Shirley Zindler
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Dog Who Needs Rehab

A fellow animal control officer received a call to pick up a dog found lying emaciated and soaking wet in a creek bed. The tiny Chihuahua was rushed back to the shelter and examined by the shelter veterinarian. In addition to being skin and bones, she was too weak to stand, had a clouded eye and the look of long time neglect about her. She was immediately started on treatment but the prognosis was poor. Her blood work suggested that her organs were failing. Whether this was result of starvation or some other medical condition was unknown.

When I first saw the dog she was lying apathetically on her blankets in the shelter clinic. She looked terrible but the thing I noticed was the odor. She had that terrible “hoarder” smell to her sparse coat. Unless you’ve lived it, there is no describing it but it’s a combination of rotting garbage, feces, urine and filth that’s unmistakable. Every hoarder situation I’ve gone on smells the same, whether its dogs, cats or something else.

The tiny dog declined overnight and the discussion ensued about whether it was kinder to let her go. I certainly didn’t want to put her through anymore pain if she wasn’t going to survive but she didn’t seem to be in terrible pain, just incredibly weak and sick. I decided to take her home to foster. If she wasn’t going to survive, at least she should die in a quiet place surrounded by love.

As weak as she was, I couldn’t bear the stench of her coat and gently lowered her into a warm sudsy bath. She seemed to relax into the warm water and was soon clean and sweet smelling although she still looked terrible. I wrapped her in a warm towel and cuddled her close. She sighed, leaned against me and fell asleep.

I called the little dog Hannah and since she was unable to eat on her own, I carefully syringed a tiny amount of bland gruel into her mouth every few hours. People always want to pour high fat food into starved animals but in most cases that can be very harmful. The animal’s body needs time to slowly acclimate to eating normal foods again and re-feeding must be done very carefully. Within a day or two she was able to eat tiny amounts of food on her own and was able to stand and walk a little.

I was so encouraged by Hannah’s progress but was cautious about getting too excited as I knew she wasn’t out of the woods yet. Her gum color was still pure white as a result of anemia and I worried about organ failure. I worked closely with the veterinarian on her care and thankfully she continued to improve. After a week or so it looked to me like she might have gained a little weight. I put her on a little food scale and found that she had gone from less than 4 pounds to about 5 pounds. I was jubilant! As Hannah felt better her personality began to emerge and what a delightful girl. She followed me everywhere and began playing with toys and asserting herself with my 120 pound Great Dane.

I had been posting Hannah’s progress on my facebook page each day and a woman who had seen her photos expressed an interest in adopting her. After several weeks when it seemed obvious that Hannah would survive, we arranged a meeting. The introduction was successful and after Hannah had another thorough vet exam and was spayed she went to her new home. She had gained more than 2 pounds by then and was really starting to look good.  

It is such an amazing feeling to watch a neglected animal blossom and get a forever home. I would love to hear from readers who have rehabbed a dog in need, or adopted one.


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.

CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Jacqui Naud | August 6 2013 |

On November 16, 2010, I was driving down my street when I saw this teeny brown dog running in the middle of the street. I quickly pulled my car over, grabbed a spare leash out of the back and cornered this little dog under some bushes. I quickly grabbed him and took him home. It was a Chihuahua puppy. He looked like he had been on the run for a while. He was skin and bones, skunked to high heaven, and appeared to have bites (from the skunk?). He was maybe 4 months old; he did not have any lower teeth and only a few upper teeth. I took him to my vet and got him cleaned up (they had to bathe him twice) shots, and dewormed. I already had a rescued mini-Aussie and always thought my second dog would also be a rescued mini Aussie. I named the Chihuahua, Paco. I put Paco on. Local rescue organizations website to be adopted, but after six weeks no one suitable had expressed an interest. My husband and I in the meantime had grown attached to Paco, so we kept him. I got him neutered and started training him. My mini Aussie Leo helped a lot with the training, teaching Paco all his doggie manners. It took me TWO YEARS to housebreak him, but he's now a fully trained, housebroken dog who gives us so much pleasure. He's our "clown dog".

Submitted by Sandy | August 6 2013 |

In February of 2012 a rescue called Forgotten Paws brought Muffin to my salon. She'd been found on the streets wearing a tattered pink tshirt and looked and smelled so bad she was just hours from being put to sleep when they rescued her. A Maltipoo, she was skin and bones, her coat long, gray, and matted. Her mouth smelled like death. Like most neglected dogs I get on my grooming table, she was very lethargic. I shaved her down and cleaned her up and here was the sweetest little girl I'd ever seen. I placed her on the floor and she followed me everywhere. My bather looked at me and said "I think you have a dog now". And he was right. I couldn't give her back. Thankfully thru the rescue's donations, they were able to have a cyst removed she had on her stomach and to have her mouth looked at. It turned out that it wasn't a bad tooth but an INCH LONG chicken bone stuck in her gums. Can you imagine the pain she must have been in? And yet she was nothing but loving and never whined once. Over the following months I got her weight up to about 7 pounds from 3 1/2. I also ended up having to have 6 more teeth removed as the initial infection had done a number on her mouth. Her only issue is her refusal to eat most dog food. I think she was so used to eating on the streets that she prefers people food. Especially tacos LOL! She's the love of my life. :)

