Shirley Zindler
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A Day in the Life of an Animal Control Officer
Animal Control Officer Shirley Zindler with Tyra, rescue dog and sidekick.

I wake early to care for my latest litter of 6-week-old foster pups. I almost always have fosters at home: Moms with pups, orphaned or sick dogs, or dogs needing training or socializing. These are adorable scruffy Terrier mixes and they scramble over me in delight as I hurry to feed and clean up after them. Each one also gets picked up for a cuddle before I head out the door.

I arrive at the animal shelter by 7 a.m. and walk through the kennels to greet the dogs. As always, the number of wonderful, deserving canines in our care touches me. 

I gather my list of calls for the day and head for my work truck. Tyra, my rescued Great Dane, follows as I load my shotgun and rifle. The men on the inmate work crew stare as I walk by. “Don’t mess with her,” one of them says as I pass, blonde pony tail swinging, giant dog at my heels and carrying a couple of firearms.  

Tyra settles into the passenger seat as we head out through rolling hills and vineyards. My first call is quarantine for a small dog who nipped a visitor. I meet with the owner and view the healthy looking Chihuahua mix. I advise her to keep the dog confined at home and observe it for signs of illness. My next call is an adorable adolescent Pit Bull hanging around a business. I coax him to me with cookies and happy talk, check for a microchip, which he doesn’t have, and lift him onto a blanket in my truck as he tries to lick my face.

The day flies by as calls continue to come in. I write a few license citations and pick up a sick kitten and two more loose dogs. One dog has tags and her frantic owner hugs me and calls me an angel when I return her dog. I handle calls of a skinny horse, a dog without shelter and loose goats. Sadly, I also get a call of a critically injured deer. One look tells me there’s no saving her. With a heavy heart I reach for the rifle. Leaving her to suffer is unthinkable. Firearm euthanasia is more humane and less traumatic for wildlife than handling them for an injection. I then drove the body to Wildlife Rescue, where the meat will feed the carnivores there for rehabilitation.

I’m still upset about the deer when I arrive at my last call. It’s a complaint of loose, aggressive dogs. The owner won’t confine them and the dogs entertain themselves by terrorizing the neighbors. There’s already a court case pending and the dogs were confined by the time I arrive, so I remind her that she’s putting her dogs at risk by letting them run free. The owner argues with me, then turns to her young daughter and says, “This lady wants to kill your dogs.” The child looks horrified and the owner calls me a bitch and stomps back in the house with her wide-eyed daughter in tow. I try not to let it get to me but it does anyway. It’s not unusual to be called an angel and a bitch on the same day. As a rule the good guys love me and the bad guys hate me. I can live with that.

Back at the shelter, I vaccinate, photograph and kennel the animals I’ve picked up, and do paperwork. I leave work at 5:30 pm, and head home to help my husband and kids and dogs.

I’m on-call all night for emergencies, and 11 p.m. finds me headed into the dark to pick up a dog that has been hit by a car. I scoop up the injured black Lab mix and rush him to the emergency clinic. I help stabilize the dog and authorize hospitalization and treatment before heading home to bed at midnight. 

Another day in the life of an animal control officer has ended. 


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 Nik | December 2 2011 |

This is really unique and something I've always wondered about. Thanks so much for posting this, and thank you Shirley for writing!

Submitted by Jim Gould | December 2 2011 |

Dont we have the Best Jobs in the world?

Submitted by Anonymous | December 2 2011 |


Submitted by Terry | December 2 2011 |

Shirley,I bet this was a typical day for you. I have been called names at SHS for having to tell a dog owner we are full and they can try us again next week, but they seem to think we MUST take their dear animal in. It just amazes me the way people think their problems MUST be solved the way they want them by us or anyone else. I wish you only Wonderful days and no one acting as if you owe them your services because they say so. You all and Amy must be Saints and Love all animals. God Bless you. Please say Hi next time, as you always do, when you see me at SHS...

They had their Staff Party today and I am Thrilled they do that as the Staff there deserve it so much.

Hugs and Wonderful thoughts for you.


