Steven Luke

14-Year-Old Labradoodle Keeps Community Safe

Reserve Park Ranger's dog patrols neighborhood parks 7 days a week

A 14-year-old Labradoodle and his human partner are doing more than just keeping their community safe--they're doing it in a friendly and non-confrontational way that endears even the rule breakers.

Over the years, Murphy has sniffed out everything from marijuana bags to lost car keys.

Murphy and Doug Johnston started making the rounds through Poway city parks together as Reserve Rangers more than 11 years ago. They frequently work all seven days of the week, averaging more than 20 hours a week--all for free.

Their work highlights a unique way the city is keeping people safe through a program made up of more than 50 volunteer rangers who supplement five full-time staff rangers.

Murphy, a former hospital comfort dog, is easily the most recognizable and approachable ranger in town.

He walks around wearing an olive green military style vest with a bright beacon on top that Johnston says can be seen for up to three miles.

Together, the partners walk through neighborhood parks to remind people of Poway's sunset park curfew law and occasionally need to turn on the charm to get violators moving in a peaceful manner.

"People like to come up and meet dogs, they don't necessarily like to come up and meet rangers," said Johnston.

As a reserve Ranger, Johnston isn't permitted to carry a firearm or pepper spray, so it's all the more important to make sure things don't get confrontational. Despite working more than 10,000 hours of patrols over the years, Johnston said they've never had to call for backup.

Murphy has more than just a friendly face. The dog, now in his mid 90's in "human years," is trained to sniff out unfamiliar objects.

"He's trained to find anomalies in the park, so anything that's not commonly in each park--he has a baseline scent for each park--he will be interested in taking me to," said Johnston.

Johnston hopes he and Murphy still have a few good years left but knows the clock is ticking on his 14-year-old Labradoodle. He says when his dog dies--something he can barely think about--he'll retire too.

Until then, you'll find them walking through the city's parks in the morning and around dusk, talking with neighbors and letting kids get up close to the fluffy service dog.

You'll know them when you see them, they're an unmistakably unique team.

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