TEMPLE TERRACE — Eight years ago, Rudy was a Hillsborough County shelter dog with 24 hours to live. He got a reprieve, and today, the yellow Labrador retriever is a movie star.
Rudy, who lives in Temple Terrace, landed a role as the lovable yet destructive dog in Marley & Me, based on John Grogan's bestselling book. The movie, which also stars Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, debuts Christmas Day.
Twenty-two Labs portray Marley at various ages. Rudy, now 9, plays Marley eating a birthday cake, ripping apart a snowman, swimming in a pool and playing catch with his fictional family.
His real life keepers are Susan Woolley and Dean Kagawa, who often open their home to strays.
Rudy was just over a year old when Woolley, a volunteer with Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida Inc., learned he was about to be euthanized by Hillsborough County Animal Services.
Rudy came with stitches and an injured leg. Woolley tried to find him a home. People kept bringing him back, maybe because he had so much energy.
"We kept him because nobody wanted him," she said.
He went to obedience class and learned to sit.
"He's a hoot," said Kagawa. "You rarely get a dog like him. He's just nuts. He's very smart. Very stubborn. Loves being the center of attention."
Then, one day, Woolley got a call from a trainer looking for a rescued yellow Lab to play Marley in the movie. She told him "I have the perfect dog.''
The trainer had met plenty of couch potatoes, she said. He wanted a big Labrador with lots of energy.
That's Rudy. Some days, he runs 14 miles with Kagawa and still comes home with energy.
Like Marley, Rudy likes to eat paper.
There's little he doesn't like to eat. He once ate a stick of butter off the counter and started in on a roast.
Woolley donated Rudy's movie earnings of $1,500 to Lab Rescue.
At Hillsborough Animal Services, spokeswoman Marti Ryan called the movie a "fabulous career milestone" for the dog.
"We're incredibly proud of Rudy," she said. "We always saw his talent."
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3321.