In April, I met Shirley Zindler, author of The Secret Life of Dog Catchers, in a coffee shop, by accident. They were out of places to sit, so we kind of stole the three seats next to her. And she gave me her book. For free. Signed. Needless to say, it made me very, very happy. I also got the wonderful chance to interview Shirley–she’s fostered over 400 dogs, and currently writes for BARK magazine.
The life of an animal control officer (ACO) is not easy. But Shirley Zindler is up to the challenge. In her debut novel, Zindler compiles tails (pun intended) of her adventures an an ACO, and puts an end to the “cruel dog-catcher” stereotype. From taming a wild mustang to getting some kittens out of a pipe drain, Zindler’s stories are sure to make you smile as you learn about what really is the secret life of dog catchers.
The book is made up of many different short stories, which makes it easy to read. Each story is just a few pages long, making it a perfect read while you’re waiting for a bus or car. While it is a telling of her favorite stories as an ACO, there are many recurring characters. Of course, there’s Shirley herself, then Annie the wild mustang, Luci the Doberman mix, and her husband and kids. While the book tells a wide variety of tales, it covers the arcs of Annie and Luci, which are finished out quite cleanly at the end of the tale.
Shirley does a great job of dispelling the cruel, heartless dog-catcher stereotype by pouring emotion and dedication into her book. She explains how hard it is for her to put down animals, and how much ACOs try to do for them before they decide they have no other choice. While the book is called, The Secret Life of Dog Catchers, Zindler’s tales encompass all animals, including deer, raccoons, and bobcats. Her book educates the public not only about ACO stereotypes, but about supposed “dog attacks,” the difference between a mountain lion cub and house kitty, and the heartbreaking truth of what happens when a deer gets hit by a car. I really loved how she addressed the fact that animals are all really good, regardless of species, breed, or upbringing–it’s the humans that manage to mess them up in the end.
My favorite two stories were 44 & 45, which wrapped up Luci’s arc. They are the last two stories, which means that I can’t go too much into detail about them, without giving away the ending of the book, but they made me feel all sorts of emotions–sadness and happiness and everything in between. A runner-up (which I can thankfully go into more detail about) would definitely be 31, “Casual Friday,” which deals with a skunk found in someone’s backyard–and how Shirley managed to get it out. It definitely made me laugh!
All in all, I loved the book, and I’d recommend it to any animal lover–and if you’re not an animal lover, you should be!
You wrote the book The Secret Life of Dog Catchers: An Animal Control Officers Passion to Make a Difference. For those of us who haven’t read your book, can you tell us a little bit about your life, and what inspired you to write this book?
I was born to an animal loving family and raised around animals of every kind as a child. I grew up trying rescue any animal in need and have continued as an adult. My career has always been based around animals. First as a shelter volunteer, then kennel worker and vet tech. I’ve also worked in vet hospitals but my passion is shelters. I’m married with grown kids and my family is very supportive of my continuing desire to help animals and people. We have 5 resident dogs and 3 cats at home and foster many more in need. Many people have shown an interest in my job so I wrote the book to give a picture of what its really like.
Well, I’d imagine they’d be interested! I was certainly hooked! 😀 In your book, you talk about many of the calls you’ve gotten. What was the most fun “adventure” you’ve ever had in your line of work as an Animal Control Officer (ACO)?
My favorite calls are always the rescues. Its hard to pick just one but I have pulled deer out of swimming pools, raccoons out of houses, dogs out of flooded rivers and cats out of hoarding situations. I’ve rescued bobcats, coyotes, horses, boa constrictors and more. Anytime I can improve an animals life is rewarding.
What made you become an ACO? Is the job hard?
I was a vet tech in our county shelter and often heard of some of the more fun calls that our animal control officers went on. I became an officer and for the most part I love it. The hard parts are really hard. I’ve been called out on felony cruelty cases, human murders, fatal accidents etc. Anywhere there is an animal in need we go. We often go in first on drug raids to remove the dogs and I’ve seen a lot of death, both human and animal. I’ve seen things no animal lover should ever see but the highs are really high and the feeling of being able to help animals and people is so rewarding.
In many of your cases, it’s the pet owners who are doing something wrong. What advice would you give to everyday pet owners?
I would love to remind people to keep tags on their pets, microchip them, spay and neuter, train, socialize and make pets a part of the family.
My dog is my little-big sister! And she’s microchipped, spayed, trained, and has tags! Looks like I’m doing something right. 😀 What is the most common misconception you’ve come across in your work as an ACO?
That ACOs are the bad guys or that certain breeds are bad. Also its important to realize that the job is a “people” job as much as animal job. You have to be able to get along with people as well as animals to succeed. Every call comes in through a person and there is a lot of human emotion involved.
My dog is a pit bull mix, and I do a lot of work to help end BSL. What do you think of pit bulls?
Pit bulls are just like other dogs. There are good ones, bad ones and everything in between. They happen to be our fad “bad” dog of the moment so I deal with more of them than any other breed. Dobermans, chows, shepherds etc have all been there. When there are a lot of irresponsible people attracted to a breed there are always going to be problems. One of my own dogs is a pit bull that I seized in a felony cruelty case. She was starved almost to death and we got a felony conviction with jail time against the owner but she is the sweetest dog around. Loves everyone, sleeps with my elderly cats and ancient chihuahua mix and adores children. Best dog ever! Lots of photos of Patty on my personal Facebook page.
Patty is definitely very adorable! I want to be a vet when I’m older. Do you have any guidance for young people who want to work with animals?
Get as much animal handling experience as you can. Volunteer at a vet clinic, grooming shop, stable, shelter, or sanctuary. Remember that a lot of animal work is dirty, messy and some of it is really hard. If you are committed enough to stick with it you might have a very rewarding career.
Let’s talk some more about your book. What was the process of writing the book? Did you write down stories as you experienced them (day by day) or did you write from memory? Prior to writing your novel, did you keep a “log” of all of your adventures?
Writing the book was a combination of memory, journaling and sometimes writing them in as they happened. I document a lot of my calls on my person Facebook page and a few of them on my book’s Facebook page, The Secret Life of Dog Catchers.
Oh, wow! *rushes off to follow you on Facebook* Since you’re an ACO, what made you think about becoming a writer?
I’ve always loved to read and kept a journal for many years. Many people hearing of my adventures as an ACO told me I should write a book so I did!
Well I’m glad you wrote it! Do you have any tips for young writers?
The best tip I ever got was to just write. Write anything that comes to mind. Don’t worry about perfect structure at first. You can always go back and fix things, just get it down.
I’ve heard news that you’re working on your next book! Can you tell us what it’s going to be about?
The next book is along the same lines as the first. More adventures and misadventures as an ACO along with some of my fostering stories and more. I’ll include the story of Patty, my elderly rescued pitty girl ❤
Wow! Thanks for letting me interview you, Shirley! I can’t wait until your next book comes out. 😀
Shirley Zindler is an animal control officer for Sonoma County, CA. Over the years, she has had many foster animals, and has helped save countless lives.
Shirley’s book, The Secret Life of Dog Catchers: An Animal Control Officers Passion to Make a Difference, is available on Amazon for $11.66. I say it’s worth every penny! Zindler also writes for the BARK magazine; a subscription to that costs $18 a year.