With two years of training and a diploma under his collar, yellow lab Murph is ready to get to work serving others, following after his namesake Lt. Michael Murphy.
Two-year-old Murph graduated Friday from Canine Companions for Independence’s training program in Medford, along with 11 other dogs who will go on to assist veterans and those with disabilities from Virginia to Maine.
Murph will have a special role, however, in Staunton, Virginia. As a criminal justice dog, he will provide comfort to child abuse and domestic violence victims as he follows them through the investigation process and into the courtroom, said Janet Balser, Murph’s new handler and Staunton Victim Witness Program director.
“Just knowing the story behind Michael Murphy, and knowing that he was the protector, and the fact that Murph will be protecting innocent victims in the courtroom, it’s just fantastic,” Balser said.
Murphy, also known as “Murph,” grew up in Patchogue before joining the Navy SEALs and building a reputation of bravery and selflessness. He was killed in 2005 in Afghanistan after his team was ambushed. According to military officials, Murphy sacrificed his life to call for help on a satellite phone. He was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor.
Murphy’s story was so moving that it was the focus of a Veteran’s Day event hosted by Canine Companions for Independence in 2015, said group director Debra Dougherty. The group, which has several offices throughout the country, receives dozens of training puppies that need names, and the Medford branch held a contest at the event to name an 8-week-old yellow lab.
“Michael Murphy’s mother spoke a little bit that evening,” Dougherty said. “Overwhelming people submitted the name Murph.”
Murph then went on to live for a year and a half with a designated puppy raiser family in Heathsville, Virginia, to learn people skills. This spring, he returned to Long Island to complete two weeks of intensive training with Balser, including more than 40 commands.
“While raising Murph, we always kept him in a red, white and blue collar,” said Bryna Brennan, who raised Murph. “We were acutely aware of the fact that he was linked to someone who was so special to everyone in the country and especially on Long Island.”
Dougherty said Murph is part of a growing group of criminal justice dogs the group has provided throughout the northeast. He joins dogs assigned to Boston, Nassau County, Staten Island and Virginia.
Balser said Murph is very laid back and loves to snuggle, making him a good fit for the job of protecting crime victims in the courtroom. He’ll stick by victims as they go through the legal system starting Monday, she said.
“We’re ready to go back home and work with the crime victims,” she said. “Murph is going to be the perfect courthouse dog.”