Chapter 1: Ruby 1 RUBY
A blue pickup truck drives into the Rhode Island SPCA parking lot, pulling into a spot adjacent to a wire fence. The sign on the truck’s door, “Lazybones Dog Training,” helps identify the driver.
Out hops an attractive woman in her late thirties who heads into the building. Minutes later, we see her behind the wire fence.
She is Pat Inman, a dog trainer, who donates some of her time every week to the SPCA, helping dogs get ready for their critically important adoption interviews with potential families. She teaches them basic manners. In other words, she is helping them to put their best paw forward.
“I’ll be right with you, Ruby!” she shouts to her favorite canine student, who is dashing around the enclosure. “I just need a minute to get ready.”
Ruby, seven months old, is a frisky, long-haired, black-and-white pup, preoccupied with running back and forth like she’s out of control.
No, that’s just the nature of Australian shepherds and border collies. Ruby’s a mix of both. The breeds have nearly duplicate characteristics: very bright, highly active, and loaded with mischief.
Ruby stops, looks back to see if her friend Pat is watching. What’s this? An unguarded moment? She bolts.
Pat, getting her long auburn hair under control for her training session, has placed her pink ballcap on the bench beside her as she pulls her hair into a ponytail.
In that moment of distraction, Ruby loops around, playfully snatches the ballcap, and zips off, carrying it in her mouth like a prize.
“Ruby! Come back here!” shouts Pat, laughing at the same time. “Ruby! Bring it here.”
Ruby obeys, heading back. She likes to please Pat. Most of the time. Anybody else would have had to chase her till exhaustion before getting that hat back.
She trots to the bench, dropping the ballcap at her teacher’s feet. Pat good-naturedly strokes Ruby’s neck and hugs her warmly.
In her canine business, as well as her volunteer duties at the SPCA, Pat works with dozens of dogs. She is fond of most of them. But there’s something special about Ruby.
Releasing her hug, she attempts to disguise a worry in her heart.
Ruby is scheduled for an adoption interview later that day. It’ll be the fifth family to take her home for a “tryout.” Unfortunately, the four previous families returned Ruby within forty-eight hours, with nearly identical complaints: “unmanageable,” “scared the children,” “prone to nipping.”
The last observation, “nipping,” is one of the least desirable charges to have on a dog’s record. Pat’s been around long enough to know that “nipping”—one step away from “biting”—ignites the anxiety of lawyers. And if Ruby happens to be returned one more time, the animal shelter may have to “make a decision.” She shudders at those words.
“C’mon, Ruby,” says Pat, with playful resolve in her voice. “We’ve got work to do. You are going to meet some wonderful people, so let’s teach you some manners.”
Pat always makes things fun. So whatever she suggests sounds good to Ruby.
If only Ruby could keep her doggie mind on what she’s supposed to be doing. She gets distracted; she just can’t help it.
Zip! She’s off. A squirrel has entered the fenced-in area, commanding Ruby’s entire attention.
Pat watches, hands on her hips, letting out a sigh.
In nearby Providence, a state police vehicle pulls into the driveway of a modest suburban home. Stepping out, handsome in his gray-and-red Mountie-like uniform, thirty-one-year-old Trooper Daniel O’Neil is greeted by Charlie, an older German shepherd.
Dan lovingly rubs Charlie’s neck, asking if he’s been keeping a close watch on the premises. Familiar with the question, Charlie woofs an affirmative reply.
Melissa is at the kitchen sink when Dan comes in. Their three-year-old, Gavin, runs to Daddy, who scoops the boy up, and then he leans over to his wife, planting a kiss on her cheek. Melissa smiles, grabs a towel to dry her hands, then turns to look her husband in the eyes, expressing her joy at seeing him home safe and sound.
“How you feeling?” asks Dan softly.
Melissa places her hands on her tummy. “About three months pregnant.” She laughs.
“Not much,” says Melissa. “How’d it go with you?”
Dan pulls out a chair and sits at the kitchen table, where Melissa joins him.