Submitted by B. A. Jensen | August 6 2013 |

We recently adopted a puppy from a rescue. We were told that boyfriend bought the puppy for his girlfriend. Girlfriend broke up with boyfriend & nobody wanted the "full blood chocolate Lab puppy." Boyfriend left the puppy at the rescue. We had been wanting a chocolate lab pup and were thrilled to adopt this little girl. We were told she was 6 weeks old & had only seen pictures of her so we didn't know how small she really was. When she was delivered to us, it was obvious she was not 6 weeks old - maybe 4 at the most & she weighed less than 5 lbs. She supposedly had been wormed, but her stools were still full of them. She was wormed again. Shortly after we took her home, diarrhea started, then vomiting. She became so dehydrated she had to be hospitalized for IV fluids. After a couple of rounds of antibiotics, she began to feel better & acted like a healthy, happy puppy. That didn't last long, however. She began to have urinary tract problems - constant squatting, but not peeing. She cried in pain, paced & quit eating. The vet could find no evidence of a UTI, but it was obvious something was wrong. The veterinarian scoped her bladder & much to everyone's surprise, the bladder looked normal. The pup's urethra, however, was very swollen & inflamed. The vet said when she peed, it probably felt like peeing razor blades. Antibiotics & steroids were started and about 2 weeks later, a healthy, happy puppy re-emerged. As of now, our puppy is doing well & weighs a whopping 15 lbs. We don't believe she is a chocolate Lab, but that's O. K. I'm thankful that we ended up with this sweet little furry girl. She is very smart and has completed PuppyKindergarten. We are waiting for her Beginning Obedience class to begin and, at some point, I plan to enroll her in a Beginning Agility class to channel some of her energy.

Submitted by kerry | August 7 2013 |

Back in 2008 a woman living on the southwest side of Chicago brought a stray to Animal Care and Control. The dog was roughly 3 years old, matted, scrawny, had recently had a litter, and was afraid of everything. The rescue group New Leash on Life took the dog from ACC, had her shaved, vaccinated and spayed. They adopted her out to a couple, who returned her 2 weeks later, saying they'd changed their minds. While difficult for NLOL, this was good news to me, as in those two weeks my circumstances changed to allow me to adopt the dog. I've had her ever since, and watched her go from scrawny and scared to a wonderful, loving companion. She's still a little anxious around some strangers, but she's improving every day. In her condition at ACC, I don't think anybody would have taken her. I'm so grateful to NLOL for taking a chance on a diamond in the rough.

Submitted by Marcelle Guy | August 8 2013 |

I am the woman who adopted Hannah. I saw her photo on Facebook and somehow she touched my heart. Her eyes were what moved me. They were empty - without life. As if she had given up on life.

As days went by and more photos I could see the difference in her eyes and the glint of hope was definitely a good sign. I knew then that she would make it. I wanted to take care of her. I wanted to give a good life.

But, me, a Chihuahua? The likelihood of that would have been impossible to imagine just few weeks before. I always had Afghan hounds and still own www.afghanhound.com But life changes and I really felt in love with Little Hannah.

Three weeks later now, we are both making adjustments to our lives. I am getting used to walking little Hannah. It's good for her and for me, too. We will be taking some obedience training soon. I love her and she loves me - follows me around all the time. She loves to sit on my lap as I type away on my computer. Hannah and me are a good match. Thank you, Shirley Zindler for saving little Hannah.

Submitted by Shirley Zindler | August 8 2013 |

It was such a privilege to know Hannah but the best part is finding a wonderful adopter to give her the life she deserves. Thank you Marcelle for taking a chance on a rescue dog. Hannah is a very lucky girl to have found you!

Submitted by Nina | August 8 2013 |

What a beautiful story and surprising to most people..I see it quite often! Animal Control Administrators and Officers are true heroes and it's unfortunate that most people see them as the "bad guy".I have been in rescue for over 16 years and have seen first hand the big hearts of the people that work for our local animal control facilities. Thanks to all the animal control personnel that I am fortunate enough to collaborate with to save lives!

Submitted by shirley zindler | August 11 2013 |

Thank you Nina for your kind words. They go a long way in this sometimes heartbreaking business.

Submitted by Robin | August 8 2013 |

Although my little ones have been rescued none came from as dire circumstances as Hannah...but I have been through serious illnesses, and heard negative, hopeless things from vets. As in this story the lesson is how love and TLC are immensely powerful when we follow our hearts. I'm so glad this has a happy ending. Never give up. Miracles happen and even the most well-meaning vets don't know it all or understand all the power...

Submitted by fran | September 24 2013 |

I'm confused. How did you feed this dog if you work full time? You say you had to feed it every few hours and yet you work as an animal control officer? This doesn't make any sense. Also where is the investigation into what happened to this dog? I never saw anything in the Press Democrat regarding this dog or any other recent abuse or neglect case in Sonoma County. Why are these dogs just being treated and adopted out, but no investigation? Isn't your job as an animal control officer, the investigation part? Where is the investigation into who did this to Hannah?

Submitted by Marcelle | August 27 2014 |

What a difference a year makes! When found Hannah weight at 3 1/2 lbs. she now weight at 8 lbs. she is a lovely and happy little girl who wants all my attention. Follows me everywhere. Love, love. ❤️❤️

More From The Bark

Shirley Zindler
Shirley Zindler
Shirley Zindler
More in Shirley Zindler:
A Bag of Tricks Helps in Dog Rescue
A Sweet Good-bye
Lost Dog Recovers From Tick Attack
Amber Turns the Corner
Going the Extra Mile
Learning Dog Social Skills
More Lessons from Hernando
Lessons from Hernando
Saving Abandoned Pups
Homeless People and Their Dogs