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Shirley Zindler
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Finding a Purpose for a Pup
Turning a bad situation into something positive

An early morning call came in from a passerby who reported seeing a dog attacking sheep near a quiet country road. It was a gorgeous day, and I enjoyed the drive in spite of my anxiety to get there as soon as possible. I pulled up in front of a neat little white farmhouse surrounded by green fields. It was quiet; no one seemed to be home.

The sound of a dog barking and the frantic bleating of sheep broke the stillness. In the distance, I saw a handsome German Shepherd running through the field after a group of terrified sheep. I quickly scaled the fence and snagged my pants on the barbed wire, grimacing as I heard a long rip. The dog appeared to have been at it for a while and was visibly tired but having way too much fun to stop. His tongue hung halfway to his knees as he loped after the exhausted animals.

I hollered at the dog and he stopped in surprise. I tried calling and sweet talk but he warily stood his ground. I walked toward him, tossing cookies, which he ignored. He sank submissively as I approached, and when I reached for him, he rolled over and wet himself. He was just a big pup of maybe a year old.

I slipped a lead on him and scratched his ears. He soon relaxed and followed me as I looked for victims. Sadly, I found a newly dead lamb in the pasture. There wasn’t a mark on it. The poor thing appeared to have been run to death. I looked back to the dog. “You’re so busted, young man,” I said. He wagged in delight and gazed happily into my face.

As we walked back to my truck, I worried about the dog. He was young, friendly and attractive, but it’s a liability for shelters to adopt out livestock killers. Unless he was claimed by an owner willing to take responsibility, or taken by a rescue, he probably would be euthanized. It’s a shame because it’s normal for dogs to chase livestock and play often escalates into predatory behavior. It’s the owner’s responsibility to train and manage his dogs to keep them safe and prevent problems.

Adjacent to the sheep pasture was a property with a ramshackle doghouse next to it. A chain, snapped to an empty collar, was lying on the hard-packed dirt nearby. Guessing that the dog lived there, I pulled in the driveway. A sweet-faced young Spanish-speaking woman answered the door. With my very limited Spanish, I was able to confirm that it was her dog, “Oso,” and he lived on the chain but had slipped his collar and escaped. The woman wasn’t able to adequately confine or care for the dog and signed him over to the shelter.

I was relieved to get the dog away from life on a chain, but fretted about his future all the way back to the shelter. We have wonderful German Shepherd rescue groups that help us but I didn’t know if they would take a sheep-killer. As I thought over the possibilities, it occurred to me that Oso might make a good police dog. He was young, athletic and obviously had a lot of drive.

Back at the shelter, I convinced a local police-dog trainer to evaluate Oso. The trainer put him through a variety of exercises to determine his willingness and trainability. Oso passed with flying colors. A vet check and X-rays verified that he didn’t have dysplasia or other structural problems that would affect his working ability. After a clean bill of health, he left for training in a career in law enforcement.

Today, Oso spends his days riding around in a patrol car, sniffing out drugs and busting bad guys. Days off are spent at home with the officer’s family. He’s come a long way from his crummy life on a chain and days of chasing sheep.

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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.

Photo of another German Shepherd she rescued and fostered by Shirley Zindler.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Valerie Robson | January 26 2012 |

This animal control officer is my new hero - what a creative and thoughtful solution to what started out as a bad situation!
Valerie Robson,
Conifer Colorado

Submitted by Julia Kamysz Lane | January 27 2012 |

I'm so impressed at the extra effort you had to put in to find the right job for Oso. Thank you for doing that for him, and helping your community be safer at the same time.

So many herding breeds end up in shelters because they're simply following their instincts and aren't given the proper guidance and outlet. Many years ago, I co-founded a German shepherd rescue in New Orleans and this breed's large size and scary rep as "police K9s" made it challenging at times to find open-minded adopters.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 17 2012 |

Shirley, I know you are busy, but have you considered writting a book? You are a natural! Please keep up the good work, and the compelling stories.

Submitted by Shirley Zindler | February 17 2012 |

Not only have I considered writing a book, but I have already written one! I am just starting to submit it to publishers and am working on a second one. Thanks so much for the encouragement.

More From The Bark

More in Shirley Zindler:
A Sweet Good-bye
Lost Dog Recovers From Tick Attack
Amber Turns the Corner
Going the Extra Mile
Learning Dog Social Skills
More Lessons from Hernando
Lessons from Hernando
Saving Abandoned Pups
Homeless People and Their Dogs
Making Friends