Rescued by Ruby’: How a heroic story led one shelter dog turned K-9 to Hollywood

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SCITUATE, R.I. (WPRI) — The story of a Rhode Island State Police (RISP) trooper and his K-9 goes back more than 10 years, but it wasn’t until a heroic rescue in 2017 that the pair caught the eye of Hollywood.

Cpl. Dan O’Neil and his K-9 partner, search-and-rescue dog Ruby, officially became a pair in 2011. O’Neil said his sergeant at the time had picked her up from a local shelter after she was deemed “unadoptable.”

Ruby was close to being euthanized, but Joe Warzycha, who was working at the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA) at the time, suggested she’d be good at police work.

“[She] was this Australian Shepard/Border Collie that was deemed unadoptable, you know, was unmanageable,” O’Neil explained. “But because the dog was so smart and all the talents the dog had just wasn’t being focused on the right things, the dog just needed a job.”

And a job she got.

Ruby was assigned to O’Neil who not only had to train her in general, but also had to train her for police work. She passed her tests with flying colors, he said.

It wasn’t until 2017 when she was sent on a mission that will now forever be memorialized in a Netflix original movie “Rescued By Ruby.”

Glocester police needed help finding a missing boy and called R.I. State Police for help. O’Neil and Ruby answered the call and searched for six hours.

“All of a sudden, she started off into the woods and I couldn’t believe it,” O’Neil recalled. “She came around the corner, I came around the corner, and there’s a pair of boots on the ground and it was a young boy laying face down.”

“On the one hand, I’m upset because there’s this young boy that’s possibly perished, but also very happy for Ruby, who worked so hard for the last six years, and finally, she finally did what I’ve been telling her to do,” he added.

The boy survived and as it happens, his mother used to volunteer at the RISPCA when Ruby was a shelter dog there.

“I said, ‘no way, that was the dog that you never gave up on that just saved your son’s life,’ and she started to cry,” O’Neil said. “I think this was Ruby‘s way of saying ‘thank you’ for never giving up on her.”

The next year, Ruby won Rescue Hero Dog of 2018, and the pair flew out to Beverly Hills for the ceremony.

It was there where Ruby’s story caught the attention of a producer who wanted to make it into a Hallmark movie. Eventually, O’Neil said, Netflix stepped in and offered the film a bigger platform.

On Monday night, a special screening of the movie was held in East Greenwich for members of the Rhode Island State Police.

It was there when O’Neil, who’s played by Grant Gustin in the film, said it all hit him.

“To have [Gustin], you know, wear my badge number that I’ve been wearing for the last 18 years,” O’Neil said. “It was one of the best nights of my life to see my life portrayed by another actor, you know? I lived it all.”

But the newfound fame hasn’t phased Ruby. She’s still hard at work, most recently assisting in the Newport Cliff Walk collapse.

She’s also always at O’Neil’s side.

“I’m with Ruby 24/7,” O’Neil said. “When I’m in my office typing away, she’s sitting down next to me at my desk. When I’m at home sleeping, she’s sleeping right next to me on the floor.”

“Just like any relationship though, we have our roller coaster,” he added. “Sometimes she drives me crazy, and I drive her crazy, but there is so much love. It’s wonderful.”

Ruby has always had a reputation as a wild one, running away in 2018 and sparking an extensive search of Goddard Memorial State Park. She was found safe several hours later.

In 2020, Ruby and her sister Koda were also in the car when O’Neil’s cruiser was hit by a drunk driver.

O’Neil, who was promoted in 2020 to the commander of the K-9 unit that consists of 17 handlers and 18 dogs, is now training Koda to follow in Ruby’s footsteps.

Though O’Neil admits he hopes that won’t be anytime soon.

“I don’t see Ruby retiring anytime soon, so I think they’re gonna work side-by-side for a long time, which makes my life crazy, but I’m used to it,” O’Neil said.

“Rescued by Ruby” was released on the streaming service Thursday.