Dedicated Poway Volunteer Carries His Dog 5,800 miles… And Counting!
Doug Johnston cares for his dog, Murphy. He also carries his dog, Murphy. A lot.
“I actually carry Murphy on my back in a fireman’s hold,” said Johnston, 53. “I began this over five years ago when I chose to prove to myself that I could carry Murphy to safety in the event of an injury during our many and frequent hikes.”
Though Johnston planned only carrying the 8-year-old, 65-pound Labradoodle once, Murphy liked it so much that he immediately learned to feign weariness on outings to secure another ride. “So I began keeping a log of these free-rides and, so far, have carried Murphy on my back for more than 5,800 miles,” said Johnston, a Poway resident who works as a Solutions Consultant. “I could have carried him from Los Angeles to New York and half-way back across the country again. In fact, most people in Poway and surrounding areas are more familiar with Murphy being on my back so, when he is on the ground, they kiddingly come up to me to verify whether he is the same dog they normally see on my back.”
Johnston and Murphy typically are sighted at Lake Poway (or other parks in the community), where they are members of the Reserve Park Rangers K9 Unit. “Over four years ago, Doug Smith, Senior Park Ranger, approached Murphy and me at Lake Poway,” said Johnston, a 14-year Poway resident originally from Canada. “He had known us for a short while as we crossed paths frequently during our regular hikes. He asked me if we would consider coming on board as a K9 Unit for the Reserve Park Rangers. It sounded like a perfect fit for us and so, we joined the program, went through a grueling Park Ranger Academy.”
In addition to their park responsibilities, the Johnston and Murphy also spend time as part of the Pet Therapy team at Scripps Memorial Hospital and the Naval Medical Center San Diego (in Balboa Park). “I am particularly inspired by the friendship and generosity extended to Murphy and me by our wounded warriors at NMCSD. As you all know or can imagine, our heroes have and continue to pay an incredible price for our country, our freedom and the future of so many others,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times, when visiting our wounded service men and women – before I could extend my hand to say thank you for their service – they extended their’s to say thank you to Murphy and me. With all that we’ve seen over the years in our hospital visits, those moments are some of the most memorable.”
Though Johnston indicated the pair have experienced many exciting and dangerous moments as part of their park responsibilities, he feels his biggest accomplishment is being available to people. “When we’re not purposefully enforcing rules and regulations, Murphy becomes a very approachable and memorable soul – which encourages many people to come over and talk to us,” he said. “We listen intently to their stories and difficulties they are facing in their lives. At the end of the day, if we can make even the smallest positive change in someone else’s life, that’s what I’ll carry with me forever.”
According to Johnston, the end result is that he and Murphy have a great opportunity to give back to their community. “Many times, people just are going through hard times and just need someone to talk to,” he said. “We patrol regularly all over Poway for public health and safety and make family and the welfare of children our top priority.”
But it’s not all work for Murphy. “Each day, he and I spend a few hours stalking and chasing rabbits and squirrels around some of our favorite places,” Johnston said. “I can remember one recent moment when Murphy stared at a squirrel for nearly an hour. I held that leash and remained motionless for the entire time, not wanting to spoil his special moment.”
[heading] [tab title=”Johnston Volunteer Profile”]
Name: Doug Johnston
Affiliation: Reserve Park Rangers, K9 Unit; pet therapy at Scripps, NMCSD
Occupation: Solutions Consultant
Group: Reserve Park Rangers, City of Poway