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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. 

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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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Never Give Up: a Lost Dog is Reunited
Sweet Dreams Hector
Lessons from Joey the two-legged pup
Justice—and a Home—for Patty
A Bag of Tricks Helps in Dog Rescue
A Sweet Good-bye
Lost Dog Recovers From Tick Attack
Amber Turns the Corner
Going the Extra Mile
Learning Dog Social Skills