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
October 31 2012
I was headed back to the shelter after a long day when another call came in. Dispatch informed me that a small dog had bitten a passerby who tried to catch her as she was running in traffic. I called the victim who stated that she had grabbed the dog and received a minor puncture. She hadn’t been able to hold onto her after the bite and had last seen the dog run under an SUV parked in front of a business. When I arrived and looked under the vehicle there was no dog. I poked around in the bushes in front of the building with no luck. Soon a man inside the building saw me and come out. He pointed to the vehicle and said, “She’s under there.” I looked again but no dog. “She’s not there now.” I said.
“Yes she is.” He insisted. “She’s up underneath.”
I found that hard to believe. Cats often climb up inside cars but I’d never heard of a dog doing it. Still, the car was next to a busy road and the dog needed to be quarantined so it was critical that I find her. Doubtfully I got down on my knees and peered under. I was still unable to see anything so I inched underneath it on my back. As I slid farther I saw a small white dog wedged up in the undercarriage of the vehicle. Well, that was a new one. Thank goodness the man had come out. I shuddered to think what might have happened if the owner had driven away.
The dog growled at me, undoubtedly terrified by her ordeal and I sweet-talked to her to calm her down as I slowly worked my way closer. My legs were dangling practically in traffic and I was afraid she would panic and run out in the road and get killed before I could a hold of her in that tight spot. Working slowly and carefully, I managed to slip a lead over her head. In her fear, she snapped at me but I managed to dodge her teeth and get her secured.
It was a challenge to get the little dog down out of the vehicle while avoiding her teeth and the rushing traffic but I finally worked my way out and stood up with the little dog in my arms. She was tense and wary but stopped trying to bite.
Back in the truck, I scanned her. She didn’t have a chip or tags so I settled her in the front seat with me where I could keep an eye on her and headed for the shelter. By the time we made it back we were friends and I found her to be a delightful little dog who had just been terrified by her circumstances and felt the need to defend herself.
No one claimed the little dog during her 10-day bite quarantine and since her bite had been provoked and very minor, she was put up for adoption. Young, healthy and totally adorable, it was only a few days before a lucky adopter snatched her up. I watched her prance out the door with her new person and felt a warm glow of satisfaction.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Saving a shelter dog
September 24 2012
I’ve always felt that the best way to remember a beloved dog is to rescue another dog in need. I was missing my previous rescued Doberman when a friend who knows that I have a soft spot for them sent me a photo. It was of a Doberman scheduled for euthanasia in a shelter in southern California, many hours away. The dog was a black female of maybe 3 or 4 years old. The sweet face appealed to me and I requested more information. I was told that she was friendly and had come in as a stray. She had a microchip going back to Oaxaca, Mexico and the unfortunate name of “Slash” but the owner never claimed her and no one came to adopt her.
I agreed to foster her and waited to hear back. On a Thursday I heard that she had to be pulled by the next day or she would be euthanized. I had no way to pick her up until Sunday as I had to work and there was no one to cover me. I offered to give the shelter a credit card or whatever it took to hold her. The response: “You don’t understand. We want to help but there is no room. She will be euthanized Friday unless she’s picked up by closing.”
It was a sad reality to hear that this shelter was so overcrowded that friendly, healthy dogs were being euthanized. It was a frantic scramble to try and find a way to save the dog. I would have driven there after work but they would be closed. It was a long shot for a dog that I hadn’t even been able to evaluate but I made a bunch of phone calls and fretted.
Finally one of the rescues got back to me with the news that a nearby kennel would board the dog for $10 a night and a rescue transport could bring her part way up to Northern California on Sunday. I was also asked to pick up a Pit Bull who had also been scheduled for euthanasia and had a foster home waiting. We met on interstate Hwy 5 at a gas station on a desolate stretch of barren freeway.
The rescue driver snapped a lead on “Slash” and brought her out. The dog greeted me eagerly, her stump of a tail wiggling with delight. I was thrilled with her sweet temperament and confident friendliness. Her coat was dull and she was thin but I knew that was easily remedied. The Pit Bull was a sweetheart as well and I walked them both before loading them into crates in my station wagon and starting the long drive back. As I glanced at the Dobie in the rear view mirror I decided to change her name to Breeze.
