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
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.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
April 22 2013
I recognized the name on the memo and my heart caught in my throat. Michelle Rowe. Her family had been in the news after her 4 year old son Christopher was struck in a crosswalk by an unlicensed, hit and run driver. Michelle and her 6 year old daughter and 4 year old twins had been crossing when a driver whipped around the stopped cars, hitting Christopher and knocking him 80 feet onto the pavement. He succumbed to his injuries the next day.
I couldn’t imagine what she wanted from me, and as a fellow mother, I choked up at the thought of what she had been through. I called her back and she explained that her daughters’ therapist had suggested getting each of the girls a puppy to give them something positive to focus on after witnessing the accident that killed their brother. My name had been given to her by a co-worker who knew I was fostering a litter of puppies. My first reaction was caution. Puppies are a tremendous amount of work, and I usually recommend against two puppies together. On talking with her at length, however, I found her to be a delightful woman in spite of her heartbreak, and someone who obviously had the resources and ability to care for two puppies and two traumatized children at once.
We arranged for her family to come to our home and see the puppies that were only about a month old at the time, and not ready to go home yet. I felt an instant connection to Michelle and looking into her eyes was a painful reality of the hardest thing a mother could ever experience. The epitome of the perfect family, yet there was a Christopher sized hole there that would never be filled. As much of a dog lover as I am, I knew these puppies could never take away the pain of what this family had been through. Still, as I watched the girls hold out their hands in wonder and then cuddle the puppies close, I could see that just holding them was a comfort.
Over the next few months, Michelle and the girls, and sometimes her husband Jim and other friends and family, came to my home to cuddle puppies from that litter and another litter that followed. We talked about Christopher and puppies and life and death and motherhood. Eventually they chose two sweet female puppies, Chrystal and Oreo, to join their family. I made multiple visits to the home after adoption to help the transition and give tips on training and managing the frisky young dogs.
It could so easily have been overwhelming to deal with housebreaking and chewing and all the other issues of puppyhood but I was pleased to see that the pups seem to be bringing far more joy than stress. Some small problems that popped up were easily addressed with management.
I was invited to attend the sentencing and listening to Michelle and Jim address the court with their impact statements was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced. To hear a mother describe what it was like to see her child suffer a fatal injury due to the negligence of another, and a father tell of watching his baby son take his first breath, and 4 years later take his last, left me devastated. Later that day, I embraced my own dogs and sobbed until I had no tears left. I couldn’t understand how the family could go on at all.
But go on they did. As parents they are determined to give their daughters a wonderful life in spite of their loss. A recent follow up visit to the family showed the puppies to be well adjusted and happy. They provide comfort and comic relief during some of the darkest times and continue to be a source of delight as the family navigates through the never-ending process of coping with grief. We shared a heartfelt talk about the ups and downs of life in the year since they took the puppies’ home.
It feels like such a privilege to have shared in some of the healing and to have gained precious new friends while finding a wonderful home for two needy pups makes it all worthwhile.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
March 11 2013
A spider scurried across my face and the ropes around my ankles bit into my skin as I was lowered head-first down the steep, dark culvert. It wasn’t much bigger around than I was and it was set deeply into a steep hillside. It was intended to divert water around a remote home and I couldn’t even see the dog yet as the pipe curved slightly about 20 feet down. I felt a little claustrophobic at not being able to move much in the tight space but I could hear him whimper and that motivated me to keep sliding downward on my belly. I had never even met the men who held the ropes that kept me from tumbling straight to the bottom but I had to trust that they would keep me safe.
Finally a dog appeared in my flashlight beam. He looked like maybe a Cattledog mix and he growled ominously as I slid closer. He must have been terrified and the sound echoed in the narrow space as he began to back away from me. The pipe was so narrow that I struggled to reach my hand into my pocket and remove some liver treats. I tossed one in his direction and he gobbled it and looked for more. It was critical that he not retreat much farther as I was nearing the end of 60 feet of rope and the pipe went on indefinitely. I tossed a few more treats and slowly slid the catch pole out in front of me. With some careful maneuvering I was able to get it over his head and cinch it to a safe level.
