Shirley Zindler
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Puppy Breath
The perfect antidote for a tough day
The survivor: Rosie at eight-weeks-old. She has been adopted.

Warm sunshine bathes my skin, soft fur tickles my cheek and the rich, intoxicating scent of puppy breath fills my nostrils. There must be no greater bliss than lying outside on a blanket full of sweet, wiggly puppies. I close my eyes as they lick my face and gnaw my fingers. It’s been a rough week and I feel the stress ebbing away as I cuddle the warm bodies.

As an animal control officer, I witness things no animal lover should ever see. On a daily basis, I see abuse, neglect, cruelty, hostility and apathy. I face armed gang members and unstable people who insist on the right to treat their animals any way they like. Sometimes I wonder how I keep doing this day after day. It can take such a toll on the spirit. As I ponder this, my attention is drawn back to the puppies.

They are a variety of mixed breeds and one purebred Boston Terrier and they tumble over each other in delight. All have come from difficult beginnings but are now thriving in foster care in our home. They will be well-socialized, vaccinated, wormed, microchipped and spayed before adoption, and I will choose their new homes myself.

The Boston’s mama belonged to a woman who was planning to make money breeding dogs. She bred her female and waited eagerly for puppies and big wads of cash. Knowing next to nothing about dogs, she was unaware that a large percentage of Bostons require cesareans to safely give birth. The unfortunate dog fussed around in distress for days, unable to push her fat-headed babies through her narrow pelvis. The woman, unable to afford a vet, finally surrendered the mother dog to a rescue agency, which rushed her to a nearby clinic for emergency surgery. Due to the long delay, all but one of the pups died and I was contacted to foster the mom and her surviving baby.

I like to think I make a difference in the lives of the animals and people I encounter. I can get a lot of mileage out of one good call. What keeps me going are the successful rescues, reuniting a lost dog with the owner, finding a great home for a dog or getting an animal out of a bad situation. 

One of the pups scrambles over the top of my head and grabs a mouthful of my hair. I quickly untangle him and hug him to my chest. Sometimes it seems that I’m fighting a losing battle to improve the lives of animals but right at this moment, I know I make a difference to these guys. 



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.

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Submitted by Charlene George | November 15 2011 |

Shirley: I thank God for you and people like you that DO MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE. It makes me very angry for anyone to abuse or neglect animals and old folks. I have 2 rescue cats and a rescue dachshound. They are all spoiled. Wish I could do more. Thanks again for all you do. God bless you.

Submitted by Rawna Heichel | November 15 2011 |

Shirley is amazing and we are blessed to have her rescue these precious babies. I loved reading this as I felt tears of joy welling up in my eyes and also that little bit of rescue, reality sadness about the way people can treat these wonderful little creatures. Thank you Shirley for all that you do~

Submitted by Lisa Potter | November 15 2011 |

If you help even one dog (or cat or goat or whatever), it's not a losing battle. Thank you for all you do!

Submitted by Anonymous | November 15 2011 |

YAY Shirley, you are amazing, and change the lives of all these animals, and every human being who has the honor of knowing you :)

Submitted by Phil Sharp | November 15 2011 |

Thanks for the great work that you do Shirley. If ever you're having one of those days when you're feeling down then just let me know and I'll be here for a big virtual high five!

Submitted by D. Clover | November 15 2011 |

Beautifully written! Thank you for keeping an open heart where others fail.

Submitted by Jasmine | November 15 2011 |

So well written. The little beasties are fortunate to have Shirley around. She is beautiful, inside and out. Can't wait till her book is done.

Submitted by Robin | November 15 2011 |

Shirley is one of my heroes! For years I have watched how she works with people and animals. I am amazed that after all of these years, Shirley continues to show great compassion for both animals and humans. It can't be easy, having such an open heart, but our community is the benefactor. Thank you always.

Submitted by Suzanne Deghi | November 15 2011 |

Wonderful insight and a delight to read.

Submitted by Susan Pugh | November 15 2011 |

Not many people could do what you do! 300 dogs!! How could you ever think you are not doing enough?! Nice job on your story. I'm glad you got at least one puppy out of a heart breaking situation! I do want to buy a copy of your book when finished. I know it will be a good read! Thank you for all you do!!

Submitted by Suzanne Sherman | November 17 2011 |

I've always wondered how animal control officers do what they do. It seems like one of the hardest and most important jobs possible. Your words, "I can get a lot of mileage out of one good call," give insight into how you manage -- positive thought. Thank you for the inspiration. I look forward to more stories from you!

Submitted by Charlotte | November 18 2011 |

Shirley, you inspire me to do more for our helpless animals. Thank you for your courage to face situations that would bring so many of us to our knees. Sending good thoughts and appreciation for all you do.

Submitted by Shirley Zindler | November 21 2011 |

Thanks so much to everyone for the support and encouragement. It means the world to me and helps keep me going. There are so many wonderful animal lovers out there.

Submitted by Cate | June 11 2014 |

We need many more people like you, but even more than that we NEED people who do care to rally together and get into their elected official's faces until they make laws protecting animals and punishing their abusers. Also, as animal lovers, we must help by never calling someone an animal's "owner". We need to take away the notion that they are "owned" and we can treat them as we would any of our possessions. It starts with us.

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