EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — A dog rescued from an uninhabitable Warwick home earlier this year is now being trained to save lives.
Toby, a chocolate Labrador Retriever, was one of seven dogs found living in squalor back in April.
He has since been adopted by retired R.I. State Police Sgt. Matthew Zarrella, who’s now a volunteer with Rhode Island Canine Search and Rescue.
Zarrella, who’s credited with building the R.I. State Police K-9 Unit from the ground up, said the Warwick Animal Shelter called him and asked if he could train Toby.
“[Toby] came in pretty wild,” Zarrella explained. “He nipped a lot. He was very thick-headed and didn’t listen.”
Zarrella took Toby in and has been teaching him the basics of search and rescue ever since. He said the training has been going well, and Toby is in the running to join the nonprofit search and rescue team.
Rhode Island Canine Search and Rescue primarily works in tandem with R.I. State Police, but is willing to assist other departments with their investigations as well.
Zarrella said the dogs, of varying sizes and breeds, are all trained and certified.
“These folks are on call all the time, just like the R.I. State Police are,” Zarrella said.
Zarrella said Toby is being trained for a variety of different searches, he appears to enjoy looking for people the most.
“He seems to really love the live-person and wilderness-type work, where you’d typically be looking for a missing person [in the woods],” Zarrella explained.
Toby is also highly food motivated, according to Zarrella.
“We’re finding out that he loves to counter surf,” he said. “He likes to steal food from the table.”
Though the training takes patience, Zarrella said Toby appears to be catching on and could be certified within a year, if not sooner.
“This is just the beginning of hopefully a very fruitful career for him,” Zarrella said.