Submitted by ACO ll Montes | December 2 2011 |

Thank you for taking the time to share "our" everyday life. It's my honor to call you a hero. "The voice for the animals"

Submitted by Dick Hooker | December 2 2011 |

I can relate to parents telling their kids that if they misbehave the big bad policeman was going to take them to jail. Now the kid is afraid of the one thing that can help them out if they need it. All so the comment the women made to her chid about Shirley wants to kill her dogs was way out of line and calling shirley a bitch lets me know she is a low life and not to be taken seriously. I always had a policy of giving anyone ten minutes to cuss me out or call me anything they want unless they laid a hand on me and then is when they went to the ground. Also after the ten minutes of verbal abuse is when the party ended and the hammer fell. One thing about law enforcement is it is a challenging job and seldom has a dull moment. Shirley is my daughter and I am proud of her and glad she followed her dad into law enforcement. Keep up the good work sweetie.

Submitted by Lacy Mesunas | December 3 2011 |

Oh Shirley- I just loved the article.Since I was little, I can always remember you being so kind and gentle with animals. I am happy that you are in a job you love and you can see in the article what dedication,patience and humility you have. Cant wait to read more stories and I'm defiantly sharing this! ;)

Submitted by Anonymous | December 3 2011 |

Thank you a hundred times over.

Submitted by Mark | December 5 2011 |

Shirly Zindler really is an angel. For what she does, there are not enough thanks in the world. Compassion for animals of all shapes and sizes is in short demand. reading her story makes me want to drop everything and do what she does.

She really is an "angel"!

And thank you, Bark, for sharing her story. I look forward to more of her adventures in future issues.

Submitted by Shirley Zindler | December 5 2011 |

I am, once again, both thrilled and humbled by the outpouring of support for my blog. This is such a wonderful opportunity to show what we do and give a voice to animals in need. The number of fabulous dogs and other pets waiting for homes is mind boggling. I have been blessed to share our home with so many of them. There is something to be learned from every person and creature we come in contact with. Often its the dogs that have the most to teach.

Submitted by ACO Steffen | December 10 2011 |

It is a very rewarding job and a pleasure to read your article. We are the voices for all the animals we encounter on a daily basis. Keep up your amazing work and for the animals we encounter the joy we are rewarded with is worth everything we go through to get there.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 1 2012 |

Amazing life experience have an animal control officer. I'm really feeling now. Thanks mate.

Submitted by shadyladymiami | March 6 2012 |

If you only knew how heartening it is to know that there are cities who actually run their Animal Control FOR the animals, for the citizens, and do so compassionately AND efficiently. Unfortunately I live on the opposite end of the country in Miami Florida, also known as Havana North. The animals are treated as I assume they must have been in Cuba and it is not good. Animal Control is underfunded understaffed and unconcerned. The citizens have fought for 20 years to get the County to acknowledge the huge problem of dogs left running loose in the South end of the County, starving, packing up and reproducing! What we GOT was a ridiculous ban on Pit Bulls including Staffordshires and ANY mix that 'looks' like it might have some PIT in its background. NOT even ONE cruelty officer employed in the entire County, and not a single truck equipped to handle injured animals, and a shelter that euthanizes 80-100 animals every single day. The cruelty that goes on in this County is unbelievable. From abandonment, torture, starvation; to legal sacrifice of animals for Santaria and illegal slaughter for black market sale of meat of every kind of animal including horses, ponies and donkeys (some stolen, many from 'free to a good home' ads!) NO animals are ever killed compassionately. In fact, it seems the more blood and terror and pain involved, the better the humans involved like it. It is not like living in America down here, in so many ways. As a native I can deal with the language barrier, the employment problems for those who don't speak Spanish, the attitudes, the clannishness, etc. But what we deal with down here in the way animals are used and abused makes it unbearable for many and many have packed up and moved. I wish I could follow them!

Submitted by Carl W | July 22 2013 |

Hats off to you Officer Zindler. And thank you for your selfless service from the voiceless ones you help everyday.

Submitted by Emily | December 20 2013 |

Hi Shirley! Thank you so much for posting this! I'm an avid animal lover, and my whole life I've wanted a career like yours! I watch Animal Cops every day, and I do not think I will ever be happy or fulfilled without becoming an officer like you. Could you please shed some light on how you acquired your job? I need all the help I can get!

Submitted by Julie | September 12 2014 |

Thanks so much for taking the time to write about what your "typical" day. I loved reading it and your insight on how different people view your work. I am considering a career change from occupational therapist to animal control officer and any information is welcome. I am in my late 40s but still very fit and active. Do you think my age will be an issue? Is there an age limit on entering this field? Thanks!

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