Ruby, an Australian shepherd and border collie mix, ended up in a Rhode Island animal shelter as a pup because of persistent behavioral problems. Five families adopted her in turn, only for each to return her because she was too rambunctious. “She was a total knucklehead,” said shelter volunteer and dog trainer Patricia Inman, who repeatedly intervened to keep Ruby from being euthanized. “She jumped and bit her leash. She wouldn’t sit or lie down. She just never stopped moving. She was special, and she needed a special person.”
Enter state police Cpl. Daniel O’Neil, who needed a search-and-rescue dog. In 2011, he was taken by an eight-month-old Ruby’s irrepressible energy and intelligence, and after Inman vouched for her, she was trained as a police K-9. Fast-forward to October 2017, when this tale takes an incredible twist: A teenage boy got lost for 36 hours while hiking, and Ruby succeeded where a human search party failed — she found the boy, who was unconscious and in grave medical condition. He turned out to be Inman’s son.
“Rescued by Ruby,” premiering March 17 on Netflix, tells the story of a problematic pooch who just needed another shot. “Ruby was given a chance at life and ended up saving a life,” the American Humane Hero Dog organization said in a 2018 citation naming her the nation’s “Search and Rescue Dog of the Year.”
In yet another twist, Ruby is played by a canine actor, Bear, another former shelter dog who was saved by the movie’s dog trainers from being put down. “It’s a true underdog story,” O’Neil, said in an interview at his office at the Rhode Island State Police, where he now oversees an 18-dog K-9 unit. “It’s like divine intervention. She was given a chance and she’s been doing everything she can to pay it back,” he said. “You have this dog that was given up on, and she’s changed so many people’s lives.”
Meanwhile, Ruby being Ruby, there’s still the occasional misadventure. Three years ago, she bolted near a state park, prompting a 19-hour search before turning up safe and sound. More recently, after O’Neil let her out to relieve herself, she returned with a live skunk writhing — and spraying — in her jaws. “We should’ve known. Ruby’s a down-home girl, not a Hollywood celeb.”