Boo, the Tree Dog

By Shirley Zindler, April 2015, Updated July 2016

A towering oak grew overlooking the valley and the nearby residents had sworn they saw a dog enter a hole in the bottom of the trunk. Looking into the small opening it didn’t seem likely that a dog was in there. The trunk grew up at an angle, then dipped back down to the ground before rising again toward the sky. A peek into a knothole about 4 feet up showed the entire lower portion of the trunk to be hollow but I still couldn’t see a dog. Finally, lying on the ground and sticking my flashlight into the hole at ground level I was able to put my face right up to the opening. Far up in the hollow trunk I saw a pair of terrified eyes staring back.

Animal control officers see a variety of predicaments on the job and it’s a constant challenge to find ways to safely rescue animals in need. The dog was too frightened to come out and there wasn’t really a safe way to leave a humane trap in the remote area without catching wildlife. The coyotes and other hungry wild creatures nearby would also see the little dog as a meal if we didn’t get her soon. We tried reaching some of our longer tools up inside but she retreated and dropped beyond the bend in the trunk were she was inaccessible.

I sat quietly next to the tree and tossed treats into the opening while looking out over the valley below. There weren’t a lot of houses nearby and none of them were missing a dog. The rural road nearby was a common dumping ground for unwanted pets. Perhaps the people who left her were desperate and unaware of their options. They may have thought she could live at one of the dairy farms in the distance but it was more likely is that she would starve or be killed by coyotes or hit by a car. Education and low costs services are critical to help prevent things like this.

As the minutes ticked by with no progress we decided to push a long flexible hose into the tree hoping she would move away from it and nearer to one of the openings. It took a while but it did have the effect of pushing her out of her hiding spot and up toward the knot hole. I reached in through the hole and she was so hungry that she finally started gobbling treats out of my hand. I was able to loop a leash over her head as she ate and pull her free.

A little generic mixed breed of maybe 7 pounds and very underweight, she struggled in my arms, eyes bugging in terror and trying to bite.  Her ribs and hips were clearly visible but her rounded belly showed her to be pregnant. I tucked her close and tried to sooth her as we walked toward the truck. Back at the shelter the dog submitted miserably to handling and was kenneled to sit through her stray waiting period.

No one came for the little dog and the officer who found her named her Boo, from To Kill a Mockingbird, because of the knot hole. Sadly, a few days later Boo went into labor, delivered a stillborn puppy then became distressed and needed emergency surgery. The remaining puppies did not survive and little Boo was traumatized and overwhelmed. She didn’t seem to have had any positive interactions with people so I took her home to foster her while she recovered from surgery and learned to trust.

Her progress is very slow, and she mainly avoids people but lots of treats and very gentle handling are starting to get through to her. Every tiny improvement or slight wag of the tail is a victory and we will take all the time she needs to recover and find a forever home.



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.