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Murphy, My First Therapy Dog…

With Murphy, I started walking a dog every day. Two or three times a day. Year-round. I had no choice.

He had his own trainer. A young fellow who made weekly visits and trained “us” according to the Barbara Woodhouse dog training method.

There’s a peculiarly entrancing chemistry in walking your dog…

Walking for us became “Walkies” and I fell in love with the peculiar chemistry of walking a dog while engaging with the great outdoors. (Our nearby park and the quiet dead-end streets of suburban Toronto’s north end.)

I discovered that walking your dog is nothing like walking by yourself or with friends. It’s an adventure to see the world with a dog’s eye view. Emotionally, spiritually and mentally affecting ~ uniquely fulfilling ~ when it’s just you and your dog.

Murphy became my entrée into the neighbourhood. I never knew I had such lovely neighbours, until I started walking him. We met dozens of people and befriended their dogs.

I always remembered the dogs’ names and shamefully forgot the names of the owners. We were all alike in this. It became a joke. We’d engage in “dog-talk” at parties. Sharing stories. It was never-ending. I found a new identity. I became the “dog” specialist at The Toronto Sun, writing intriguing dog-focused features.

Murphy shared my passion for community service…

We did endless charity walks together and he distinguished himself as a Saint John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog. After passing the rigorous exam ~ he was the smallest dog in his class of 42 ~ we began making weekly visits to several Sunnybrook Health Centre psychiatric wards ~ adult and adolescent ~ when nobody else opted to take that particular assignment. We were game. Back in the mid-1990s, I don’t know if Psychiatric Service Dogs existed formally, but in our own way, that’s what Murphy was.

He quickly learned to navigate the halls of this big sprawling urban general hospital and to recognize people in the wards we visited. He loved to roll over on his back for tummy rubs or to be held and stroked and cuddled with anyone. He was impeccably well-behaved.

Murphy provided psychiatric service as a therapy dog…

Years before puppies were given to battle-scarred U.S. veterans, hospitalized with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after their tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Murphy was proof positive of the healing power of dogs and the therapeutic wonders they can offer people suffering with severe psychiatric trauma-based stress and anxiety issues.

He did wonders for me, mentally, emotionally and with my physical health issues, too. From 1990 to 1995, my little guy valiantly nursed me through my kidney disease, dialysis and transplant ~ five of the most treacherous years of my life.

One night, I started experiencing excruciating pain. I was on Peritoneal Dialysis. I couldn’t move. I had developed dialysis-related peritonitis, though I didn’t know it. Murphy knew. He didn’t leave my bed for 12 hours until a close friend arrived and I was able to get to a hospital Emergency Room.

She told me after my recovery that when she came into my apartment that day and took one look at Murphy, “I knew there was something wrong with you. I could see it in Murphy’s eyes.”

When I was fixed up with Marty in 1999, my life did a major flip-flop. I never dreamed I would ever meet a man for me. I didn’t think he existed. But, never say never. Here was a man who could not only love me, but live with me. Suddenly, there were two men in my life.

Murphy, Marty and me, a merry “menagerie a trois”..

A longtime dog-lover, Marty fell under Murphy’s spell instantly. My little canine companion enchanted him like he did everyone else. We became a merry little menagerie a trois, the three of us eventually sharing my one double bed when we were married in 2000.

Then, in 2003, at the age of 14, my little dog started losing weight along with his passion for food.

His vet diagnosed him with lymphoma and I had to face the spectre of losing the first male who had loved me unconditionally.

He had to be put down on December 8, 2003, and I will never forget holding him in my arms as he fell asleep for the last time.

I learned about grieving for my dog. And from an unlikely source.

To be continued…

Murphy, My First Therapy Dog…

Sandy Naiman

Sandy Naiman is a Toronto freelance journalist.

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APA Reference
Naiman, S. (2010). Murphy, My First Therapy Dog…. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Jun 2010
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