderly at around 14 years of age. He recently had a couple of major seizures and became completely paralyzed from the neck down. A day of intensive care at the vet gave a poor prognosis. He did not seem to be in pain so I made the sad decision to bring him home for the family to say good-bye and then have the vet come to our home the next day.
Strangely, Rocky was coherent and did not seem upset about his predicament. I turned him every few hours and offered water which he lapped with help. The next morning I propped him up and offered a little breakfast which he managed to eat. I then took him out and held him up by his favorite bush where he peed before I settled him back on his cushy bed. I held off on calling the vet since he seemed comfortable. To my great joy, over the next several weeks he regained most of his function and returned to his previous frisky, happy self, even racing on the beach again.
Each day with Rocky is a blessing but I see many elderly dogs, in the course of my work as an animal control officer, who are not so lucky. They sit in shelters, unwanted and unloved. It’s heartbreaking to see these old souls peering through the chain link at the world or sleeping the day away alone.
Old dogs deserve to spend their last days snug in a cozy bed, getting their ears scratched and having walks and playtime with someone who loves them. I often foster shelter dogs who need some care before going to a forever home. Usually these are moms with litters, orphaned pups or dogs needing some behavior modification. I recently fostered two darling seniors who were left behind in a foreclosed home. Maggie the Beagle and McKenzie the Chihuahua sat forlornly at the shelter, day after day. They had a heated floor, cushy blankets and good food but they were depressed and overlooked on the adoption floor.
Maggie at maybe 10 years old, was overweight and grouchy with dogs other than McKenzie. Little McKenzie, who was probably closer to 15 years old, was tiny, underweight and very frail. She was also prone to nip if startled. The volunteers and staff adored them and I promoted them shamelessly to my friends and on Facebook but still no takers.
Finally I packed up the two old girls and took them home to foster. I have four dogs of my own so it was a challenge with Maggie’s dog issues and I worried about fragile McKenzie in my busy household. One wrong footstep from my Great Dane would probably kill her. Still, I made it work.
I fell in love with the two sweet old girls and the judicious use of X-pens and separate dog yards kept everyone safe and happy. Maggie’s issues improved as she settled in and tiny McKenzie especially stole my heart. Had it just been her, I would have kept her in a heartbeat. The two were incredibly bonded though and after all they had been through I couldn’t bear to split them up. They were actually pretty easy and after a month or so I found a delightful home for them with a sweet woman who had seen them on the web. I dripped sappy tears of joy as I watched them drive away.
A month or two later I ran into them at the beach. Maggie and her adopter had both lost a few pounds and looked fabulous, while little McKenzie had gained muscle and was stronger. All three looked incredibly happy which made my day.
It’s on my life’s list to adopt an old dog someday, after Rocky passes and my younger dogs settle down. I want to bring in some old, neglected dog and pamper them for whatever time they have left. Sure they aren’t going to be around as long but people are starting to understand how much easier they can be and the rewards of adopting them. For some people who can’t make a 10 or 15 year commitment, it’s a perfect fit to give a dog the life they deserve for a few months to a few years.
I would love to hear from readers who have fostered and adopted old dogs. Share with us the joys and difficulties of bringing a senior pet into your home.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What you can do to help
May 6 2013
I had a recent interaction with a small injured dog that touched me deeply. The entire episode lasted maybe 5 minutes, but I keep thinking back to it. I was putting an injured rabbit in our shelter vet clinic when I spotted a forlorn looking little dog lying on a thick blanket. His entire rear leg was shaved and a long row of sutures ran the length of it. His cage card said fractured hip, and listed a number of medications to help pain and infection. One of the shelter technicians told me that he had come to the shelter as a stray after being hit by a car and had surgery to repair the injury. I opened his cage and spoke to him. The big brown eyes were soft as I stroked his head and rubbed his ears. He was hesitant to move much but wiggled a little closer when I stopped stroking for a moment to look closer at his injury.
A bowl of untouched canned food sat near the dog and I offered it to him. He sniffed politely and turned away. “Come on Buddy, you’ll feel better if you eat something” I coaxed, scooping a little onto my fingers. This time he took a few bites before licking my hand and lying back down. I stroked him a few more times before heading out to finish my paperwork. When I glanced back he was watching me intently.
I haven’t been able to get the little guy out of my mind and a phone call to the clinic confirmed that the dog is doing well. He will go to a foster home to be pampered until he heals up and is ready for adoption.
In thinking of what to write for Be Kind to Animal Week, May 5-11, it occurs to me that anyone reading The Bark magazine is likely already doing just that with their own beloved dogs. Still, many animal lovers want to do more and just don’t know the best way about it. Bark readers may be pampering their own dogs while lamenting the difficult lives other dogs are living, isolated on chains or other unfortunate situations.
Adoption is the best way to give an unwanted dog the life he deserves but if you are unable to add another pet there are still plenty of things you can do to make a difference. Fostering a dog until he/she is ready for adoption can be so rewarding. The little guy I spoke about above will need weeks of cage rest while he recovers. Some feeding, cleaning and meds several times a day, along with some cuddles, are all he needs. It’s something that could even be done before and after work.
Volunteering to walk dogs, groom or just cuddle a frightened dog is another way to make life a little sweeter for a homeless dog. Donations of money, blankets, toys etc can go a long way, as can educating friends and neighbors on the needs of dogs and the benefits of spay and neuter. “Like” your local shelter page and share a pet in need on FB.
Yes, it can be hard to see an unloved animal, but the rewards of helping them are so worth it. Find a way to make a difference today.
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