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The Agility Community Loses an Inspiration

Dennis Murphy's love of the sport helped competitors remember to enjoy it to the fullest. By Debbie Zahler


Dennis Murphy, a well-loved agility competitor from Jacksonville, Florida, passed away on October 19, 2010 as a result of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which is often referred to as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." He and his wife, Midge, have competed in agility for the last decade, first with their three Portuguese Water Dogs and most recently with their Border Collies Bodhi and Zoom. 

Over the last three years, ALS made it difficult for Dennis to move around the agility course.  As he went from running full out with Bodhi as a young dog, to using a cane to aid his movement, then a walker, a Segway, and finally a motorized wheelchair, Dennis guided Bodhi through the courses.  With the assistance of his instructor and friend Stuart Mah, Dennis was able to adapt his handling and communication methods with each change in his own movement to continue to run Bodhi.  In March 2010, Dennis (using the motorized wheelchair) got a Grand Prix leg to finish Bodhi's ADCH, quite an accomplishment considering the challenges they faced.

Dennis' goal in doing agility was to enjoy time with his friends and his canine companion.  His perseverance and courage never allowed him to give up the sport due to his lack of mobility.  Dennis' last agility run with Bodhi was on October 2, 2010 at the Cool Critters trial in Palmetto, Florida.  It was always inspiring to watch Dennis and Bodhi compete, and it was especially so on that day, as we all knew the number of runs Dennis and Bodhi had together were limited.  

A number of Dennis' friends attended the 2010 Cynosport World Games last month. Knowing that Dennis was going to be watching on the live streaming feed, we wore hats that said "Running for Dennis" to let him know that he would be with us in spirit.  After Dennis' passing, these same hats are now being sold to local competitors with proceeds going to Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) in memory of Dennis.  

One of the last things Dennis was able to do before his death was to watch Stuart and Ares run in Grand Prix finals on Sunday afternoon via the live feed.  When telling of his death two days later, Midge said that being able to watch them had brought Dennis great happiness in his final hours.  

During the last few years, Dennis taught all of us who knew him great lessons in humility, perseverance, courage, and grace.  His experiences put things back in perspective.  Next time you step on the agility field, I challenge you all to leave the field with a smile on your face.  Walk away and play with your dog, regardless of how your run went.   Be thankful that you have the opportunity to participate in this great sport of dog agility... Dennis was.

See an interview with Dennis at http://www.cleanrun.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=feature.display&feature_id=55 

Photo courtesy of Misty Brown.

Debbie Zahler lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with her two dogs, nine-year-old terrier mix ADCH Skitch and three-and-a-half-year-old Border Collie Mookie.  Debbie has been competing in agility for eight years and is currently Club Secretary for Pals & Paws Agility in Jacksonville.  Debbie can be contacted at dzsnoopy@att.net.

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