The Odyssey Of Murphy The Dog, And A Reporter Who Became Part Of The Story

Jan 15, 2016

Let’s face it: Most news stories are not of the happily-ever-after variety. Sometimes they can be downright rough to read. That is … ruff! As in the human approximation of what a dog's bark sounds like.

And if that terrible pun gives you paws – er, pause – don't worry. We’ll get right to the news story that really does end well – about a beloved dog being reunited with his family after being on the run for more than a year in Vermont.

It's a real life Shaggy Dog tale, and Wilson Ring, a correspondent for The Associated Press, factors into the story in a remarkable way.

Mitch Wertlieb: "Give us the background first for anybody who may not be familiar yet with this 'tail.' Who is Murphy the dog, and what happened to him that caused him to run away?"

Wilson Ring: "Murphy is a golden retriever. He belongs to a family from ... Morristown, and on June 29, 2014, Murphy was involved in a car crash. He was in a car being driven by his owner that hit a tree somewhere in Stowe. And after the crash, Murphy got out of the car, and he was not touched by human hands until last Saturday night."

MW: "That's more than a year. That's amazing."

WR: "Yeah, it was more than a year and a half … I counted them up: 559 days."

MW: "So he just ran off after this car crash, spooked by ... what had happened. Do we know how the dog survived for so long?"

WR: "That's a complicated question. Immediately after the crash the owner, Ed Hamel .... He's a wonderful guy – one of the things about this is I made so many new friends – from Morrisville. He started getting reports of Murphy's movements. And Murphy moved his way south from Stowe to near where I live, in Waterbury Center, and over time, [Hamel] and his wife spent the summer, and his granddaughter spent the summer, trying to catch him just traditionally saying, 'Here boy.' But he wouldn't do it.

"And I knew [Murphy] was in right where I live, but I hadn't seen him until one day I looked out the back window of my house and there is a beautiful golden retriever sitting in my field just inside the tree line. And so I took out a bucket of dog food. Within 15 minutes I went back again, and the food was gone. And so that was the day I met Ed.

"And after a couple of weeks, Ed brought a trap he made to try and catch Murphy. We put this trap in my backyard. As time went on he got hungry or, the winter, as you recall, last winter was really severe, and he would start to go in it to get the food."

Murphy accepts a hug from Ed Hamel after allowing himself to be leashed and led out of the trap in Wilson Ring's backyard.
Credit Lucy Ring

    

MW: "Tell me a little bit about this trap that was set up in the backyard that Ed built."

WR: It was made out of lumber you'd get it any lumberyard and wire fencing. Originally it had a trigger on it that was a pressure plate that he would have had step on and it would pull a string and that would pull out a pin and the mechanical thing didn't end up working very well. The most frustrating part of this entire 13 month- experience was one day in the middle of February, or one night I should say, we caught him. But – people don't believe this – but I have video and it's true, he chewed his way through the wire in 20 minutes, and he got out. And of course that made him even more apprehensive about going in the trap again.

"And eventually, we worked with the Erika Holm, she's the animal control officer in Middlesex, and somebody who I’ve known forever. And she provided an electronic trigger, which works much better. It was an electric eye that was set in the trap with an electromagnet that held the gate open and when anything would cross the beam, the magnet would let go when the door would fall. Eventually that's what caught him."

* The video comes from a trail camera provided by Eric Halperin, which was set up in Ring's backyard.

MW: "Well, once you did finally get him in he didn't eat his way out of this trap, what kind of condition was he in?"

WR: "He was in remarkably good condition. He looked really healthy. He didn't have any ticks that we saw. He seemed OK."

Murphy seems quite content to reunite with Ed Hamel and other family.
Credit Lucy Ring

    

MW: "What was the reunion like when you finally got Murphy back to his family?"

WR: "Murphy was in the trap in the field when we got a bunch of people there to get him out. And so we were deliberately keeping it low-key because we didn't want to get him excited. We didn't know what his reaction was going to be. Some ... worried that he was going to be feral or wild and hostile to people. But then others said that no, when dogs get lost like this is really not that unusual for them to [have] something click in their brain and they go into survival mode and they don't recognize people. But once they're safe, that survival switch will flip back and they’ll go back to being a pet.

"And I was the first one out. I walked out into the field. It was just around midnight. I kneeled down on the outside of the trap and he came up and he put his nose to the wire and I reached right in and patted him and he was happy to see me, I am very happy to say."

MW: "And when he saw his family, how did he react then?"

WR: "It was pretty much the same thing. We ended up walking him out of the field. Erika put a harness on him and then a traditional collar and then we had two leashes held by two different people. And he was a little nervous, but it wasn't a problem. But anyway, it wasn't really until we got him in my garage and shut the door where he couldn't escape that we focused a little more on the happy experience, and it was only a couple of minutes before he was licking the face of his owners, of Ed and his wife, and he laid on his back and let Ed scratch his belly. It was wonderful.

"And then as they were leaving my house, we walked him out to Ed's pick up and we opened the door and Murphy jumped in the front seat and took his rightful place behind the steering wheel like he'd done it yesterday. I mean, it was amazing.

And then Ed told me later that when they got home, Murphy looks around and goes, 'Oh I know this,' and he went over and grabbed his favorite toy, went and laid down and went to sleep at the foot of their bed. Just like he had always done. "

Murphy quickly returned to his normal self after being captured and cared for by his owners and newfound friends, Lucy and Wilson Ring.
Credit Lucy Ring