I dropped off the Pit with her foster family and when I got home I took Breeze out into my fenced pasture and let her loose. She began racing huge joyful circles around the field, darting back to give me kisses before she was off again. As the sun set over the trees I glanced at my watch and realized that she and the sweet little Pit Bull would have been dead by then if not for the combined efforts of a lot of people. My eyes filled with tears as I continued to watch her run.
I introduced Breeze to my complicated family of teens, husband, elderly house-mate and other dogs. She couldn’t have been any sweeter with soft playful body language and a constantly wagging tail. She also had an endearing habit of carrying her stuffed toys, her “babies” everywhere she went. I was absolutely smitten.
The only snag was introducing Breeze to the cats. She had major cat issues and those took a lot of work to overcome and manage. She is such a truly wonderful dog in every other way though that it’s been more than worth it and she became a permanent member of our family. Every time I watch her racing joyfully on the beach, playing with the other dogs or feel her sweet head on my lap, I’m thankful she’s alive.
I’m so grateful to all the people who spent their valuable time making it happen. My friend who sent me Breeze’s photo and made rescue arrangements, the overburdened shelter workers, the woman who agreed to board her for two nights and the people who transported her on their own time all had a hand in saving this wonderful girl’s life. For those of us who think dogs are one of our greatest treasures on earth, it’s time well spent.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
September 4 2012
My flashlight started to fail about halfway across the river. It was fairly new and fully charged but it bobbled weakly between the rushing water I was wading across and the dog lying on the far side. I picked my way closer in the inky blackness but it was a moonless night and icy water surged over the tops of my boots as the last of the light ebbed away leaving me in total darkness. The bummer was that I was crossing on a narrow concrete spillway and had a steep drop off of about 8 feet on my left and a lesser drop on my right. The water crashing over the dam made a huge racket and it was a strange feeling to be standing there alone in the dark, unable to see or hear anything but the roar of the water.
As an animal control officer I knew I really shouldn’t be doing this by myself and had called for a sheriff’s deputy to back me up before I even left the truck. Unfortunately I had been too antsy to wait. I was sick with worry that the dog lying on the far side would succumb before I could reach her and had headed through a wooded area and down to the water alone. Hopefully, if I waited long enough a deputy would find me but they didn’t know exactly where I was and I wouldn’t be able to hear my phone or radio over the roar of the water.
The call had come in around 9 p.m. A man stated that he had been at the river near dusk and noticed a sick or injured dog lying on the far side. He had to leave but gave me some sketchy directions to find her. I was only vaguely familiar with the park but knew it to be somewhat of an afterhour’s hangout for shady characters. I didn’t technically have to go. It was nearly an hour from my house, I didn’t have anyone standing by and often the animal is either fine or long gone when we arrive. Still, I couldn’t bear the thought of a dog possibly in distress and had headed out.
As I stood there, afraid to move lest I tumble off the dam, I suddenly remembered that we had just been given tiny new flashlights for our belts. I hadn’t used mine yet and it was probably too small to help much but should be better than nothing. I fumbled with the holder and managed to pull it free and turn it on. To my delight it cut a strong swath of light across the water and lit the dog up like a spotlight.
I immediately slogged the rest of the way across and approached the dog. She didn’t even lift her head and I had to look close to see that she was breathing. She was an elderly German Shorthair Pointer and I called to her but got no response so I gently stroked her graying face. The milky eyes opened briefly and she shivered uncontrollably, but that was it. Her hind legs rested in the water and the rest of her was lying on the edge of the concrete dam.
Holding the light in my teeth, I gently scooped her up, soaking my uniform in the process, and headed back across the black rushing water. She may have been old but she probably weighed 60 pounds or so and by the time I reached the steep bank on the far side I was out of breath. I struggled to the top and then set her gently on a picnic table for a moment while I caught my breath, shivering along with her in the night chill.
When I finely reached my truck, I examined her carefully. She appeared well cared for and was clean and soft with neatly trimmed nails. Nothing seemed broken and her gums were a healthy pink. She seemed to just be chilled and exhausted. I dried her off and settled her on a thick comforter and wrapped several blankets around her, tucking the edges in and leaving only her sweet face exposed. She wore a collar and tag but it was a rabies tag that couldn’t be traced after hours and she didn’t have a microchip. She looked at me briefly before sighing and closing her eyes.
The next morning found the dog feeling much better and her frantic owners at the shelter looking for her. A worker at their home had left a gate open and the old girl had gone exploring. Deaf and somewhat frail, she had wandered down to the river and been too weak and disoriented to climb back up the steep bank. Her owners had searched for her all evening to no avail.
