6 min read

Police Officer Pulls Dog From Burning Boat Just In Time

“I was not going to see that dog die.”

The sail was already in tatters and it seemed the entire boat would soon be consumed by flames when police officers arrived at the San Rafael Yacht Harbor in the predawn hours last Thursday.

Though firefighters were doing their best to extinguish the powerful blaze in the California marina, there was one thing they couldn’t do — reach the terrified dog trapped aboard the boat.

Officer Travis Ruggles couldn’t see the animal at first, but when he spotted the brindle pit bull mix cowering underneath some wooden planks, he knew that he couldn’t stand idly by.

A burning boat at a California marina
San Rafael Police Department

“When we got there the boat was pretty much engulfed, and there were people standing on the dock yelling that there was a dog on board,” Ruggles told The Dodo. “At first I couldn’t see it, but then I caught a glimpse of this dog kind of hunkered in the corner up on the deck … basically trying to get away from the flames that were coming up on him.”

The officers discussed how to best reach the pet — it was too dangerous to access the dog by the dock due to the flames, so the only other option was by sea. Though he was prepared to hop into the water and swim to the boat, Ruggles suddenly got a better idea.

Spotting a small rowboat tied to the dock, Ruggles hopped in and started paddling toward the cloud of billowing smoke — all of which was captured by his body cam. “I was standing there on the dock, and I looked down and I just kind of took the opportunity to do it,” Ruggles added.

Upon reaching the burning boat, he realized that in order to save the dog he would have to earn the scared animal’s trust first. As a horse trainer and all-around animal lover, Ruggles knew he was the right man for the job, and did what he could to calm the dog as the crowd watched tensely from the harbor.

“When I first got there, I reached out for the dog and he started barking and growling. So I tried to talk to him in a soft voice, and see if that would help,” Ruggles said. “He was very wide-eyed and his ears were up, so you could see how scared he was. I reached up and started petting the backside near the tail. I could just see the eyes start to droop down, and the ears start to fall, so I took that opportunity to pull him into the boat.”

Dog being rescued from burning boat
San Rafael Police Department

A cheer erupted from the crowd as Ruggles successfully retrieved the dog and started to row toward safety. The dog immediately curled up next to Ruggles, trembling.

When they arrived at the dock, Ruggles looked back and the entire end of the boat where the dog had been standing was overtaken by flames.

Tiger, the pit bull saved from a burning boat
San Rafael Police Department

The dog, whose name is Tiger, has since been reunited with his owner, and Ruggles, who has two dogs and two cats at home, got a well-deserved day off.

A charred sailboat in the San Rafael Yacht Harbor
San Rafael Police Department

“I was fortunate that I was able to help that dog. I love animals,” Ruggles said. “At the time, it didn’t seem like a really big deal — it just so happened I had the opportunity to do it — and I was not going to see that dog die.”