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Nara Murphy and Pinot

by Jim Price

Nara Murphy with Pinot She’s a stubborn one.

Her husband calls her “severely independent,” so it was a lot of years of getting around without help before she finally made the big move. Once she did, one of her first thoughts was, “Why did I wait so long?”

The final straw was a near-miss when a car’s mirror actually smacked the storm flap on her parka as she waited at a curb one winter morning. And once she decided it was finally time to get a guide dog, Nara Murphy of Fargo, ND, spent more than three months researching the field. “The deciding factor was the fact Guide Dogs for the Blind was the only company willing to come to my house and really get to know me and my needs,” she said. “The others told me to send a videotape.”

Murphy, 39, was waiting to head out on another training session at the Oregon campus of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Resting beside her on a sleeping pad was her new partner, black Lab Pinot. They were going on their first session of traffic training, where an instructor would approach the pair in a nearly silent electric car. Murphy wasn’t the least bit worried. Pinot is her second Guide Dog and in just over a week, she was already impressed with his abilities. “He has really big paws to fill, but so far he’s doing great.”

That first set of paws belonged to yellow Lab Walton, who Murphy also got at the Oregon campus, back in August of 2001. She still recalls clearly that first meeting. “That was back when the class was four weeks long and the first couple of days we were in lectures and classes, learning commands without a dog. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, what have I done? This is way too hard.’ But then I met Walton. That first day I absolutely fell in love with him.” As she talked her voice cracked. “I still miss the big lug,” she whispered. Walton worked right up until his death of cancer late last year.

Her first days with Walton were ones she will never forget. “The best way I can describe it is it was like going up in a hot air balloon for a ride. By the second day it was like this giant weight was lifted off my shoulders. He stopped me at curbs. He got me across the intersection in a straight line. The biggest thing I was looking for was safety and suddenly I had it. It was just fantastic.”

At the time she got Walton, Murphy was a corporate travel agent and she remembers how important her dog was, not just to her and her husband Chris, but to her coworkers. “He was a big stress reliever. There were huge changes in the travel industry after 9-11, very stressful, and people were constantly stopping at our desk for a Walton hug.” She said he had a presence that just made people smile. He weighed some 85 pounds and was nearly 27 inches tall. “When he walked, he had attitude. Something like, ‘Hey, here I am. I’m cute. And I know it.’ People couldn’t help but love him.”

She sees Pinot as “jazzy.” “He’s got attitude, too,” she said smiling. “When he cruises along, it reminds me of that song, ‘A Little Bit of Mambo.’ He just be-bops along. We have a few things to work on, a little fine-tuning. Like on Sunday morning when he stole my banana muffin. He’s testing me right now but I’m not worried about it. Pinot is going to be great.”

And he doesn’t know yet just how stubborn she can be.