“Same ol’, same ol’. No prospect of a partner,” says Dan sadly.
Melissa knows exactly what her husband means. For several years Dan has persistently tried to get into the state police K9 unit. That’s his dream. But everyone pretty much knew that without a canine partner to match up with, you’d be an officer without a purpose.
Melissa can’t count the number of times Dan has made regular appointments to remain visible with Sgt. Matthew Zarrella, the canine commander for the K9 unit. He always returns home disappointed. But, bless his heart, her hubby has a trait everyone admires: he sticks to a goal like Gorilla Glue.
Melissa remembers Dan’s mom telling her about her son growing up with ADD. His technique in dealing with attention deficit disorder was always to pour on the persistence. He did that in high school sports and, later, getting through the police academy. Bulldog determination.
From all of Dan’s prior meetings with Sgt. Zarrella, Melissa could recite in her sleep why there was no prospect of a partner for her husband… No budget.
“I still don’t understand why canines can’t be put into the state police budget.” She sighs.
“They do get put in, they just don’t stay in,” says Dan, twisting his mouth. “Politicians look at the ten- or fifteen-thousand-dollar price tag for dogs purchased in the Czech Republic, or somewhere else in the world—especially bred for police work—and they probably freak out at what their voters might say.”
“Can’t they just find a nice, inexpensive rescue dog?”
“That’s rare, I guess.” He shrugs, then remembers something. “I was talking with Joe Warzycha—one of the top guys at Rhode Island SPCA—he says in ten years he’s never had a shelter dog accepted by the K9 unit.”
Melissa pats her husband’s hand, smiling. “Guess we’re just going to have to pray about it.”
“What?” Pat Inman’s heart sinks.
Joe Warzycha has just called with the news that Ruby was returned for the fifth time.
“It’s worse,” says Joe somberly. “Today top management received a legal opinion that the organization is at risk. They recommend euthanasia.”
“They can’t do that,” she pleads with Joe. “Ruby’s a smart dog!”
“Pat, I feel just like you do. But they don’t feel they have a choice,” says Joe in sympathetic tones.
“When?” She sighs.
“Two hours,” replies Joe sheepishly.
Joe hears Pat draw in a breath. He knows she is trying to regain composure.
“Ruby’s being put down in two hours? I’m coming over there,” says Pat briskly, then hangs up.
The blue truck pulls rapidly into the SPCA, and the familiar ponytail is bobbing under the pink ballcap as Pat marches toward Joe’s office. Pat stands in front of Joe pleading for Ruby’s life. “Isn’t there something you can do, Joe?”
Joe shakes his head slightly and looks at her as he makes an admission. “I took Ruby home last night… I thought maybe I could take her. But I’ve got three dogs and it was like a ten-round championship fight. I had to bring Ruby back this morning. That’s when I got the news from top management. I was crushed.”
Pat makes her own confession. She tells him she’s tried several times over the last week to convince her husband to let her bring home another dog. But he just put his foot down.
“We have four dogs and four kids, all of them with minds of their own,” she explains.
Pat looks at Joe again. “We have to do something,” she says plaintively. “Isn’t there a K9 unit or somebody that would take Ruby?”
Joe presses his lips together, thinking about it. “The state police K9 unit has never taken one of our dogs. But… what do we have to lose? I know Matt Zarrella, the commander. I’ll call him.”
“What have we got to lose?” she repeats softly.
Pat walks out of Joe’s office feeling defeated and torn. She knows the odds are against Ruby. She has to get away from there; she’s done all she can. At the same time, she feels guilty. If only she could have taught Ruby some manners. On top of that, she feels badly for leaving without saying goodbye to Ruby, but she knows herself; ending up in a puddle of tears would help no one.
She climbs into the blue truck and drives slowly out of the parking lot. In her rearview mirror, Ruby can be seen scampering behind the wire fence. Not a care in the world.
Tears streak down Pat’s cheeks.
Driving home, Pat vows not to come back to the shelter for a while. And she vows not to pester Joe, asking him what happened. Frankly, she doesn’t want to hear what she thinks she’ll hear.
