Therapy dog in training draws attention wherever she goes

Rachel Murphy and Flora

Rachel Murphy and Flora

For a self-described homebody like Rachel Murphy, having a dog like Flora might be considered a burden. Quite simply, Flora is beautiful and attracts a lot of attention. A medium-sized, snow white, fluffy ball of fur with intelligent eyes, perky ears and an engaging attitude, Flora is irresistible – a real people-magnet. When Murphy takes Flora out, she knows that all ages and kinds of people will ask if they can pet her.

Despite her own introverted tendencies, however, Murphy wants people to interact with Flora, because Flora is in training to become a therapy dog. Murphy got Flora, a Samoyed, when she was eight weeks old, and has been training her personally for six months. She takes Flora on walks and to public spaces like San Marco Square to help Flora acclimate to people, other animals and various sounds.

“I got interested in pet therapy because a dog I had when in college was instrumental in helping me get through some stressful issues I faced,” Murphy said. “I grew up with a great family and had a ton of support, but it’s not the same as the easy companionship, unconditional love and the unique support system a pet can give you.

Murphy grew up in Jacksonville. She graduated from Providence School of Jacksonville and the University of North Florida. She’s a behavioral therapist at Little Star Center and Behavioral Clinic. Her husband, Rad Murphy, graduated from The Bolles School and now teaches marine science at his alma mater. The couple bought a home in San Jose a year and a half ago.

“I walk Flora up and down San Jose Boulevard all the time, because it helps her get used to sound of traffic and horns,” Murphy said.

Flora is a purebred Samoyed, a breed of large herding dogs, from the Spitz group, with a thick, white, double-layer coat. Its name comes from the Samoyedic peoples of Siberia. Samoyeds are known to be playful, lively, alert, friendly and sociable.

“Flora is completely different at home than she is when I take her out,” Murphy said. “At home she likes to play, but when I tell her ‘Let’s go to work,’ her mindset completely changes, and she becomes very calm and sweet in public.”

Sisters Campbell (front) and Cate Taylor with Rachel Murphy and Flora

Sisters Campbell (front) and Cate Taylor with Rachel Murphy and Flora

Therapy dogs are trained differently than service dogs. While service dogs are trained to work with one person, therapy dogs are socialized dogs trained to work with many people in a variety of situations. Murphy will soon have Flora attend the Canine Obedience Club of Jacksonville, which has a course for therapy dogs. When Flora turns one year old, she can take the certification test to be a therapy dog. Flora has an Instragram page – florathesamoyed – and already has 500 followers after only a few months.

“I hope to take her into hospitals first to visit patients,” said Murphy, who already knows how helpful Flora can be for patients. She cut her thumb seriously this past November when she opened a metal can and has been recovering ever since.

“At first I was upset because I thought my recovery would slow down my ability to work with Flora, but she was wonderful and caring and has helped me with my therapy by letting me pet her to gradually gain sensation and strength in my thumb,” Murphy said. “It was a learning experience for both of us and proof that everything happens for a reason.”

Flora is a quiet dog; in fact, Murphy has trained her to not bark unless she says “speak” to her. She does have one other special talent, however. When Murphy says “sing,” Flora does just that. She’s a remarkable dog that Murphy hopes will bring comfort to many people as a pet therapy dog.

By Karen J. Rieley
Resident Community News

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