It was such a joy to reunite this sweet old girl with her family and a good reminder to check your pets ID. Ideally dogs should wear a buckle caller with a personal ID tag with several phone numbers. A microchip is the perfect backup in case the caller gets lost. Tags also wear through periodically. Are your pets tags current and in good shape?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
August 14 2012
She was another one of the many neglected strays I pick up on my job as an animal control officer but I was shocked by how emaciated she was. Her spine and hips stood out in stark relief, especially over her rump where much of her hair was missing. Her belly was hugely swollen and closer inspection showed that she was ready to deliver. She was incredibly sweet and looked like a Border Collie/Lab mix; all black with beautiful big brown eyes.
It was clear that she would give birth before her stray hold period was up and in her condition, the shelter was not the best place for her. Her photo was posted online in case an owner came looking for her. They would have had to do some explaining as to why their unspayed dog was roaming and in such terrible condition if they had tried to claim her. I named her April and took her home and made her comfortable in a cozy, spacious kennel that I keep ready for dogs in need.
Within days she delivered 8 beautiful puppies in shades of gold and black. She was a doting mama and her puppies thrived. Getting full choice puppy kibble and several warm wet meals a day she actually began to gain weight even while nursing. She was delighted when I gently examined her puppies each day and would wag her tail proudly while licking each one as I checked to be sure they were gaining and healthy.
On the ninth day I went in to do my daily puppy cuddle and was shocked and saddened to find one of the gold puppies dead. It’s not unusual to lose a very young puppy, especially when mom was in such terrible shape, but they had been so fat, shiny and healthy the day before. When I examined the rest of the litter I found others that were failing too. Even mama April was off her food and seemed like she didn’t feel well.
I consulted with the vet, who thought they had probably picked up a nasty infection. We started antibiotics twice daily and I began tube feeding and gave warmed subcutaneous fluids to the ones that weren’t able to nurse. Some of them rallied while others went downhill. Having worked in numerous shelters and vet clinics I’ve dealt with sick puppies many times. Often the very young pups die even with extensive treatment.
It was heartbreaking to have to poke the sick babies with needles and stick tubes down their throats but it was all that was keeping them alive. Several of the pups never did get sick and they continued to grow and gain weight. I took the chubbies out several times a day to give the weaker pups a chance to nurse without competition.
The two remaining blond pups and the little blaze-faced male were so sick that I doubted they would survive. After nearly two weeks the blond pups started to improve but little Blaze lingered, barely alive, day after day. More vet consults, more meds and fluids. I started to wonder if I was just prolonging his suffering but he didn’t seem painful, just terribly weak and frail. I was certain he would die but he hung on and would at least attempt to nurse so I continued the treatments.
He finally improved briefly but then I found him nearly comatose one evening. I put Karo syrup on his tongue for energy and gave him warmed fluids. I sat up half the night with him cuddled up on my chest and dripped miserable tears onto his tiny body. He remained unresponsive and there didn’t seem to be any hope. Around 1 a.m. I finally tucked him into a warmed blanket on low heat and kissed him good-bye.
I was emotionally and physically exhausted after 2 weeks of round the clock puppy care but I tossed and turned until six before getting up and preparing to bury Blaze. I was positive that he couldn’t have survived the night and was shocked to find him rooting around for a meal when I opened the blanket. Hurrying him into see April, I moved the bigger puppies out of the way and placed him on a nipple. She nosed and licked him eagerly and I supported him while he nursed for a moment before falling asleep. He was still very weak and I helped him nurse every hour or so until he grew stronger and stronger.
Blaze finally turned the corner and he and the other pups never looked back. Mama April and all the puppies were adopted into wonderful homes and we get together for reunions so they can play together. I’ve been doing fostering and rescue for more than 25 years but the rewards of helping needy dogs still feel just as sweet.
I would love for Barks readers to consider fostering a needy dog or share experiences of fostering. Most shelters and rescues welcome the assistance and there’s nothing like the feeling of making a difference.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Emmy comes home!
July 20 2012
The frantic voice on phone belonged to my dear friend Carrie. “Emmy’s gone and we can’t find her anywhere!”
Oh no! Emmy was a tiny, beautiful and beloved Shih-Tzu. She had just participated in Carrie’s wedding the day before, walking down the aisle with the flower girls. (Emmy was not going on the honeymoon but was going to be looked after by her brother who lives with Carrie.) “What happened?”
