Remember Murdock, the Former Bait Dog? You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Him.

After waiting more than 400 days in a shelter and traveling 2,500 miles, Murdock, the former bait dog that captured the hearts of thousands, finally found his forever home.

After recently losing their golden retriever Lexie, Ed and Cheryl of Phoenix (for privacy reasons they did not want their last name disclosed) were going to wait awhile before bringing another dog into their family. But after reading about Murdock’s story online, they began to second guess their decision.

Murdock was brought to Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter on Long Island, N.Y. in July of 2014, after his owner was arrested on charges of dog fighting. It is believed Murdock was used as a bait dog to build up the confidence of “lead” fighting dogs. These dogs often are unable to fight back, as their teeth are usually ground down or their mouths taped shut. Volunteers think both techniques were used on Murdock. The scars left by teeth are still evident on his face, one of his ears is torn off and he lost vision in his left eye.

Upon arriving at Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter, Murdock had to remain in isolation for eight long months while the case against his owner settled. Despite his outwardly scars, staff at the shelter fell for him. “He is a love, a mush, a kisser, a cuddler and everything you’d expect from your furry best friend,” they said.

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After his owner pled guilty, Murdock was finally “freed” from captivity and volunteers worked feverishly to find him a home. While his story received national attention and Sophie Gamand photographed him for her famous Flower Power series, there wasn’t a lot of interest in Murdock. He was transferred to another shelter, Last Hope in Wantagh, N.Y., to provide slightly improved conditions – a bigger cage, more socializing – than what could be provided in his current situation. And there he waited and waited and waited.

murdock flower power
Photo credit: Sophie Gamand

Related: See How a Little ‘Flower Power’ Magic Is Helping This Former Fighting Dog Find His Forever Home

The phone call that changed everything

On September 28, 2015, more than a year after Murdock entered the shelter system, Ed picked up the phone and called the shelter. To his delight, a volunteer told him that Murdock has been adopted out. Not long after hanging up and telling Cheryl the good news, the phone rang again. It was the volunteer. She had made a mistake: Murdock was still available for adoption but had been transferred to Last Hope. “If she hadn’t taken that extra step, this would have never have happened,” Ed tells us.

The pair got in contact with Last Hope and began the process of bringing Murdock home.

“I have never met so many compassionate, completely dedicated animal lovers, every single one of them was just amazing to talk to, one in particular was John Esposito,” Ed says. “John was a real keystone in the visibility that Murdock received and ultimately us adopting him.”

Esposito knew that Murdock was a special case and took a hard look at Ed and Cheryl. Through the screening process he learned that not only was the couple dog lovers, but they were experienced, dedicated owners. Their previous dog, Lexie, had been returned to the shelter five times before finally living out her last years at their Phoenix home. “She had very unique quirks and things about her that if you want a dog to fit into your ideal world and be what you expect it to be, then I just think you are setting both the animal and yourself up for failure,” Ed says.

In the 20 or so years owning dogs, they also had an Alaskan malamute, a breed not for the novice owner, a Rottweiler mix (some may believe a “dangerous” breed) and had trained one of their dogs to be a wilderness search and rescue dog. “We had a lot of experience with a variety of dogs and training,” Ed says.

Esposito was candid about Murdock, explaining to the couple his past, his limits (must go to an only-dog home) and the fear aggression he has towards some dogs. His background didn’t faze the couple.

“We knew in our hearts that when we adopted our next dog, it would one that didn’t get all the attention, like some other dogs, and it would be a special circumstance,” Ed says. “Somebody that other people would just pass by. And with Murdock’s physical scars, I bet a lot of people would shy away from him.”

Related: Former Bait Dog Gets Second Chance, Thanks to ‘New Leash On Life’ Prison Program

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Esposito had an acquaintance do a home visit in Phoenix and after getting the green light, it was up to him to convince Last Hope’s board that this was a viable opportunity for Murdock to get adopted.

Setting the wheels in motion

Esposito got the thumbs up. So, he, along with another volunteer, Terri Lynne Trythall-Rizzi, rented a car and made the long trek from Long Island to Oklahoma City, the location where Murdock would meet his new family.

murdock in car use

Ed and Cheryl flew out from Phoenix and rented a car to bring their new dog home. Waiting patiently at a hotel, they finally got to meet him. “We were outside waiting for them to come into the hotel parking lot, and when they drove up, he already had his head out, checking everything out,” Cheryl says. “We were like ‘Oh my God, he is so cute!’ He was just precious.”

Murdock knew this was his new beginning. He went right up to the couple, sniffed them and was intrigued. He then leaned on them and trusted that they would take care of him.

murdock use meeting parents

After spending the evening and morning with the Last Hope volunteers, Ed, Cheryl and Murdock began the last leg of the journey. “Murdock did a three-day 2,500 mile car ride, and he was a champ,” Ed says. “We have had dogs for a long time and this dog traveled better than any dog we’ve ever had.”