For now, she concludes, I’ve got to try to put that sweet dog out of my mind.
Joe Warzycha sits quietly in his office. He wants to organize his thoughts before making the call. He draws in a deep breath and picks up the phone.
Sgt. Matthew Zarrella has been handling search-and-rescue dogs for the Rhode Island State Police for years. He started the canine unit’s first search-and-rescue dog program, using dogs trained in multiple scent disciplines, and is now the K9 commander. When the call comes in from Joe Warzycha, Matt remembers him—he was with the local police department prior to going to work at the SPCA.
Joe explains that he has a dog, an Australian shepherd–border collie mix that is very smart. “Matt, would you have time to come by the shelter and take a look at her? I know she needs lots of training, but she’s got drive and intelligence.”
Joe is candid, explaining Ruby’s history with various families who have uniformly returned the dog.
Sgt. Zarrella thinks about it. Joe sounds sincere.
Finally the commander says, “Well… maybe I can get over there at the end of the week.”
“Sorry, Matt. That won’t work. Ruby will be euthanized in less than two hours.”
Matt checks the clock.
“Okay, I’m on my way.”
Matt Zarrella is a former Marine whose reputation for police search-and-rescue work has gone national. His quest to work with dogs began as a boy when three Girl Scouts from Oklahoma were kidnapped on a camping trip. He kept the newspaper story on his bedroom dresser all through school, always thinking that K9 units could have found the perpetrator. He still has the article today in his office. That was the motivation for his life’s work.
Matt loves dogs and has a soft spot in his tough Marine Corps heart for underdogs. He’s one himself. His short stature—five-five, working among state police officers who are six feet and taller—has been a challenge all his career.
Before leaving the barracks, Matt takes two of his own search dogs from the kennel, loads them into his SUV, and heads out.
Joe is thrilled that Matt has responded promptly. He greets him, then lets him do his thing, watching from a distance. He utters a prayer, feeling satisfied that, as the good book says, “having done all, stand.” He was “standing” and turning things over to a supernatural mediator to prepare Sgt. Zarrella’s heart for Ruby.
During the first twenty minutes or so, Joe sees that Ruby is true to form, “unmanageable.” Worse, she’s aggressive toward Matt’s senior female search dog.
He observes how Matt’s demeanor never wavers, regardless of Ruby’s behavior. And how the K9 commander studies the dog as he throws a ball, telling Ruby to get it. Over and over, Ruby chases after the ball and returns it to Matt. Joe knows that’s a positive trait, demonstrating that Ruby has drive.
Joe’s phone rings. He steps away to take the call, but when he returns a few minutes later, he is astonished. Matt has Ruby lying on the ground… and she is allowing Matt’s female search dog—the one she nearly attacked earlier—to walk over her! The K9 commander is clearly finding a basis to be hopeful about Ruby.
“I’ll take her, work with her, and see what we can do,” says Matt. “I have a trooper in mind to pair her with.”
For further evaluation, Sgt. Zarrella takes Ruby home with him for the next fourteen days.
Two weeks later Dan O’Neil can’t wait to phone Melissa with the good news. Speaking excitedly, he tells her that he had been called in to meet with Sgt. Zarrella. “He said he had a partner for me! Her name is Ruby. He told me she’s very smart but needs training. She’s a little rambunctious.”
“That’s wonderful, honey.”
“And listen to this, Melissa. Just like you were thinking, Ruby is a shelter dog from the RISPCA!”
Melissa is beaming on the other end of the phone. She knows this is a sign… an answered prayer… a Godwink… indicating that the pathway to her husband’s dream is opening up.
Dan laughs exuberantly. “Honey, this is my shot!”
Ruby is glad to have the change of scenery from the animal shelter.
First, she spends a few days with Matt and his dogs… He plays a lot of games with her, like chasing the ball, and now she’s riding in the truck with this nice man, Dan. He is talking to her all the way to… well… wherever they are going.
