Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Mistaken identity, surprising requests and strange dilemmas
By Shirley Zindler, March 2012

Animal control officers see a lot of difficult, upsetting things. Thankfully, there are the strange requests, amusing calls and fun rescues to balance the heavy stuff.

People are often confused about what we do. I can’t make your roommate clean his cat litter box more often and I can’t force your cousin to put a coat on his Golden Retriever when they walk in the rain. I can’t make your husband put your dog on a diet and I can’t make your neighbor stop feeding your cat on her back porch.

I’m often surprised by people’s behavior; I find them far more unpredictable than animals. A call came in regarding a dog bite and to my surprise, a woman was complaining that her neighbor bit the dog. I went to the dog owner’s home and he admitted that yes, he bit his dog on the ear to discipline it. I asked to see the dog, which was in the house and appeared healthy with no sign of injury. I advised the man to look into some more positive methods of discipline and left him with a verbal warning, still shaking my head as I walked away.

Another call of a dog bite resulted in punctures to the hand of the human victim. On further questioning, it was determined that the gentlemen in question had left the bank, likely distracted by his lack of funds, and jumped in his blue Honda. Unfortunately, it wasn’t his blue Honda. A resident dog, taking offence to the intrusion, gave him a hearty chomp for his inattention. It was determined to be a provoked bite.

A complaint of a litter of newborn puppies under an abandoned vehicle had me rushing to the scene. The rusted car sat in a field of weeds and I knelt to look underneath as the female caller watched. A field mouse skittered away from a tiny nest in the grass but I saw no sign of puppies.

“Where exactly did you see them?” I asked the woman.

“They’re right there.” She said, pointing to the nest.

A closer inspection revealed a litter of squirming baby mice, but still no puppies. It dawned on me that she was looking at the mice.

When I pointed that fact out to the woman, she hesitated a moment before stating, “I thought they looked pretty small but maybe they’re Chihuahuas?” I gently informed her of her mistake and left the mice to their mother.

The mice weren’t the only case of mistaken identity I’ve seen. A call of a baby beaver on a golf course had a fellow officer responding to find an ordinary gopher in a bucket, gnashing his big yellow teeth at his confinement.

In another case, a man stated that he had found a baby eagle. We do have eagles in our county but I was doubtful and peered into the box to find a fledgling crow.

 A call of a dog with her head stuck in a tree had me puzzling about it all the way there. The black Lab had apparently been nosing around a deep crevice in a split tree trunk and had become trapped. Two teenage kids were home alone and were pretty panicked. The daughter was in tears and the son was preparing to cut the giant eucalyptus down to save his pet. The fact that the tree would have obliterated his neighbor’s house was of no consequence.

While I admired the kids’ dedication to his dog, my motto is “what goes in must come out.” The Lab was scared and growling as I approached. At least she couldn’t bite me while her head was wedged. I spoke soothingly to her as I assessed the situation. The trunk was split in a way that prevented me from lifting her straight up. I couldn’t imagine how she managed to get in this predicament. I gently lifted her rear and maneuvered her around without much luck. Resigned to her fate, she finally grew limp in my arms. I had to tip her almost onto her head but that did the trick and I was able to lift her free.

She immediately went into transports of doggie delight, wiggling herself silly in her happiness. Her young owners were equally ecstatic as they showered her with affection.

This is the fun stuff, the win-win moments where everyone is happy. The warm glow of success from a simple call like this can get me through a lot of bad days.

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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