“I was loading up the luggage for the honeymoon and she was in the front yard one minute and gone the next.” Her voice was heavy with despair and she began to sob. “Carrie, I’ll look for Emmy. You have to make your flight! Can you get a ride?” “Yes but…”
“Just go, I’m on my way.” As an animal control officer, I have a lot of experience with finding lost dogs. In most cases the dog either wandered away or was frightened by something and took off but Emmy is adorable, extremely small and always immaculately groomed. She’s irresistible and I worried that someone would keep her. I threw together some lost dog fliers and starting at Carrie’s house I posted fliers on every tree and telephone pole. I handed them to people out walking, kids on bikes and characters loitering on street corners, but no one had seen her. I called the police and sheriff’s departments, the emergency vet clinics and posted an ad on Craigslist.
I was back early the next morning with friends and hundreds more fliers sporting Emmy’s photo and a $200 reward. We left fliers at every house and business for many blocks without a single lead. Fliers were also posted at every vet clinic, groomer, pet store and shelter in the area but after 24 hours I began to lose hope and Carrie and her husband, calling from their honeymoon, were miserable and distraught.
Around 8:30 the second night I got a call from a woman said that that Emmy had been deliberately taken by a relative of Carrie’s closest neighbor who had pulled into the shared driveway just as Carrie went back in for the rest of her luggage. The woman went on to say that the thief had taken Emmy to her home in another county and had no intention of bringing her back.
I immediately called the police department and made a theft report. An officer went to the address and told the residents that he had reason to believe that they had knowledge of Emmy’s whereabouts and they may be in violation for failure to report a crime. He stated that their relative was under investigation for felony theft and they finally confessed that a cousin took the dog and gave the officer her phone number which he passed on to me.
After a sleepless night, I was up early the next morning and called the number. A woman answered who sounded very young and barely spoke English. It was hard to understand her but she gave me an address so I jumped in the car and headed out. The street she gave was nearly an hour away and when I turned onto it my heart sank. There was no such address. It had been a wild goose chase after all. I called the number again and when she answered the language barrier was still a problem but finally I understood that she was saying Berk Street and I had been on Park. A few minutes later I pulled up at her home next to graffiti covered fence.
A young woman and a little boy came out holding Emmy. She had been gone only 3 days but already she was a mess. Her normally immaculate coat was disheveled and her little topknot had been removed, causing her hair to hang into her eyes and mouth. I looked at the woman. She was obviously poor, uneducated and had no idea how serious the situation was. I wanted to explain to her about doing the right thing and setting an example for her little boy but my minimal Spanish wasn’t up to it.
I called Carrie with the good news and she was ecstatic and able to enjoy what was left of her honeymoon. All the way home I kept glancing at Emmy settled on the seat beside me. I couldn’t believe she was safe. We could so easily have never seen her again. She was microchipped but I doubt she ever would have gone to the vet or groomer.
I wished I had a way to reach my informant to give her the reward. It had been a restricted number and she would only give me the name Sandra. A few days later Sandra called me to see if Emmy had been found. I thanked her again from the bottom of my heart, knowing that it’s very unlikely that we ever would have gotten Emmy back without her tip. I told her I would meet her anywhere, anytime, with the cash reward but she declined and told me that she didn’t do it for the money; she did it because it was the right thing to do. My faith in humanity is restored.
I would love to hear reader’s experiences with losing a dog and how they got them back.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
June 28 2012
Bark readers are by their very nature, responsible dog owners. We treat our dogs as family and many of us love to take them with us whenever possible. The fact that we include them in every aspect of our lives is an example of our commitment to them. We would never knowingly do anything to put our beloved friends in danger and yet leaving them in our cars, even just for a few minutes, can be fatal. As an animal control officer, I know the dangers better than most. I have witnessed the tragic results of people leaving dogs in the car “just to run in and get a gallon of milk.” Sadly, sometimes people get distracted, run into an old friend or the line is longer than expected. I have removed dead dogs from the owners vehicles and been haunted by the images in my dreams.
