I’ve met some truly extraordinary people in my life, and Shirley Zindler happens to be one of them. I know her from my California days, and have described her as a saint disguised as an animal control officer. Only recently did I learn that Shirley is also a gifted author and photographer.
Shirley’s book, The Secret Life of a Dog Catcher is an eye-opening, highly entertaining, and endearing read. Readers are treated to a wonderful variety of animal-related experiences, all told through the eyes of an animal control officer (ACO). Shirley’s descriptions of her day-to-day adventures remind me of James Herriot’s writing style in All Creatures Great and Small. Every story is captivating and, regardless of outcome, there’s little doubt that Shirley’s involvement has a profoundly positive impact on the lives of the animals she encounters.
Shirley and her own tribe of dogs (those who are permanent fixtures and others who are being fostered) are a Monday institution at Dillon Beach in northern California. The beach is an off-leash venue where Shirley captures some incredibly vibrant photos of dogs running, playing, surfing, chasing, and cavorting. If ever you need a psychological “pick-me-up,” I encourage you to pay a visit to Shirley’s Facebook page. Guaranteed, the photos you find there will put a smile on your face! Better yet, if it’s a Monday morning and you happen to live north of San Francisco, treat you and your dog to a Dillon Beach field trip. Just about guaranteed Shirley and her dogs will be there.
Shirley’s primary vocation is serving her community as an ACO. Here’s what I know about this profession. The work is exceptionally challenging, both physically and psychologically. Dealing with an injured deer requires a lot of muscle. Dealing with an animal neglect case requires abundant emotional strength and intelligence. An ACO is asked to endure exposure to animal suffering, emotionally charged people, middle-of-the-night calls to tend to animal-related emergencies, and, of course, a never ending stream of euthanasia procedures. This is exceptionally tough stuff, particularly for one who truly loves animals. It’s no wonder that many ACO’s burn out, leave the profession, or simply become numb to their work. Not true for Shirley Zindler. She somehow manages to remain incredibly connected, optimistic, empathic, and enthusiastic. What a gift! How does she do it? Here’s Shirley’s explanation:
Some people say that the longer they work in animal control or animal sheltering, the more they hate people. I’ve found the opposite to be true. In 25 years of shelter and ACO work, I’ve found that for every person doing terrible, unthinkable things, there are a hundred, or even a thousand people trying to make up for it. I picked up this beautiful Belgian Malinois recently as a stray. He had a chip going back to an original owner in Georgia who placed the dog with a bomb detection trainer three years ago. These high-energy working dogs are often happier with a job and the owner was truly trying to do what was best for the dog. Anyway, somehow, the dog ended up here as a stray. The original owner is willing to take him back and give him a great home but is also open to placing him in a fabulous home in California if there is a good match. The cost to fly the dog back to Georgia is around $500, which would be a challenge for the owner to come up with on short notice. I posted about the situation and have had so many people willing to help pay some of the costs, to give the dog a home, to drive him to the airport etc. One person even anonymously offered to cover the entire cost. The Malinois community, and people in general have been amazing! And that is why I love people. It also shows the beauty of microchips!
I encourage you to read The Secret Life of a Dog Catcher. Word has it that another Shirley Zindler book is in the works. I can’t wait to read it.
In your opinion, what is the most important role an animal control officer plays in his or her community? Post your response and your name will be entered into a drawing to receive a signed copy of The Secret Life of a Dog Catcher.
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.