The day my terrier found internet fame

Why do some videos go viral while others slide into oblivion?

Artillery Row

My little Border-Lakeland terrier cross Ruby started the fateful day a much-loved but little-known dog outside of family, friends and the local community.

By nightfall, she was an internet sensation… and a week on, video footage of her has been viewed by millions in the UK, Europe, the Americas and beyond. It’s all been so unexpected, but a little scary too.

The story began when I took out my 12-year-old nephew for a stroll along the Thames on a cold, bright morning for some Lockdown exercise.

A screenshot shows the figures (nearly 35 million views) for the video of the paddle boarder saving Ruby

We stopped at Richmond quay for my nephew to feed the ducks and gulls, and Ruby began jumping up trying to catch the pieces of bread. She took a step back and … whoosh, fell two or three feet into the cold water below.

Being just out of reach, I headed for a nearby ramp leading down to the water, took out a dog treat and tried to entice her into swimming the few feet separating us.

I’ve owned three terriers over the years and while none were keen swimmers – digging holes and chasing squirrels were more their thing – they could all doggy-paddle, Ruby, now 11-ish, included.

But the poor old girl was cold and wet, and presumably in shock, and was clinging to the remains of an old wooden post close to the stone quay. As I was gauging the depth of the water (hip high, I calculated) before jumping into the river to fish her out, I became aware of a middle-aged woman by my side who was filming the drama on her phone and simultaneously urging Ruby to paddle the few feet to safety.

Suddenly a paddle-boarder, who must have seen Ruby take her tumble, appeared 20-30 ft away and made his way towards my frightened little pooch.

“Yes!” cried the woman by my side supportively.

By now, onlookers had gathered at the quayside to watch the drama unfold and clapped as the paddle-boarder scooped rag-wet Ruby out of the water before heading towards me.

I grabbed a shivering little Ruby and thanked the man of the moment for dashing to the rescue.

“It was nothing,” he said modestly.

As I was clipping on Ruby’s lead, the lady asked me if I minded if she posted something about the drama online. “That’s fine,” I smiled, making a note of her Instagram page, although my main concern was naturally for the dripping wet dog by my side.

My nephew and I continued our walk along the river, Ruby soon warmed up and I gave her a sausage roll as a special treat to make up for her ordeal.

Ruby warming up back home after her ordeal

After getting home a couple of hours later I mentioned to my wife that a woman was planning to post something online about the drama. She checked the lady’s Instagram page, and discovered that several hundred people had already viewed her video footage of Ruby’s rescue.

It had also ended up on a Richmond community Instagram page, where by the end of the day it had been viewed by more 10,000 people. The video was going viral.

The following day the woman photographer was contacted by a news agency, which must have spotted the online potential of the footage – and within days Ruby had become an internet sensation.

The video footage has since been shared by more than 70,000 Mail Online readers, viewed more than 200,000 times on an Italian website and been seen by more than 34 million people on America’s ABC News website. Proof, if needed, of the extraordinary power of social media.

Thankfully it was a drama with a happy ending – and perhaps that’s partly why it has proved such popular viewing in these dark pandemic days. However, it has also raised a few issues of concern.

Most of the online comments have been harmless enough, and along the lines of “OMG!” or “Poor little thing!”. But, perhaps inevitably, a number of trolls – or shall we call them “the mean-spirited” – have seen the footage and jumped to conclusions without knowing the full facts, put two and two together to make five and let rip.

One troll asked why “the stupid owner” had not kept the dog on a lead. (Answer: I’ve fed the ducks with Ruby scores of times without incident and she’s never shown much interest in the bread being thrown to them.)

Another meanie questioned why the lady filming the drama on her phone had not gone to the rescue? And a third person hit out at the paddle boarder for not paddling fast enough. (The dope concerned obviously knows nothing about river currents.)

I’ve watched Ruby’s growing internet fame with some bemusement but otherwise pretty much kept my head down.

However, it has been a salutary reminder of just how quickly a short video clip can now achieve internet lift-off. Similarly, it’s a reminder that such video clips we view on the web may not tell the full story. Are there lessons to be learnt from my experience?

Yes. First, while I’ve got nothing against the lady who posted the clip for making a few quid out of her “Ruby rescue drama” footage (she was in the right place at the right time), if the same thing happened again I would ask to view any film before giving someone my blessing to post it online. Second, I’ll be sure to clip on Ruby’s lead the next time I feed the ducks with my nephew, however mouldy the bread, to ensure there is no internet sequel (Ruby’s River Rescue II).

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