During the summer months our department responds to multiple dog-in-hot-car calls every day. Most of the time the vehicle is long gone when we arrive, or the dog is fine and the caller was just overly concerned. Occasionally the dog is truly in distress. I have a little portable thermometer that I put inside the vehicle (assuming that the window is cracked open) to measure the temperature. Often the owner comes back before the dog is in serious distress but when I show them the thermometer listing 90, 100 or more degrees, it makes an impact. Dogs vary tremendously in how much heat they can take. Short- faced or heavily coated dogs are far more susceptible to heat stroke than some others. In one case, the Husky puppy died in the vehicle, while a kitten was able to climb under the seats and survive. I won’t hesitate to break a window to save a dog’s life.
I remember one overcast day when an elderly couple drove a long distance to a hospital for a routine early morning appointment. They cracked the windows, parked in the shade and left their two dogs waiting in the car. The husband suffered a medical emergency during his visit and ended up being airlifted to another hospital. In the chaos of the day, the dogs were temporarily forgotten. The sun came out, the shade shifted and the dogs became distressed. I removed the dogs, placed them in my truck with the cooler on and water available and waited. Finally the panicked wife arrived, distraught with worry about her husband and suddenly remembering her dogs. The dogs recovered quickly but this is an extreme example of the kind of things that can come up, taking our attention away from our dogs.
I’m mortified to admit that I myself once put two puppies in danger in a hot vehicle. I was raising the orphaned pups on a bottle and had to attend an all day class in another city. No one was available to feed the babies so I took them with me, planning to feed them during the breaks from class. It was a very cold, overcast winter morning and I was actually worried about the pups being chilled.
Two hours later when I returned to feed the pups, it was still overcast but the sun was peeking through the clouds and beating straight in the windows. It was chilly outside but the inside was uncomfortably hot and the pups were panting and crying in distress. Horrified by what I had done, I was in tears as I quickly moved them into the building and found a place for them inside. The pups were fine after a few minutes but it made a lasting impact on me and reminded me how easily it can happen.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Still & Silent Way Works Best
June 4 2012
Two minor punctures were just visible above the old man’s ankle. He held his slacks up from his skinny leg as he told me how the dog had rushed off its property and bitten him as he walked by. As I took the report he told me about many other dog bites he had received.
The man was a quiet, soft-spoken widower who spent every morning walking around his suburban neighborhood. He lived in a nice area without a lot of loose dogs and I was puzzled at how he had been bitten so often. As an animal control officer, I handle aggressive dogs daily and am rarely bitten.
What was about him or his demeanor that incited normally docile canines to aggression? It’s not like the old guy wrapped his legs in bacon before he set out each morning. I questioned him about each bite and he told me that when he saw a dog he would yell in an attempt to frighten it away. As the dog approached he would flail around, kicking, swinging his arms and screaming. Wow…. that’s probably more effective than bacon. Jump around like a wounded antelope and hope the predator doesn’t eat you. No one deserves to be bitten while minding his own business but I could see how the man’s response could be a contributing factor.
In observance of the recent Dog Bite Prevention Week, May 20-26, I offer a view of dog bites from that of someone who has investigated literally thousands of them. In most cases the dogs were family pets that are normally friendly. A few were dogs with a history of aggression that was permitted or excused by the owner.
More than 4 million people a year are bitten by dogs and children are the most common victims. In almost every case, the bite could have been avoided with some effort on the part of the dog owner as well as from the victim (or their parent). In one case I investigated, a toddler was bitten by a relative’s elderly arthritic dog. The child’s father was furious, demanding that the dog be euthanized immediately. The family was visiting the wife’s sister and the child wandered into the other room where the dog was lying on his bed, chewing a bone. The child climbed on the dogs back and sustained a minor puncture to the hand. The parents were extremely negligent for letting their baby roam around someone else’s home unattended. Of course the dog’s owner should have been alert as well. It was deemed a provoked bite and the dog was spared, but sadly many dogs are euthanized for minor, easily preventable bites.
The importance of socialization, training, not allowing dogs to roam and not leaving dogs unsupervised with children is critical. Many people are also in denial about what their dog might do. I can’t tell you how many times a person has told me “Oh he would never bite”. Often when I’m looking at a dog whose body language screams “I would bite in a hot second!” Dogs are limited in how they can say “you’re scaring me” or simply “leave me alone”. Biting is a way that dogs communicate. Most dogs won’t (and shouldn’t) challenge their owners, but a child or visitor may not be so lucky. I’m also amazed by how many people allow their kids to abuse their dogs. “They can do anything to him.” They tell me proudly. Sadly, the long-suffering dog may eventually tire of the torment and suffer the ultimate consequence for his predictable response.
