"As I ran by, a lady screamed to me that a dog was stranded on the island," Ruelas said. "She told me to call the police and see if they could bring someone to get the dog."
Ruelas, a 22-year-old graphic artist, said that he is a dog lover and didn't want to see the dog harmed.
"I was looking at the poor thing and I didn't want it to freeze to death," Ruelas said. "I called the [North Bergen] police and they said that they were bringing a boat to go get the dog."
No one knew how the dog got onto the island, but it was safe to say that it had to have jumped into the lake first, then swam to the island, only to get stranded there.
By then, some of the park's most avid users, like former State Assemblyman David Kronick and his friends Howard Barmad and Arthur Presslaf, got involved to try to save the Boston terrier, who was later identified as "King."
"Arthur called me about five times," Kronick said. "He said that we have to do something to save the dog."
Kronick made a call to Joe Albasamo of the Hudson County Parks Department, who runs the operations at North Hudson Braddock Park.
"I received a call from Dave Kronick and he was looking for a boat," Albasamo said. "I told him that I had a boat."
The Hudson County Parks Department has a rowboat that it uses from time to time to conduct maintenance on the pond.
"I told Dave that we were more than happy to help," said Albasamo, who is so much of a dog lover than he has the name of his dog, "Gina," tattooed to his arm. "I'm a big-time dog lover. I even made a calendar featuring all the dogs you see in the park."
Jumped right in
Albasamo reached out to three of his Parks Department employees, namely Bill Taylor, Gary Moskofian and Joe Albertson, and informed them of the dilemma.
However, Ruelas apparently couldn't wait for the rescue boat to arrive.
"I went to my car and I really don't know what happened," Ruelas said. "I knew I had to do something to help that dog. So I just jumped into the lake."
Sure enough, Ruelas jumped into the frigid waters to try to help rescue the dog.
"But when I got in the water and started swimming, I said to myself, 'What in the world am I doing?'" Ruelas said. "It was freezing. People say that the lake isn't deep, but it's deep. I didn't have time to figure out how deep it was. But the water was ice cold. My mind set was simple. I was getting out to that island to help the dog."
However, when Ruelas reached the island, the dog scooted away from his would-be rescuer.
"I got to the island and my body was shaking," Ruelas said. "I figured I would get to the island, get the dog, and try to keep him warm until the boat got there."
Ruelas also found another obstacle when he got to the island.
"There were all these bushes with thick, sharp thorns," Ruelas said. "I was scratching my hands and I got tangled in the bushes. I got to within a few feet of the dog."
But then, Ruelas heard commands from the shore. It was the North Bergen police.
"They told me to freeze," Ruelas said. "But I already was freezing."
The police instructed Ruelas to do nothing, and that other people were on the way to help save the dog.
"I took off my shirt and started to rub my body," Ruelas said. "I was rubbing myself all over because the friction was keeping me warm until the boat got there."
"We had to take care of the guy, because it was human safety first at that point," Albasamo said. "The guy tried to help the dog, but he couldn't get close to him because of all the thickets. Instead of just getting the dog, now we had to get a person first."
At that point, the North Bergen Emergency Medical Services unit was on the scene, as was a vehicle from the Newark Animal Control center.
"But the dog took off away from the guy," Albasamo said. "You could see that it had blood all over its legs from the thorns."
Got two tickets for attempt
So after they rescued Ruelas and brought him to shore, the boat returned back to the island with the Animal Control personnel to try to see if they could get "King" off the island.
However, the elusive dog wouldn't cooperate, and darkness prevented the crew from finding the canine.
"It became a safety issue with my workers, who were getting cut up badly with the thorns that they couldn't see in the dark," Albasamo said.
Ruelas was not taken to the hospital. He didn't require medical attention.
"When I got home, I took a shower and drank some milk," Ruelas said. "I passed out for about 16 hours. The whole ordeal got the best of me."
Ruelas also received another prize - two summonses. The North Bergen police hit him with tickets for illegal swimming in the lake and going into an area that is restricted.
He was also on the verge of getting another summons for self endangerment, but the police declined to serve him a summons on that charge. Ruelas will appear in North Bergen municipal court Feb. 19 on the charges.
"What I did, no one else would do," Ruelas said. "I got two tickets for trying to be a hero. If that's the case, then I guess Superman should get tickets, too."
Albasamo and the Hudson County Parks Department crew went back out Sunday morning around 7 a.m. in pursuit of the elusive "King."
"We went out there and used a machete to cut away the thickets," Albasamo said. "One of our guys fell face first into those thorns. We were tracking back and forth across that island to get the dog."
Finally, the group had a strategy. They would try to force "King" back into the water, then use a net to capture the dog.
"The dog tried to make a maneuver and then Billy [Taylor] lunged at the dog with the net," Albasamo said. "At that point, everyone watching on the shore erupted with cheers and applause. We were able to save the dog. We wrapped the dog in a blanket to make sure it was safe and warm. But we also had to find where the dog came from."
Almost at the same time, a woman from 79th Street in North Bergen stepped forward. She was apparently supposed to be watching "King" over the weekend and somehow King broke away from the home and scampered over to Braddock Park.
How the pooch ended up in the lake is beyond anyone's imagination.
"Because it took so much work to get the dog, we wanted to make sure the dog went home and not anywhere else," said Albasamo, meaning that he didn't want to see the Newark Animal Control workers take the lost pup to a kennel.
Parks Department worker Moskofian, a native of Lebanon who has worked for the county for the last 12 years, tried to shed some light on the difficult task.
"It was a hell of a job," Moskofian said. "It wasn't easy. I told Joe Albasamo that it might have been easier to get to Iraq. I've never done anything quite like this. I think we all wanted to make sure that the dog was safe. We wanted to save the dog's life. My friend Billy [Taylor] and I got cut and it was dangerous out there. I never even had been out there before. But it was a good feeling that we saved the dog. We'll take care of anyone. I think everyone was happy."
"I'm glad the dog is safe," Albasamo said. "I don't think the dog would have survived another day out there. But everyone in the park showed they really care, guys like Dave Kronick and Howard. They're great people and they'll go the extra mile. And my workers? I trust them with my life. I really think that the park becomes one, that everyone all get together to help one another."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org