The caller had described hearing a dog barking and whining in the area for a week or so, but had been unable to locate him. He finally found the source of the noise in the long pipe on the hill and being unable to even see the dog, he had called animal control. When I arrived and saw what we were dealing with I was taken back. The pipe was too narrow to even crawl into, and too steep to back out. After brain-storming with the property owner and his friend for a few minutes we decided that the only way was to lower me in by my feet.
Thankfully he had a very long sturdy rope and some knowledge of knots, but it’s an odd feeling to have two men you have never met tie ropes to your ankles and lower you sixty feet down a hole. Still, when I had the dog safely caught, and hollered for the men to pull us up, it was all worth it. The dog scrambled up the slippery pipe after me and then stood blinking in the bright sunlight. I felt a thrill of satisfaction as I watched him taking in the scenery. He looked to be in pretty good shape and had a bandana but no tags or microchip. We offered small amounts of water as he was terribly thirsty and then loaded him into the truck.
Thankfully, a faded and tattered flier on a nearby telephone pole proved to be a match. The shocked owner stated that the dog had been missing for three weeks and they had all but given up. The dog certainly didn’t look like he had been down there for weeks but a visit to the vet confirmed that the formerly overweight dog had lost 15 pounds since his prior visit. The owner explained that they had been trying to get 15 pounds off of the dog for some time. I suppose a trickle of condensation on our foggy nights may have kept him hydrated. I felt a wonderful euphoria for days after returning the dog to his ecstatic owner. A call like this is so rewarding and helps make up for some of the sad, difficult things we see in this job.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
February 20 2013
I recently read an article about a study from UC Davis, showing an increase in some cancers and joint problems in Golden Retrievers that are spayed or neutered as opposed to intact. As a shelter worker, this is so concerning. There are endless studies showing many health and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering. It’s critical to look at the overall benefits to neutering before deciding to keep a dog intact based only on a limited study of one breed. As a shelter worker I have seen Intact dogs who are relentless in their pursuit of a mate. Digging out, jumping fences, chewing through walls, I've seen it all. Unaltered dogs roam more, get hit by cars more, fight more, bite more, and cause more human injuries and even fatalities. Intact females are prone to mammary tumors and pyometra and intact males can get testicular and perianal tumors. According to one veterinary study, 80% of unaltered males will develop prostate disease. Urine marking is a common problem in unaltered dogs.
My champion Borzoi was un-spayed because she was a show dog. She developed a pyometra at 6 years of age, had to have emergency surgery at great expense and was ill with a nasty pseudomonas bacterial infection for a long time afterwards. She didn’t fully recover her former health for nearly a year. She also got along wonderfully with our spayed female dog except when she was in season. Twice yearly, they had to be separated as they were prone to fight. After she was spayed, they never had another issue. Another un-spayed show bitch that I owned was so snappy and difficult for several months at a time around her seasons that I actually considered euthanasia. Thankfully I decided to spay her to see if it would help. It ended her show career but she was a delightful happy girl after that and lived to a ripe old age as a beloved pet.
The article mentioned that neutered dogs are more likely to be overweight causing stress on the joints. While it is true that intact dogs may burn more calories fretting and looking for a mate, this is a feeding issue, not a neutering issue. All dogs should be kept trim and fed properly for their needs regardless of altering status. Excess weight is also a cancer risk. Ethical breeders are going to neuter dogs with joint problems and keep those with good joints for breeding which may result in a skewed study.
