A Close Call

Rescuing a dog caught in the crossfire
By Shirley Zindler, February 2012

The cheerful beat of my cell phone yanks me out of a sound sleep. I glance groggily at the clock: 12:32 a.m. I’m on call for animal control emergencies. The sheriff’s dispatcher advises me that deputies are requesting my presence at a rural address.

I dress in a hurry, yank my hair into a ponytail and drive through the dark to the scene. The road is blocked by deputies but they wave me through. About 20 patrol cars line the road and officers are pacing around with flashlights while a helicopter circles overhead. When I pull in the driveway, deputies advise me that I need to remove a large, aggressive dog that charged them and was shot. The wound hasn’t slowed the dog down and he’s still in the house. They’re unsure if the armed-and-dangerous suspect is inside with the dog or has made his escape. Guess who gets sent in first?

I enter the house with multiple deputies behind me with their rifles aimed ahead of them. I tell them I would rather be bit than shot, but one of them says sternly, “The suspect might be ahead of us” and they keep the rifles raised. I can’t say I blame them, I just hope I’m out of the line of fire if it all goes down.

The lights are out so I’m working by flashlight. We make our way down a darkened hallway and find the dog—a big, black Pit Bull—in one of the back bedrooms. He’s at my eye level, standing on the bed, bloody and growling. One deputy keeps his rifle sighted on the dog while the others point guns and lights around the rest of the pitch-black room in search of the suspect.

I forget everything else for the moment and concentrate on the dog. I have him somewhat cornered and I call to him, “You’re gonna be OK, buddy. Hang in there; you’ll be OK,” as I move in cautiously with the catchpole. Too fast and he’ll panic and either attack or try to bolt past me. Too slow and he’ll escape and possibly be shot again. His eyes shine in the flashlight beam as he lunges at me repeatedly, biting at the pole just before I get it over his head and secure him. 

I load the dog in the truck, thankful that I haven't been shot or bitten and rush him to the 24-hour emergency clinic. Once there, I’m able to make friends with the dog and he calms down enough for the vet to examine him. I cradle the broad head in my arms and talk quietly to him as the vet treats his wounds and his blood seeps into my uniform.

The dog had responded fairly appropriately when confronted with a bunch of hostile-seeming strangers in his home at night. When he charged at the officers, he sustained a gunshot wound to the head. Amazingly, the bullet had only passed through the skin, then traveled across the skull and exited at the neck. 

The next day, the owner (who was not the suspect) claimed the dog. I hated seeing the dog return to that situation, and it would be easy for me to torture myself with worry about his future. But I have learned, in this job, that it’s critical to focus on the positive. As bad as I feel for the dog, being shot for something that was not his fault and living with dangerous people, I try to look on the bright side. The dog was not seriously injured, he lived in the house not outside on a chain, and, by all appearances, he got to sleep on the bed.  

I later learned that the suspect was found hiding under the bed where the dog had perched. That was a close one.

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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