Filmmaker's Blog

I am a passionate filmmaker, and am inspired by those persons (and dogs!) who give selflessly, courageously.  I am also a professor, and learn as much from my students as I do from my books.

SEARCHDOG & Ruby: The Ultimate Second Chance Story

 Ruby Kisses SEARCHDOG fan  Marijana Pavlich  on the Seattle International Film Festival Red Carpet

Ruby Kisses SEARCHDOG fan Marijana Pavlich on the Seattle International Film Festival Red Carpet

Ruby, a Border Collie Aussie Shepherd mix pictured above at the Seattle International Film Festival was only two hours away from being euthanized when she was rescued by Matt Zarrella.  In July 2011 Ruby was considered "unadoptable".  But Matt Zarrella saw that she might just make an excellent Search & Rescue Dog.  Matt saw that Ruby had all the ingredients that could make a good search dog: high drive, high energy, intelligent, strong play drive, courageous.  He also saw that she had a lot of problems: food aggressive, dog aggressive, people aggressive.  She needed a channel for her spunk and vim and vigor.   Thankfully, as you will see in SEARCHDOG, her issues were directed towards productive and challenging work.  Through O'Neil's commitment, Zarrella's training (alongside his affable, supremely patient colleague Scott Carlesten),  Ruby and her handler, Daniel O'Neil became a certified K9 team for the RI State Police Search & Rescue K9 Team.  O'Neil has patiently worked with Ruby now for five years+.  They have not separated since July of 2011.  Since then, Ruby has been a member of the O'Neil family as well as an RI State Trooper.  Ruby & Dan have been called to 40+ search missions, saved two people's lives and located many deceased.   Yes --Ruby was just two hours away from being euthanized.

The people I've met after our SEARCHDOG screenings tell me that they crave to see and share Ruby's true story of "the underdog".  They see Matt's story -- someone whose abilities were discounted early in life, yet who has succeeded greatly in life through his grit, courage, determination.   Audiences see themselves in Matt Zarrella, in Ruby and Dan O'Neil.   Audiences tell me that they are delighted by the resilience and positive energy that dogs like Ruby bring to a devastating search and that the film has opened their eyes to a discipline that they did not know existed.  Ruby even made the Seattle Film Festival experience for all of us more fun, as we all smiled watching her "work" the crowd and give love to everyone, unconditionally.   

What have I learned in these five months since showing SEARCHDOG at festivals and most recently at the Seattle International Film Festival?  That people from across the country share the depth, passion and compassion that so many of us have for dogs AND also for the ultimate purpose of finding missing people.  They connect with and are deeply moved by the stories of those missing people that are found after being discarded, or people that are "written off" or left for dead.  After all, how many of us have been written off at some point in our lives?  How many of us want to be that "second chance story"?    As her handler Dan O'Neil says so eloquently in SEARCHDOG "She just needed a job."  Now, when she is not doing her job riding in her cruiser on the highways in Rhode Island, or on a crucial search mission for a missing person with Dan, she has the rare, illustrious life of a movie star on the red carpet!  Now I call that the ultimate second chance story!  WOOF.


Please check out the beautiful pictures that the Seattle International Film Festival took of Ruby and the humans on the red carpet:

SEARCHDOG... coming soon to a festival near YOU...

~Mary Healey Jamiel, Director / SEARCHDOG

Palm Springs Film Festival NEWS: Standing O's & Best of the Fest ... Hollywood Reporter Review!

We were honored to be chosen as the "official selection" for the 2016 Palm Springs International Film Festival.    When I began this project I had a dream: Tell the story of K9 Search & Rescuers and their incredible dogs on the big screen.   SEARCHDOG is an epic journey where the viewer steps into the "skin" of K9 searchers who rely on dog partners to help them find the lost and the missing.  Intimately filmed over 4+ years we learn the language, patience, empathy and courage that these handlers practice with their dogs on searches in environments that are vast, daunting, dramatic ...  Here is the SEARCHDOG HOLLYWOOD REPORTER Review.

Festival response to SEARCHDOG:  Not only did we sell out our screenings, but we were voted by the audience as "Best of the Fest", which is thrilling for us.  Matt Zarella, his family & his dog Buster were in attendance alongside K9 handlers Scott Carlsten, Dan O'Neil and their families.  Chief SEARCHDOG strategist Kurt Jamiel (my awesome husband) and Jill Culora set up advance event recon and canine intel! (double woof!).  They shook hundreds of hands in advance of the screenings and petted lots of dogs and helped us to make wonderful connections at the Palm Springs Animal Shelter and dog parks. 

