by Bret Nolan Collazzi
Henry Ruiz, a former undercover cop who once spent his days and nights with drug kingpins, is now raising the profile of animal policing on the reality show Animal Precinct. Country Club resident Henry Ruiz once sat unarmed in a coke dealer’s loft with an Uzi pressed against his tem-ple and his only available exit bolted shut. He’s been shot once and stabbed twice. He’s sat across from criminals with the will — and the means — to have him killed. But when the undercover narcotics detective-turned-animal cruelty officer walked into that TV repair shop on White Plains Road last year, he was floored.
“There’s this Doberman ly-ing there, writhing in pain,” Ruiz said. “There were maggots coming out of her. The dog was actually rotting from the inside out.”
Ruiz high-tailed it to his squad car and grabbed a harness to carry the 70pound canine out of the store. He ran back inside and managed to slip the harness on. He started to drag her.
“That dog looked at me, and it honestly broke my heart,” he said. “It looked at me and let out a breath as if to say, ‘Thank you, but I don’t have anything left.’”
The Doberman’s death was one of Ruiz’s most traumatic moments since becoming a special agent with the Humane Law Enforcement division of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 2001. It’s also one of the many sto-ries he’s told on Animal Precinct, the reality series that follows the ASPCA force on assignment throughout the city.
The week of July 18 was “Henry Week” on Ani-mal Precinct, when the of-ficer formerly known only as Agent H and masked for two seasons by digi-tal effects was finally un-veiled to the public. Now a human face behind the countless stories he’s shared about his under-cover work as an animal cop, Ruiz promises to be a more frequent character on the show, which airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Ani-mal Planet.
If you saw Ruiz sitting in his lounge chair in Pel-ham Bay Park or at the bar at Linda’s Place on East Tremont Avenue, you wouldn’t necessar-ily take him for a guy who cares much about animals, let alone one who could be emotionally taxed at the sight of a sick Doberman.
Off-duty, the 40-year-old Bronx native sports dark sunglasses, slicked-back hair and a sleeveless undershirt that exposes two arm-lengths of tat-toos. He rides around in an old, pale-yellow Coupe de Ville, and carries a strong Bronx accent. Put simply, he’s not the kind of guy you’d want to rub the wrong way.
But the officer’s macho exterior – the one that al-lowed him to arrest more than 300 drug dealers as a detective – hides a much softer underbelly, Ruiz said.
“A lot of people think I’m a really tough guy,” he said. “I have an aggres-sive persona, but I’m not aggressive. I don’t want to fight if I don’t have to.”
Ruiz’s path to the ASPCA was roundabout. He joined the police force in 1984 at the suggestion of his karate instructor, and almost immediately became a plain-clothes of-ficer, joining the Narcotics Division five years later. After 12 years of corner-ing some of New York’s vilest criminals in more than 1,000 undercover operations, Ruiz had had enough, he said.
He was searching for a security gig when the ASPCA found his ré-sumé on Monster.com. A fan, but not a fanatic, of animals, he nevertheless showed up for the inter-view on a fellow officer’s recommendation. Three days later, he was hired.
“I was in shock,” Ruiz said. “I was like, ‘OK, this is cool. Now what the hell is this all about? I was a pretty well-rounded cop, but I’d never heard of ASPCA law enforcement.”
It didn’t take long for Ruiz to realize that his new job could be as jar-ring as his old one.
“Seeing all those ani-mals that were emaci-ated, injured, with broken legs, I came across things I’d never seen,” he said. “I’ve seen dead bodies, and a dead body wouldn’t even phase me, but look-ing at those animals and going into a backyard and seeing all those bones...” He trailed off.
There are obviously big differences between human law enforcement and animal policing. One of the more positive, Ruiz said, is the chance to edu-cate pet owners who are abusing their animals without even knowing it.
“I worked narcotics for a long, long time, and I can honestly say that there were times when I felt bad for the person we were locking up — the teacher, the bus driver, the older person who fell into it, the Vietnam vet,” he said. “They’re in pain ... [but] my job was not to educate; my job was to ar-rest.”
At the ASPCA, he said, “When we show up at your home, we’re not there to lock you away and take your animal. We’re the op-posite. We’re the middle-men between education and the criminal.”
Police officers, as well as civilians, are starting to gain a newfound respect for animal cruelty polic-ing, thanks in large part to Animal Precinct, Ruiz said. After all, many on the ASPCA force, includ-ing its chief, Dale Riedel, and Special Investigator Annemarie Lucas, the show’s star, are former cops.
Researchers have also proven strong links be-tween animal cruelty, domestic violence, child abuse and serial killing, Ruiz said, encouraging many in law enforcement to take the ASPCA’s mis-sion more seriously.
It also doesn’t hurt that so many of Animal Precinct’s characters, in-cluding Ruiz, are so char-ismatic, said the show’s executive producer, Alex-andra Bennett.
“He’s a fascinating guy, and he’s just a great offi-c
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