Dogs should be off limits to kids when eating, sleeping, chewing a bone etc. It’s critical that children are taught to respect a dog’s space, food and other potential triggers. Dogs who are sick, scared, injured or have pups are also at higher risk for biting.
Equally important is that people stay still when approached by a potentially aggressive dog. Even an aggressively charging dog on its own property will rarely bite a perfectly still person. I can vouch for this, having been charged many times by dogs that have previously bitten. When they don’t get a response from me, they stop and lose interest.
I was impressed with a boy who approached a house while selling candy bars. Inside, a highly aggressive dog that had bitten several previous visitors saw the child. She crashed right through the front window in a shower of glass. The terrified boy screamed bloody murder but didn’t move a muscle. The dog snarled and circled him repeatedly but didn’t bite.
Please remember that even the nicest dog can bite and even the nicest child can irritate them. Dogs deserve our respect and protection, as do our children and visitors to our homes.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Helping out in the shelter
May 22 2012
There are more than 100 dogs at our county shelter. They are there for a variety of reasons. Lost, unwanted, their owners lost their home, had a baby, moved or don’t have time to care for them anymore. Some are bite-quarantine or court cases. They represent a tremendous variety of breeds, sizes, ages and temperaments. Some are beautiful and healthy with wagging tails and happy faces. Others are painfully neglected, thin, mangy, matted. A few are frighteningly aggressive. Most of them would be wonderful pets in the right situation.
When I have time, I help in the kennels. As an animal control officer, it’s not technically my job but I enjoy it and on the rare days when I don’t have a lot of calls, I feed the dogs and help with the cleaning. It gives the shelter techs time to catch up on some of the endless tasks of running a shelter, and gives me a chance to connect with the dogs.
I go from kennel to kennel with a tub full of kibble on wheels. I also have a bucket of puppy kibble mixed with canned food and hot water for the thin, the young and the very old. I speak to each dog as I go, coaxing those who are scared and catering the amount of food to each dog’s needs. An emaciated Chihuahua gets just the puppy kibble. A huge, adolescent Shepherd-mix needs a heaping bowl. An obese black Lab receives a reduced amount, but they all get a little of the canned food gravy on top, just to make life a little nicer.
I make a few notes as I go. A sweet-faced Pit Bull mix has a cough, so I put him on the list to be seen by the vet. The bulging belly and mammary development on a little Terrier inspire me to move her to a quieter room and provide her with an enclosed crate.
As a dog lover, my heart breaks for the animals in our care but I try to put my energy into making things as nice as possible for them. We provide toys, treats and soft bedding and the floors are radiant heated. Even just scooping poop and disinfecting kennels gives the satisfaction of creating a clean environment. It means a lot to me to know that the dogs are getting good food and a little comfort while in our care.
Early in the morning, the barking is deafening as everyone clamors for attention and breakfast. As the dogs are fed and the kennels cleaned, they begin to settle down. As we finish up, the dogs settle on their blankets and relative peace descends on the shelter.
During my breaks, I love to sit in a kennel with a shy dog and cuddle for a few minutes. It’s a revealing perspective to be down on the floor at the dog’s level, watching the world go by through the chain link. The faint smells of bleach and lemony disinfectant mingle with the odor of dogs and kibble. The occasional barks and whines of the other dogs echo and the warmth of the dog’s body fills my lap and my heart. Work is waiting and I reluctantly leave her but I can see that the experience has left her feeling more comfortable. She wags her tail as she watches me go.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Discovering the mysteries of nature with dogs
April 19 2012
With a busy and stressful job as an animal control officer, it’s critical to find ways to relax on my days off. Walking my own dogs is a great way to work off the stress and tension of my week. One of my favorite places is a local beach where dogs are allowed off leash. I usually go with friends and we bring a variety of dogs, large and small, our own and sometimes a foster or two.
The dogs take such joy in running, playing in the waves and wresting with each other. I breathe deeply of the salt air, letting my worries ebb out with the tide. The dogs’ excitement and happiness is contagious. They are so free, living in the moment. There is so much to be learned from them.
The dogs miss nothing and I benefit from seeing wildlife I might not notice otherwise: sea lions, shore birds, jellyfish, crabs and other animals. Of course, I don’t allow them to harass the wild creatures, but it’s wonderful to see the things that the dogs point out.
