'Rescued By Ruby': The Heartwarming True Story Behind the Netflix Dog Movie

Netflix is trying to tug at the heartstrings of dog lovers everywhere with Rescued by Ruby.

In the movie, streaming now, The Flash star Grant Gustin plays Dan, a state trooper who keeps unsuccessfully applying to the state police's K-9 team. Until, that is, he meets a shelter puppy called Ruby.

All very touching stuff for fans of man's best friend. But what sets Rescued by Ruby apart from movies such as Marley and Me, A Dog's Purpose and A Dog's Journey (amazingly, they are different films) is that it is based on a true story, with the events occurring in Rhode Island in 2011.

And that true story takes a dramatic turn, including a coincidence that viewers would think was totally unbelievable if someone wrote in a script (just so you know, there are spoilers ahead for the film).

Netflix recently screened the film for the real people whose lives it was based upon, so we also know how they feel about how they were portrayed. And Newsweek has all the details below.

The True Story Behind Rescued by Ruby

rescued by ruby true story
Grant Gustin in "Rescued By Ruby." The new Netflix movie is based on on true story. Netflix

The real-life Ruby was an Australian shepherd and border collie mix with behavioral problems. First dropped off at the shelter when she was four months old, five separate families adopted her, only to bring her back to the shelter because of her issues.

As shelter volunteer Patricia Inman told the Miami Herald: "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."

That "special person" turned out to be state trooper Daniel O'Neil. He saw Ruby's behavioral problems as a strength: it meant that the dog had lots of energy.

He was also taken by what he saw as the dog's intelligence, and decided to train her to be a police search and rescue dog. He could also identify with her, as someone with hyperactivity issues himself. "We both kind of know where each other's coming from," he told the Miami Herald.

The real O'Neil told pet information and news website Daily Paws: "She was an absolute wreck. She hadn't had a stable home for her first eight months of life and was in desperate need of love and stability."

O'Neil had been trying to join the K-9 unit since 2004, but only got in with Ruby in 2011. The pair then spent years learning all the skills that a police dog needs—tracking and trailing, evidence detection (including human remains) and land and water search and rescue.

It was in 2017 when the story took its dramatic twist.

In October of that year, a teenage boy went missing after a hike. A human search party failed to find him, and there were concerns that he was seriously ill or even dead.

After 36 hours, however, Ruby found him unconscious after falling into a ravine. After they found the boy (who has since recovered), O'Neil went to tell his mother—only to discover it was Inman, the shelter volunteer who had convinced him to give the dog a chance.

"I was so grateful. I was beside myself and overwhelmed," she said. "So many things had to fall into place for this to happen the way it did. The universe works in mysterious ways."

This amazing coincidence led to the story making nationwide news, and led to Ruby winning American Humane Hero Dog Award for Search and Rescue in 2018. In a video to accompany the award, O'Neil said: "If you give a shelter dog a second chance, you could possibly change the world; she changed the world for this young man."

Rescued by Ruby reflects this message about the power of rescue dogs by casting a dog named Bear in the title role. It too is a shelter dog, saved from being put down by the movie's dog trainers. They also adopted Shiloh, another dog who Bear had a strong bond with.

In the real world, O'Neil is now in charge of K-9 operations for Rhode Island state police, overseeing 18 handlers and 19 dogs. He still works with Ruby as well as a new dog called Koda.

Speaking to The Providence Journal, O'Neil said actor Scott Wolf did such a convincing impression of his boss in the unit that, "watching the movie at home at times felt like [Matt] Zarrella was in the room giving him orders again."

It was with Zarrella's character, however, that the film made its biggest change from the true story. The movie portrays Ruby as the first shelter dog taken in by the force, whereas in reality Zarrella had established the unit with shelter dogs before the police agreed to pay for bred police dogs.

Rescued by Ruby is steaming now on Netflix.