Finding a Purpose for a Pup

Turning a bad situation into something positive
By Shirley Zindler, January 2012, Updated July 2016

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.


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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.

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.