Posted on 06 June 2013 by La Habra Journal
Local minister and LHPD chaplain helps train animals for emergencies and trauma.
By Cameron Reed
La Habra Journal
The La Habra Church of Christ’s own Minister Mike Murphy and his wife Debra are two people committed to making the world a better place. In addition to their ministry, they have been training dogs to fulfill various helper roles such as helping with search and rescue operations and being seeing eye dogs for the blind since 2005.
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Their daughter, Shannon, was their chief motivator in getting started. She suggested it to them as a way to help people.
“She’s an animal lover and she turned us into animal lovers,” Murphy said.
They adopt the dogs when they are about eight weeks old, and train them for one and a half years until they are ready to be tested and certified by various organizations such as Guide Dogs of America and the Search Dog Foundation.
“I can tell you it is a commitment, but it is a huge payoff for you,” Murphy said.
It all started with Emerson, a Golden Labrador and Retriever mix, who is currently working with the La Habra Police Department as a “comfort canine,” a dog that provides therapy to people in times of crisis by simply being lovable and affectionate.
Since Emerson, they have trained three additional dogs. Their most recent, Salsa, is currently stationed in Moore, Oklahoma helping search for victims of the recent tornado that devastated areas near Oklahoma City.
The Murphys originally trained Salsa to be a guide dog for the blind, but it wasn’t long before they recognized that her rambunctious nature and determination when fetching toys made her more suitable for search and rescue missions, which can sometimes last 72 hours with little break time.
“It felt like I was throwing the ball for her for 72 hours at a time sometimes,” Murphy said with a smile.
Being committed to finding the way each individual dog can be of maximum service, the Murphys gave Salsa, originally named Unity, a “career change,” and started training her for search and rescue.
Her new owners in Oklahoma changed her name to Salsa because it is easier for them to pronounce quickly in the heat of the moment, and because of the unique dance she performs when she finds a victim, which closely resembles a salsa dance.
Libby, another one of their graduates, is working as a canine assistance dog, providing comfort and therapy to a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Libby is giving this gentleman the confidence he needs to continue his life,” Murphy said.
Dallas, another Golden Labrador and Retriever mix, is working as a guide dog in Vista, Calif.
The Murphys strongly encourage anybody who is interested in helping train dogs, to contact the Search Dog Foundation and apply. Many of the dogs that enter the program are actually rescued from pounds and animal shelters.
The Murphys are very committed to each dog and see the training process as a way to not only help other people, but to give the dogs a second chance when they may have otherwise been euthanized.
They plan to continue working with animals because they see it as a great way to help their community and the world.
“You can’t help but be extremely proud that they are doing that,” Murphy said. “That they are doing something to help mankind.”