Since his days at the police academy in 2004, Corporal Daniel O’Neil from the Rhode Island State Police always aspired to be part of the K-9 unit. Growing up as a passionate dog enthusiast, he recognized the pivotal role these courageous canines play in search and rescue operations, often reaching places difficult for humans.
Upon joining the unit in 2011, O’Neil dedicated years to secure his certification in various canine training areas, including human remains detection, land and water rescue, evidence detection, and tracking. His trusty partner throughout this journey? Ruby, a mix of Australian shepherd and border collie. Their initial meeting showcased a dog in dire need of a new beginning.
“Ruby was a mess,” O’Neil shared with Daily Paws. “She had a tumultuous first 8 months, and what she needed most was consistent love and a stable environment.”
Ruby’s story began with her being surrendered to a shelter at around 4 months old. The Rhode Island SPCA staff remembered her cycle of being adopted and then returned multiple times before she turned one, primarily because she was labeled “too challenging.” But Patricia Inman, an SPCA volunteer, saw potential in Ruby’s boundless energy and determination and persistently sought a loving home for her. This drew O’Neil’s interest.
O’Neil expressed, “What pushed me to give Ruby a shot was the faith both my sergeant and the SPCA director had in her. They were confident that with genuine care and respect, Ruby would reciprocate manifold. Despite the initial ups and downs, their encouragement helped me recognize Ruby’s innate abilities. She deserved a home filled with love, and she found that with me.”
Finding Her Heroic Path
With O’Neil’s steady support, Ruby started to recognize her calling. While most search and rescue or K-9 dogs are groomed for the role from a young age, O’Neil had to build that bond with Ruby from scratch. She was initially a bit resistant. “At first, she wasn’t sure about trusting me,” recalls O’Neil. “But she warmed up pretty fast and soon became the guardian of our family. She gave me the drive to show up at work daily.”
Having teamed up for a decade, O’Neil and Ruby have left a remarkable mark. Together, they’ve rescued three individuals, found many missing persons, cracked murder mysteries, and caught several lawbreakers. “Ruby has wholeheartedly devoted herself to Rhode Island’s service, and she’s excelling in every way,” O’Neil remarks. “Her spirited nature certainly keeps me on my toes and feeling youthful!”
O’Neil truly admires Ruby’s zest for life, believing that her enthusiasm boosts his own drive, whether they’re on duty or when she accompanies him during training runs for the Boston Marathon. Beyond that, he’s traveled with her nationwide to champion the cause of shelter dogs, emphasizing the importance of giving these pets another shot at finding a loving forever home.
A Heartwarming Twist of Fate
After serving dutifully for about six years, Ruby faced one of her most challenging assignments. The K-9 unit was alerted about a teen from Gloucester, Rhode Island, missing for a critical 36-hour period. This prompted an urgent, expansive search.
O’Neil and Ruby combed through nearby trails for what felt like an eternity. Suddenly, Ruby sprinted into the woods, ignoring O’Neil’s calls. When he eventually reached her, she was by a young boy’s side, tenderly licking his face. Miraculously, Ruby had found the injured teen, ensuring his rescue.
But here’s the truly spine-tingling part: the young boy was none other than the son of Patricia Inman—the very SPCA volunteer who had faith in Ruby, once deemed “too challenging” for adoption. Patricia hadn’t seen Ruby since she began her training with O’Neil seven years prior. This extraordinary turn of events was seen by many as nothing less than a miracle.
Because of her heroic deed, Ruby was nominated and eventually won the American Humane Hero Dog Award for Search and Rescue in 2018. The touching award tribute video captures a heartfelt reunion between Ruby and Inman after the emotional ordeal. Recalling the moment, O’Neil stated in the video, “When Ruby saw Patricia, it was like reuniting with a long-lost family member. The joy was palpable, as if they had never been apart.”
From Duty to the Limelight, Their Commitment Remains
Ruby and O’Neil’s remarkable bond hasn’t just caught our eye. Their heartwarming story has made its way into the 2021 book, “Dogwinks: True Godwink Stories of Dogs and the Blessings They Bring.” And come Thursday, March 17, Netflix is launching the film “Rescued by Ruby.” The film features Grant Gustin playing O’Neil, and another impressive rescue pup, Bear, taking on the role of Ruby.
Honestly, just watching the trailer got us all emotional!
Yet, the work doesn’t stop for Rhode Island’s residents. Even at 11, Ruby remains an energetic part of the team. O’Neil, who once only dreamed of joining the K-9 unit, now leads it as the coordinator and commander. He feels deeply grateful for this role and attributes much of his success to his loyal companion.
“Ruby is truly unique. I never imagined a dog could transform my life in such profound ways,” he shared with Daily Paws. “She’s taught me patience, humility, and reignited my passion for serving as a Rhode Island state trooper.”
It just goes to show, when you give someone, or in this case, a dog, a second shot at life, the possibilities are endless.
A note from the editor: On May 15, 2022, the Rhode Island State Police sadly announced the loss of K-9 Ruby due to a sudden and incurable illness.
The announcement further highlighted that Ruby devoted her life to serving the Rhode Island community, touching the hearts of everyone she met. She stood as a beacon of hope for all rescue dogs, demonstrating the incredible potential they have when given love and an opportunity to shine. Ruby led a fulfilling, joyous life, not only serving as a trooper but also as a cherished member of a family. Till her last moments, she continued doing what she loved best – bringing smiles to people’s faces.