Is Matt Zarrella Based on a Real Person? Where is He Now?

Directed by Katt Shea, ‘Rescued by Ruby’ is a biographical drama movie on Netflix. It chronicles the inspiring journey of rescue dog Ruby and her handler Corporal Dan O’Neil, who become an integral part of the K-9 unit of the Rhode Island State Police. The duo is guided by Daniel’s senior Matt Zarrella, who heads the K-9 unit and is responsible for training the dogs and the handlers. Actor Scott Wolf’s convincing performance as Matt in the movie makes the audience wonder whether the character is based on a real person. If you are curious to know as well, you’ve found an ally in us.

Is Matt Zarrella a Real Person?

Yes, Matt Zarrella is based on a real person. Matthew Zarrella is a former Rhode Island State Police Trooper who rescued Australian Shepherd and border collie mix, Ruby, from being euthanized at the shelter. After leaving the Marines, he began working in rescue K-9 training in 1991 and developed Task Force-2, the first search and rescue K-9 program in Rhode Island.

Image Credit: WPRI/YouTube

In his extensive career spanning more than three decades, Matt personally has handled six canines trained in various search areas including wilderness, disaster live, disaster cadaver, human remains detection, water search, trailing, explosives detection, and article search. To establish the K-9 corps in Rhode Island, he first enrolled in a training program with his Saint-Bernard to learn all the relevant skills of working with dogs.

Furthermore, Matt built the force with mostly donated and shelter dogs and holds deep compassion for rescued canines. It is this very sentiment that led Matt to rescue an eight-month-old Ruby from the RISPCA shelter in 2011, just two hours before she was to be put down after being termed “unadoptable.” Matt had incredible faith in Ruby and decided to give her a chance as a K-9 officer by teaming her up with Trooper Daniel O’Neil and helping to train her.

Their hard work bore results as she went on to participate in numerous search and rescue missions and was titled Search and Rescue Hero Dog by the American Humane Society in 2018. Apart from Ruby, Matt has trained several other canines like Hannibal, a Swiss Alpine who was the first K-9 officer of Rhode Island.

In addition, Matt started the first K-9 Disaster Search Team for Rhode Island’s Urban Search and Rescue team, which has certified in various levels of disaster search. Many of the K-9 teams he has trained have made astounding discoveries like a mass grave in Columbia, the remains of a US pilot who was shot down in Vietnam in 1966, as well as an airplane buried under 100 feet of water near Block Island. These dogs have also rescued countless missing people and helped apprehend criminals.

Where is Matt Zarrella Today?

Matthew Zarrella retired from the Rhode Island State Police as Sergeant in 2015. He presently resides in Providence, Rhode Island, and manages his company American Patriot K-9 Training, which conducts seminars, classes, and workshops with law enforcement agencies to train search and rescue dogs. He is also the co-owner of Pro-Leash LLC, which manufactures premium dog leashes of all types.

Furthermore, Matt is a Master Trainer for the International Police Work Dog Association and a volunteer search manager for the State of Rhode Island, who assists with missing person searches. His dynamic career has been explored in Mary Healey Jamiel’s documentary ‘Searchdog’ and numerous books about working dogs. Matt has dedicated his life to rescuing and training canines for helping the community and has set a brilliant example with his compassion and visionary endeavors.

Read More: Is the Dog in Rescued by Ruby Real or CGI?