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Longtime therapy dog hangs up leash, celebrated by local hospital

Murphy the Bichon Frise was celebrated at Mercy Health St. Charles Hospital for bringing smiles to patients and staff.

OREGON, Ohio — Murphy, the 18-year-old Bichon Frise, was showered with treats Tuesday at Mercy Health St. Charles Hospital in Oregon. The pup is hanging up his leash after serving as a therapy dog there for 17 years, offering to lay with patients, who in return gave him plenty of petting.

"He is the quietest, most placid dog," Gary Witzler said. Witzler is Murphy's handler. "He's been in a crib with a two month old and he's been in the lap of a lady 102 years old and everything in between."

In addition to the hospital, Murphy has also brought joy to nursing homes, universities and a variety of special events.

"For some of them, they really don't feel very good, and then they miss their own pets," Witzler said.  "So when they see Murphy,  all of a sudden they're all about feeling much better and their day goes better."

Credit: wtol 11

He and his wife, Chris, have had therapy dogs since 1996. While Murphy is retiring, his younger sibling, Oreo will continue visiting not only patients but staff as well. 

"We can hardly even get to a patient's room before the staff stops us; their jobs are so stressful," Diane Honsberger, Volunteer Manager of Mercy Health St. Anne and St. Charles Hospitals, said. "They're dealing with helping sick people all day long and they may have had a hard thing happen that day. And when we walk in, they get down on the floor and pet the dogs and say, 'this is just what I needed today'."

Mercy Health points to studies showing pets can positively affect measures of health, including decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Additionally, research shows that pets, particularly dogs, can lower stress and anxiety levels, among other emotional benefits.

Honsberger said pet therapy dogs are particularly in need at Mercy Health hospitals. There are no breed requirements, just a certification from a therapy program. 

"Any dog. We've had German Shepherds. We've had Poodles. We've had mixed breeds," Honsberger said. "Any dog that's good with people, doesn't get excited or bark a lot. One that's calm, but loves people."

Witzler says the certification programs mostly focus on obedience and making sure the dogs are friendly with other dogs.

Murphy is blind and deaf now, but otherwise in good health. His plans for retiring involve a lot of lounging around. 

For more information on volunteering opportunities, click here.


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