Ruby, the Sheriff's Office's bloodhound, who has helped find the lost, the victims and the criminals, is honored by a veterinarian's group.
Who's a good girl? Who is? Who?
Ruby, that's who. And she's not just good - she's hall of fame good.
Ruby, a 21/2-year-old bloodhound with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, recently received the Florida Veterinary Medical Association's 2003 Pet Hall of Fame Award at the group's annual conference in Orlando.
The preeminent pooch lives in Apollo Beach with her handler, sheriff's Deputy Gary Herman. But as the only bloodhound employed by the Sheriff's Office, she patrols the entire county, searching for missing persons and tracking down suspects.
"Working with animals isn't always 100 percent," Herman said. "We've been real successful in some of the work that she's done."
Ruby came to the Sheriff's Office in 2001 from the Jimmy Ryce Foundation, a Miami-based nonprofit group dedicated to preventing child abductions. The organization has donated more than 90 bloodhounds, costing at least $1,000 each, to canine units around the country.
Before Ruby's arrival, it had been a decade since the Sheriff's Office last employed a bloodhound. She is now one of 19, but all the others are German shepherds, used more for searching than tracking.
With her floppy face, soft garnet coat and melancholy yowl, Ruby might be the most huggable member of the Sheriff's Office - unless you happen to be one of the criminals she's helped apprehend.
Among Ruby's more heroic deeds since joining the force:
In July 2002, she sniffed out a woman who had been missing for four days and was presumed to be suicidal. Only Ruby was able to track the woman in a heavy woods, saving the woman's life.
Just three days later, the dog helped track down a man suspected of kidnapping a sheriff's detective's daughter. Hours after Ruby helped sniff out the right suspect, he was apprehended and the girl was returned.
In November 2002, Ruby picked up the scent of a mentally handicapped boy who had run away from home, even though he was nearly a mile away.
This July, she tracked down an elderly Alzheimer's sufferer who had wandered from his nursing home. Despite nasty thunderstorms, Ruby sniffed out the scent and helped bring him home.
Last year, Ruby was recognized by the Sheriff's Office with a bone. The Florida Veterinary Medical Association award came with a plaque and statewide kudos.
Herman, whose father handled dogs in the Army, hopes to keep working with Ruby and his German shepherd, Scooby, for as long as he's in the Sheriff's Office.
And he expects Ruby to be around for at least another five or six of those years.
"I'm still learning on a constant basis with her," he said. "I'm going forward and not looking back."
- Jay Cridlin can be reached at 661-2442 or firstname.lastname@example.org