I would be interested in knowing more about the way the study was conducted. As shelter workers, we often see dogs surrendered to the shelter to be euthanized when they become sick or infirm with issues including cancer and hip dysplasia. Often these dogs are unaltered. The level of responsibility that goes along with extensive veterinary care often includes neutering, so of course neutered dogs will see the vet more for other issues as well. Unaltered dogs are commonly surrendered to shelters for behavior problems such as roaming, barking, urine marking etc. Many of these issues can be improved on by neutering. The article mentioned the fact that service dogs were affected. Unaltered dogs are not suitable for service work as they become distracted by potential mates. Could the work they do assisting people be a factor in causing stress on the joints?
The number one cause of preventable, premature death in companion animals in this country is euthanasia due to overpopulation. If people decline to alter their pets, this number will certainly climb. I have the greatest respect for those highly dedicated and ethical breeders out there, but for the rest of us there are endless, well-documented veterinary studies showing many health and behavioral reasons to neuter our pets.
For more information on the study see Joanna Lou's post.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
February 14 2013
Even though I work mostly out in the field as an animal control officer, and love it, the animal shelter is still my baby. Almost every day I walk through at the beginning and end of my shift to check on the animals. As I passed through one of the small dog areas recently, I noticed an adorable terrier mix puppy in a cage. The puppy begins to growl as soon as he sees me. Teeth showing, eyes dilated, body tense, the pup makes no secret of the fact that he will bite. I open the cage and he growls louder. I talk softly to him, then offer a cookie that I always have in my uniform pockets. He threatens to make mincemeat out of my face but finally leans forward and sniffs the treat cautiously.
He continues to glare at me as he reaches for the tidbit. “That’s a good boy, you’re such a good boy” I croon as he chews. The body visibly relaxes and I scratch him under the chin. He licks my fingers and wiggles closer. A moment later, the puppy crawls into my arms, snuggling as close as he possibly can while his tail whips in delight and he covers me with kisses. In less than two minutes, we’ve gone from “Get away, I hate you, I’m going to bite you” to “I love you, I trust you, don’t ever leave me”. I’ve seen it a thousand times and yet it never fails to move me. I cuddle him close and promise him a better life, swallowing the lump in my throat and marveling again at what a gift dogs are.
Of course, sometimes it takes hours, days or even weeks for a scared dog to come around, and a few never do, but most improve quickly with patient handling. My own Great Dane, Tyra, took longer than most to trust, but now she’s the happiest girl around. It always warms my heart to watch a dog blossom into a confident pet.
The puppy’s initial behavior is so understandable. Abandoned, terrified and in a strange place, his response was completely based on fear. As soon as he felt safe, his reaction changed. Over the following days of his stray hold period, I visited with the pup daily. He greeted me happily each time, with a wagging tail and soft, wiggly posture. The pup had been vaccinated, wormed and flea treated on intake and as soon as his stray hold was up, he was vet checked and neutered. Once on the adoption floor, it only took a few days for him to be adopted by a loving family. This is what it’s all about, I thought, as I watched him go out the door in the arms of his new adopters.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Dangerous Job
February 2 2013
As animal control officers, we put our lives on the line every day trying to make a difference. We go in with other law enforcement to dangerous situations, drug busts, domestic violence, murders and other crimes. We deal with aggressive animals and unstable people. Often we are called in because someone has lost everything, their money, their home, their pride. When we arrive to take their animals it can be the last straw.
The recent shooting death of a fellow animal control officer in the Sacramento area is a grim reminder of the dangers we face every day. Officer Roy Marcum was called to a home where the owner had been evicted the previous day and left some pets behind. I've lost count of how many similar calls I have responded to. As Officer Marcum approached the home, he was shot and killed by the former resident. Officer Marcum was described as a devoted animal lover and was there to help. What a loss for his family and the community.
I've been bitten, kicked, scratched and run over in my years in animal control, but the human encounters have been by far the scariest. I have been threatened, had the wall punched next to me and gone into homes with armed suspects, all to try and make life better for dogs and other animals. I wear a bullet proof vest and carry an asp, pepper spray, a shotgun and a rifle. I hope they will keep me safe.
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