The View from Behind the Chain Link

Helping out in the shelter
By Shirley Zindler, May 2012

There are more than 100 dogs at our county shelter. They are there for a variety of reasons. Lost, unwanted, their owners lost their home, had a baby, moved or don’t have time to care for them anymore. Some are bite-quarantine or court cases. They represent a tremendous variety of breeds, sizes, ages and temperaments. Some are beautiful and healthy with wagging tails and happy faces. Others are painfully neglected, thin, mangy, matted. A few are frighteningly aggressive. Most of them would be wonderful pets in the right situation.

When I have time, I help in the kennels. As an animal control officer, it’s not technically my job but I enjoy it and on the rare days when I don’t have a lot of calls, I feed the dogs and help with the cleaning. It gives the shelter techs time to catch up on some of the endless tasks of running a shelter, and gives me a chance to connect with the dogs.

I go from kennel to kennel with a tub full of kibble on wheels. I also have a bucket of puppy kibble mixed with canned food and hot water for the thin, the young and the very old. I speak to each dog as I go, coaxing those who are scared and catering the amount of food to each dog’s needs. An emaciated Chihuahua gets just the puppy kibble. A huge, adolescent Shepherd-mix needs a heaping bowl. An obese black Lab receives a reduced amount, but they all get a little of the canned food gravy on top, just to make life a little nicer.

I make a few notes as I go. A sweet-faced Pit Bull mix has a cough, so I put him on the list to be seen by the vet. The bulging belly and mammary development on a little Terrier inspire me to move her to a quieter room and provide her with an enclosed crate.

As a dog lover, my heart breaks for the animals in our care but I try to put my energy into making things as nice as possible for them. We provide toys, treats and soft bedding and the floors are radiant heated. Even just scooping poop and disinfecting kennels gives the satisfaction of creating a clean environment. It means a lot to me to know that the dogs are getting good food and a little comfort while in our care.

Early in the morning, the barking is deafening as everyone clamors for attention and breakfast. As the dogs are fed and the kennels cleaned, they begin to settle down. As we finish up, the dogs settle on their blankets and relative peace descends on the shelter.

During my breaks, I love to sit in a kennel with a shy dog and cuddle for a few minutes. It’s a revealing perspective to be down on the floor at the dog’s level, watching the world go by through the chain link. The faint smells of bleach and lemony disinfectant mingle with the odor of dogs and kibble. The occasional barks and whines of the other dogs echo and the warmth of the dog’s body fills my lap and my heart. Work is waiting and I reluctantly leave her but I can see that the experience has left her feeling more comfortable. She wags her tail as she watches me go.

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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