SEARCHDOG was among the top scorers in audience award voting at the Palm Springs International Film Festival!  Out of 126 films, four docs were selected for the Best of the Fest and SEARCHDOG was among them.  In no particular order the other three docs were Miss Sharon Jones by Barbara Kopple,  James Solomon's brilliant documentary The Witness, and The Birth of Sake by Erik Shirai.  We're honored to be in such great company.

Here is the SEARCHDOG summary from the Palm Springs International Film Festival Catalogue:

“I have always felt that dogs had a higher purpose on this earth, and it was up to the humans to make that happen,” says Matthew Zarrella, an internationally renowned K9 Search and Rescue Specialist, Rhode Island State police sergeant and unofficial “dog whisperer.”

As a youth, Zarella struggled in school with dyslexia, but developed confidence through his connection with dogs. Later, he became a leader in the Search and Rescue field. Now, he is training the next generation of Search and Rescue Specialists and preparing them to take the rigorous cadaver-search test.

Watching Zarella at work, we experience the highs and lows of cases that involve life at its most tragic or heroic, from people who have been murdered or committed suicide, to those whose lives hang in the balance. But it is the everyday scenes between Zarella and his dogs that you will remember most and may bring a tear to your eyes.

We're especially grateful to Ken Jacobson, David Ansen, Helen du Toit, Laura Henneman for selecting SEARCHDOG and placing us in the Annenberg Theater and we'd also like to thank the Desert Regional Medical Center for sponsoring the free community screening of SEARCHDOG.  BIG WOOF of THANK YOU to the University of RI Harrington School, Dean Winnie Brownell, and all of my colleagues & students.  Thanks for your support on this journey. It was an incredible #PSIFF16 experience all around.

We'd love to hear from you! 


Search & Rescue K9 Work: Tough Questions that K9 Handlers Face on Thier Own

The most haunting questions I ever heard came from from Sgt. Matt Zarrella - the featured subject in SEARCHDOG.  These questions helped me to frame the documentary:   “You worry. That person's out there.  What if I missed that person? They’re still out there, are they still alive? Are they down, are they injured?  Are they moving around or waiting to be found, there’s all sorts of scenarios that go through your mind.”   

I came to understand that K9 Search & Rescue/Recovery is the work of the most strong-minded individuals who respond to failure with humility and to success with modesty.   I find this ethos incredibly inspring.  Matt Zarrella's mantra is that of many K9 handlers "You are only as good as your next search".  My filmmaking challenge was to bring these questions and his mantra to the viewer so that they feel they are stepping into that first search along with Matt & his dogs.  Rather than being an outside observer, I wanted the viewer to walk with these teams on searches and trainings and know this experience from the inside

For me, there has been no richer experience than witnessing these dog-human teams train for thousands of hours and then go on to find lost and missing persons.     Check out our official trailer:

– Mary Healey JamielProducer + Director, SEARCHDOG 

SEARCHDOG is Coming Soon in 2016!   You can follow our progress, photos and updates on our social media.  

Facebook: on twitter #K9SAR #K9 #SEARCHDOG #MISSING


Why did I make SEARCHDOG?

Documentary films can capture precious, fleeting moments of human experience and lend audience access to another’s realm – forever.   One seemingly small story can inspire millions to dream, or to seek further inquiry, discussion or empathetic connection.

SEARCHDOG is one such story.  In December, 2009, I began research into human work with dogs.  Biologist Ray Coppinger was one of the first people I interviewed on this journey to make SEARCHDOG.  If you have a chance to look at his book, please check out

The day that I met Ray, I proudly brought my husky, Kenauk to meet him.  I am not sure that my dog made such a good impression.   Kenauk promptly stole and consumed our lunch leftovers from the roof of my car while we were busy talking about dog behavior!

What I love about dogs, and what I loved about Kenauk, is that he demonstrated that pretense has no place in the world, and that for the CLEVER DOG, there IS such a thing as a free lunch!

For me, there has been no richer experience than witnessing dog-human teams train for thousands of hours and then go on to find lost and missing persons.    

Check out our official trailer:

– Mary Healey JamielProducer + Director, SEARCHDOG 

SEARCHDOG is Coming Soon in 2016!   You can follow our progress, photos and updates on our social media.  

Facebook: on twitter #K9SAR #K9 #SEARCHDOG #MISSING