Melissa is waiting at the front door, holding Gavin, as Dan arrives home. Dan leads Ruby on her leash up the front steps and suddenly the pup yanks the leash out of Dan’s hand, dashing right past them into the living room. There, in the middle of the carpet, Ruby leaves her new family a present.
Melissa and Dan look at each other aghast. This is not going to be easy.
Ruby decides to show these nice people that she is going to like living here by demonstrating her enthusiasm… running through the house, real fast!
She feels encouraged by her cheerleader. Little Gavin laughs and laughs.
Having a playmate gets Ruby even more excited. She and Gavin dash through the house together, tipping over coffee tables and wastebaskets! This place is going to be fun!
Over the next few months, making measurable progress in altering Ruby’s behavior issues is frustrating. For sixteen weeks, Dan and Ruby attend a training school, working on obedience and scent detection. “It was like taking five steps forward and ten back,” says Dan, partly blaming himself as an inexperienced handler. When Dan gets discouraged, he pumps himself up: This is my only shot to be in K9, we’ve got to make it work.
When Dan returns home, exhausted, Melissa is always a source of encouragement. She reminds her husband that he and Ruby have persistence.
“You’re both underdogs,” she counsels, painfully aware that his colleagues at the state police barracks have been razzing him, leaving notes taped to his locker, insinuating that a shelter dog could never measure up to their bred-and-trained-for-the-job canines.
Dan keeps at it, never letting Ruby out of his sight, redundantly going through training procedures, hoping for that moment when the penny will drop. That realization that life would be better if she were obedient, rather than the opposite.
After the training school, Dan is assigned to regular police work and needs to find the time to continue training Ruby in his off-hours.
Time after time, the K9 teams are called into action searching for missing people or assisting detectives, while Dan and Ruby are left behind at the barracks, answering phones and tending to menial tasks. Alone with his dog one evening, Dan opines, “Ruby, you’re the canine version of Cinderella. Everybody else goes to the ball. And here we sit.”
Ruby listens to the conversation as if she knows what Dan’s talking about. Cin-der-ella… wonder who she is.
While Dan works at his desk, Ruby enjoys lying in the cubbyhole underneath, taking naps. Being in a secret-like place makes her calmer. Not to mention, she loves being right at the feet of Dan, whom she has grown to love more than anybody.
Approaching five months, Dan is suddenly starting to get glimmers of hope. Ruby is beginning to sit for five minutes without Dan holding her down.
“That was an amazing sight,” he says to Melissa. “Then she started picking up on scent detection quickly and was giving me alerts.” All the hard work is now paying off. After six months Ruby finally wins her certificate.
For Ruby, it is like having a hot dog dinner every day of the week. She’s made it! She’s got her police badge for her collar! Dan says that means they can start going on searches for missing people.
That means I’ve got a job? Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!
Over the next few years Ruby has an exceptional record. She is credited with finding ten missing persons or bodies.
On a cold day in October, the K9 unit is summoned to the outskirts of Providence to search for a teenage boy who has been missing for thirty-nine hours.
According to local police, who had searched unsuccessfully for two days, the boy liked to hike in the woods that ran many miles deep behind his house.
The troopers and canines split up, each taking a segment of the woods.
Dan gives Ruby the scent from the boy’s clothing.
Ruby begins zigging and zagging to catch the scent… The boy had walked from his house, crossed the lawn, down a path, into the woods, under brambles, over stumps, through a stream, up a rocky incline… Ruby keeps following the scent of the boy.
Dan is trying to keep up. It’s difficult—Ruby is covering so much territory, moving so quickly.
A mile into the woods, Ruby suddenly bolts. Dan runs as fast as he can, trying to keep her in view.
He breathlessly arrives at a ravine. Ruby is at the bottom. She’s licking the face of a prone body, trying to revive the victim!
Dan scrambles down and turns the body over. It’s a boy! His forehead is lacerated and bloodied. He is cold and unconscious. His mouth and nose are clogged with blood. As Dan searches for a pulse, Ruby begins licking the blood from the boy’s mouth and nose.