On a recent beach walk with a friend, Doris, who is the director of our local wildlife rescue center, the dogs spotted something lying on the beach in the distance and ran ahead. A couple of vultures flapped away as we approached and we were surprised to find a freshly dead leopard shark. It was intact other than an opening made by the vultures. As we admired the animals beautiful markings and wondered what had happened to it, we noticed a tiny infant shark curled up next to the opening in the body. Doris turned the little creature over and both of us were shocked when it moved. She scooped it up and we hurried down to the waves and placed it in the water where it wiggled away.
It occurred to us that there might be more babies and we investigated further. The dogs watched in a fascinated circle as we delivered seven more live baby sharks and carried them to the water. We did have to make it clear to our Golden Retriever, Hula that she didn’t need to retrieve them. After several of her attempts to bring the babies back to shore, I put her on a down-stay for the rest of the delivery. Who knows all the ways having a well-trained dog comes in handy.
After all the babies had swum away we continued down the beach, the dogs racing ahead and Doris and I chatting excitedly about our experience. The baby sharks appeared fully formed and fairly vigorous so we were hopeful that they had a chance. Some later research confirmed that the babies were of full-term size and development and that our location was a common delivery area for leopard sharks. We felt a wonderful sense of satisfaction at having been involved with such a unique delivery. Once again, time with our beloved dogs left us refreshed, exercised and enjoying a fascinating experience we might have missed without them.
I would love to hear what others have discovered or experienced because of their dogs.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Animal control officers are often among the first on the scene when a death at home leaves a pet behind
April 3 2012
The old man’s eyes were closed, his head rested on a pillow and covers were tucked up to his chest. Even the wispy white hair on his head looked unruffled. His arms were wrapped around his little blond Chihuahua, who gazed at me quietly. For a Chihuahua to fail to bark when a stranger enters the room is a miracle in itself. It couldn’t have been a more peaceful scene although the man was dead.
This man’s son was waiting downstairs to claim his dad’s dog. My only duty in this case was to transport the dog to the lobby. I gently scooped the unresisting dog from the man’s arms and cuddled her to my chest. When I arrived downstairs I looked around, unsure who was to receive the dog.
At that moment, a man walked in and made his way toward me. He looked younger than I expected, probably in his forties, with fair hair and a pleasant face that was streaked with tears, but the family resemblance was there. He reached for the dog and burst into sobs. I put an arm around him and he leaned in for a moment and hugged me before taking a deep breath and composing himself. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m so glad I at least have her.” He glanced at the small bundle in his arms and turned and walked away.
Animal Control is usually among the first on the scene in a case like this because pets need to be removed before police and coroners can do their investigation and remove the body. Most of my coroners’ cases have been very peaceful. Usually they are elderly people, who passed away quietly at home with their pets. I’m grateful to be able to care for their beloved companions in the way I would want my pets handled after my death.
Of course, some cases have been ugly, traumatic crime scenes or suicides. Sometimes bodies have decomposed or been fed upon by desperate and starving pets. Those situations can have a lasting effect on everyone involved but the animals still need to be removed and cared for, so we do it.
In one case, I received a call of a skinny dog. When I arrived, I could see a ribby Belgian Malinois through a locked gate. I honked the horn several times with no response from the run-down house. I fed the skittish dog treats through the fence as I waited but the place appeared abandoned. On checking with neighbors, I learned that the owner was elderly and reclusive. No one could remember the last time they had seen her.
Worried, I called the sheriff’s department and requested a deputy. We cut the lock and entered the property. The front door was wide open and we knocked and called. There was no answer. In a cluttered back bedroom, we found the remains of the dog owner. It was obvious that she had been dead for a very long time.
My attention was drawn back to the dog who slunk around miserably in the background. I finally coaxed him in with cookies and when I got my hands on him I was shocked at his emaciated condition. Under the fur, he was skin and bones. When I managed to slip a lead on him he fought wildly and as light as he was, I struggled to lift him into the truck.
I learned that the dog’s name was Buster and he was only about a year old but completely unsocialized. It took a while to track down next of kin and while most supportive and helpful; they were unable to take him. I fostered Buster for several months before finding a wonderful home able to deal with his numerous issues.
This is a good reminder to have a plan in place for our animal companions in the event of our incapacitation or death. Even those with a significant other should make a plan in case something happens to both guardians. I would be interested in hearing from readers about what plans you make for their pets. Who will care for your furry friends if you aren’t able to?
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