In 2006’s Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion finally gets another best friend after going nearly 30 years without a pet.
Sad, tired little “Punchy” was adopted from an animal shelter by Rocky and Steps, who initially offered to call the little guy “Fleabag”, then “Punchy”. The name references Rocky himself being a little punchy (i.e., a little slow in the head) due to having received so many blows in the ring, but rather than taking the suggestion as an insult, Balboa decides the name is a good fit for the dog.
Rusty, a 10-year-old male terrier mix, played the role of Rocky’s dog Punchy. Originally a stray, Rusty was adopted from the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association (PACCA), and was a terrier mix, possibly with hints of Lab/Schnauzer or Lab/Airedale.
According to the American Humane animal safety representative monitoring the movie’s production, Sylvester Stallone established a friendly rapport with the dog after several weeks, so the Sly was able to control and cue Rusty during most takes. He was always leashed and supervised when the production filmed outdoors, and trainers gave Rusty frequent breaks in a warm vehicle during filming of the snowy training montage in Philadelphia.
The scene in which Rocky and steps visit a shelter to adopt a dog was filmed inside a real Los Angeles county animal shelter. The resident adoptable dogs housed in the section where filming took place were moved by the shelter’s employees to another area of the building. The section was then sanitized twice and the caged actor dogs seen in the movie were brought in by a trainer from Bob Dunn’s Animal Services in Los Angeles.
Punchy followed in his predecesor Butkus’ footsteps when he joined Rocky on his training runs through Philadelphia. Back in 1976, Stallone initially planned to carry his dog up the museum’s steps to join him in triumph, but found that the 140 pound Bull Mastiff was too heavy to run with. Stallone managed to finally create this moment between Rocky and his dog when he scaled the snowy steps carrying little Punchy.
In Jason Price’s terrific essay, Running with Butkus: Animals and Animality in Rocky, the author comments that:
“Stallone himself, in his director’s commentary on Rocky Balboa, suggests that some of the animals should or can be read as symbols or as developments of Rocky’s character. For example, he notes that the dogs in the films are like his alter-egos: Butkus is strong and youthful like the title character in Rocky, and Rocky sees his older self in Punchy.”
Rocky Balboa’s revitalization of the Rocky franchise and Sylvester Stallone‘s career inadvertently spurred the adoption of Philadelphia’s older dogs. Following the success of the film, Philly’s pounds reported that the adoption of senior dogs increased by 60%, crediting Rocky Balboa.