Suddenly the boy takes a breath! Simultaneously, Dan feels a faint pulse.
“We have the boy, injured, lacerations to the forehead…” Dan speaks loudly into his radio. He then gives the others—officers, first responders, and EMTs—the GPS coordinates.
Dan takes off his jacket and covers the boy with it.
As Dan continues to talk on the radio, Ruby takes up a position lying next to the boy to share her body heat.
“We can’t find you…” says the voice over the staticky radio. “The GPS coordinates are off.”
Dan has an idea.
Ruby looks up as Dan gives her a command. He says, “Bark, Ruby, bark.” She stands up and barks.
Dan encourages her. “That’s it, Ruby, keeping barking. Good girl.”
“We hear Ruby barking,” says the voice on the radio. “Keep her going!”
Following the sound of Ruby, the rescuers arrive, wrap the boy in blankets, provide him with oxygen, place him on a stretcher, carry him through the woods to the ambulance, and rush him to the hospital.
Dan and Ruby are exhausted. But they are still running on adrenaline. Before anything else, Dan has a critical task: to advise the parents that their son is alive and tell them to which hospital he has been taken.
Dan’s state police truck pulls into the driveway of the boy’s home.
“Stay, Ruby. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
He knocks on the door. A man and a woman, with fear on their tearstained faces, invite him in. Dan knows they need good news immediately.
“Your boy is alive! My canine Ruby found him. He’s going to be fine!”
“Oh, thank God!” says the boy’s mother, her voice cracking. She falls against her husband as she sobs tears of joy. He’s crying too.
Dan tells them their son has some injuries, but he’s expected to survive. He names the hospital.
Just as Dan turns to leave, the mother calls after him.
“Officer… did you say your dog was named Ruby?”
Dan stops in his tracks. He turns and, with a surprised look, says, “Yes, ma’am, that’s my K9 partner. The dog that just found your boy is named Ruby.”
She chokes back tears. Lets out a sigh of relief.
“My name is Pat Inman, a volunteer at the SPCA. I advocated for Ruby not to be put down, hoping that the state police would take her. But I never knew what happened.”
Dan is dumbfounded, his own eyes starting to moisten.
“Ma’am, that means that the dog whose life you saved just saved your son!”
Pat Inman and her husband are overwhelmed with the amazing Godwink that has just been revealed.
Dan is also astonished. He shakes his head in disbelief, takes another step to leave, then stops, and turns to say, “Would you like to see Ruby? She’s in my truck.”
Ruby has been climbing the insides of the truck waiting for Dan to return.
As soon as the door to the house opened, Ruby had caught the scent of her other best friend in the whole world… Pat!
The excitement inside Ruby is churning up and down until Dan opens the truck door. There she is! Ruby covers Pat in kisses the way she did when she was a little pup.
It’s the best reunion that Ruby—and Pat—have ever had.
Arriving home, Dan tells Melissa every detail of the story as Ruby sits by, attentively listening. Melissa tears up, hugs Ruby. Then Dan.
They realize that supernatural forces have pulled them all together. Godwinks and dogwinks!
“You two are my underdog champions!” Melissa says with a beaming smile.
This is the dictionary definition of “coincidence,” which is a useful tool for science:
A remarkable concurrence of events without apparent causal connection.
A “Godwink” is with causal connection. This is its dictionary definition:
A coincidence that isn’t a coincidence, but which comes from divine origin.
In the Hebrew language, the word “coincidence” doesn’t exist. The rationale: if all things come from God, there is no need for the term.
When Dan and Pat realized that Ruby, whom Pat had helped save years before, had saved her son, they both knew it wasn’t a coincidence. They were experiencing something of divine origin that defied enormous odds. A Godwink.
Pat Inman’s son recovered fully and is attending college.
In October 2018, Ruby was named the national Search and Rescue winner in the Hero Dog Awards telecast on the Hallmark Channel.
In 2021, a two-hour movie, Rescued by Ruby, will premiere on Netflix.