A Walk on the Wild Side

Discovering the mysteries of nature with dogs
By Shirley Zindler, April 2012

With a busy and stressful job as an animal control officer, it’s critical to find ways to relax on my days off. Walking my own dogs is a great way to work off the stress and tension of my week. One of my favorite places is a local beach where dogs are allowed off leash. I usually go with friends and we bring a variety of dogs, large and small, our own and sometimes a foster or two.

The dogs take such joy in running, playing in the waves and wresting with each other. I breathe deeply of the salt air, letting my worries ebb out with the tide. The dogs’ excitement and happiness is contagious. They are so free, living in the moment. There is so much to be learned from them.

The dogs miss nothing and I benefit from seeing wildlife I might not notice otherwise: sea lions, shore birds, jellyfish, crabs and other animals. Of course, I don’t allow them to harass the wild creatures, but it’s wonderful to see the things that the dogs point out.

On a recent beach walk with a friend, Doris, who is the director of our local wildlife rescue center, the dogs spotted something lying on the beach in the distance and ran ahead. A couple of vultures flapped away as we approached and we were surprised to find a freshly dead leopard shark. It was intact other than an opening made by the vultures. As we admired the animals beautiful markings and wondered what had happened to it, we noticed a tiny infant shark curled up next to the opening in the body. Doris turned the little creature over and both of us were shocked when it moved. She scooped it up and we hurried down to the waves and placed it in the water where it wiggled away.

It occurred to us that there might be more babies and we investigated further. The dogs watched in a fascinated circle as we delivered seven more live baby sharks and carried them to the water. We did have to make it clear to our Golden Retriever, Hula that she didn’t need to retrieve them. After several of her attempts to bring the babies back to shore, I put her on a down-stay for the rest of the delivery. Who knows all the ways having a well-trained dog comes in handy. 

After all the babies had swum away we continued down the beach, the dogs racing ahead and Doris and I chatting excitedly about our experience. The baby sharks appeared fully formed and fairly vigorous so we were hopeful that they had a chance. Some later research confirmed that the babies were of full-term size and development and that our location was a common delivery area for leopard sharks. We felt a wonderful sense of satisfaction at having been involved with such a unique delivery. Once again, time with our beloved dogs left us refreshed, exercised and enjoying a fascinating experience we might have missed without them.

I would love to hear what others have discovered or experienced because of their dogs.


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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