Related: Fashion Helps This Former Bait Dog Show Her True Colors

Home sweet home

Ed and Cheryl knew they had to make their home Murdock’s home. “We had to figure out what Murdock needs, what his home needs to be like and were going to make our home Murdock friendly, instead of expecting him to be perfect and fit exactly in the way we think he should in ours,” Ed says.

It seems like they did a good job. Upon entering the home, Murdock was not timid or meek; rather it was like he had been there before. “He completely made himself at home as if, I know this is my forever home and here I am,” Cheryl says.

For the first week, Murdock didn’t leave the house. Cheryl and Ed wanted him to get used to the yard and home, which was obviously much bigger than the crate he had been living in for the last year. He has access to a doggy door and loves to just wander outside. He is well trained, hasn’t had any accidents in the home and loves to chew on toys – but they need to be  Murdock tough.

murdock and back

“He will disintegrate any sort of ‘normal’ dog toy in less than two minutes –the stuffing is out of it, the legs are off it, the squeaky thing is dead,” says Ed.

So, the couple lets him gnaw on Kongs, which feel good on his teeth. And when he gets tired and wants to show some love, he enjoys curling up on one of their chests, putting his head against the nape of their neck and falling asleep.

He also enjoys giving them kisses. “He loves to give kisses and always very sweet and gentle, says Ed. “It is really precious.” He continues, “Murdock almost has the ability to show appreciation for any little thing. If you show him a little love and affection, his response is just so much more love back.

Moving forward

While Murdock had overcome horrendous abuse, painful physical ailments and a long isolation period, challenges still lie ahead for this pit bull.

Because of his history, Murdock still thinks some dogs want to hurt him. As Cheryl and Ed have begun to walk him around the neighborhood, they are extremely cautious, as they don’t want to put him in situations that make him feel fearful or threatened. While he does fine with dogs across the street, behind gates and fences, Murdock does tense up when he encounters dogs. The couple will soon begin working with a trainer to help reduce his anxiety.

“I think it comes down to you need to be a responsible pet owner, says Ed. “I don’t think there is anything unique to Murdock, it is just he had an irresponsible owner before that did some horrible things to him.”

murdock and mom

Ed and Cheryl will continue to get to know Murdock, his quirks and provide him with the life he deserves.

“I am really happy everything worked out. He is just a sweet, sweet dog and hopefully, we can give him the absolute best life possible,” Ed says. “He will be spoiled; I can guarantee it.”

Murdock with dad

Related: Thousands Want to Adopt the ‘Saddest Dog in the World’

30 comments on “Remember Murdock, the Former Bait Dog? You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Him.

  • Thank you Ed and Cheryl for adopting Murdock and giving him a new safe and loving life that he deserves. And thank you John and Terri for all you have done.


  • We are grateful to Ed and Cheryl for taking Murdock into their lives. And thank you to John and Terri and others who never gave up. They made it possible. We know Murdock is in good hands – finally.

  • Truly the best ending to an adoption story by far – Thanks to Cheryl and Ed for adopting him and to all those that worked tirelessly to make it happen and for believing that it could be done!

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for adopting Murdock and giving him the life he deserves. John Esposito you have been Murdocks angel and you never gave up hope. Last Hope in Wantagh NY is the absolute best rescue group with the most dedicated volunteers. The Last Hope building is much quieter now that Murdock is no longer there snoring like a fleet of trucks! Happy tails Murdock.

  • As a Last Hope volunteer, I saw first had how depressed and down trodden Murdock was. I’ve been watching his journey to his new home, family and happy life and the transformation is just incredible. He’s got a sense of a reason to live and I’ve never seen him so happy..tail wagging and just loving. I’m so very thankful to all those involved in helping him reach his forever home and to Ed and Cheryl for opening their hearts to this sweet pup! God Bless you all!!!

  • I am a former volunteer at Last Hope and have been following Murdock’s story for some time. I am not surprised about how awesome the shelter staff was and how determined they were to find Murdock his forever home. All the best to him and his new family, Ed and Cheryl…when it’s right, it’s right! Beautiful story!

  • What a beautiful ending to such a horrific beginning for Murdock! Thanks to the tireless efforts of John Esposito and the people he works with, this story has a happy ending. Ed and Cheryl are such caring, dedicated people with truly big hearts that understand how loving and loyal these animals can be. For all of us who take for granted from time to time that our dogs or cats are just our “pets” thank you for reminding us that they need understanding and love, just like humans…..We have a new puppy who’s sweet, active, loving, mischievous,”trouble” at times, but like a child exploring what she can get away with…..Don’t mistake curiosity for disobedience……be kind and firm but not cruel. I kind of got off the subject about Murdock, but these people that use animals for there own sick pleasure should be penalized just like any other criminal. Thank God for all the dedicated people that step to the forefront to help these poor animals…Murdock is one of the lucky ones!

  • I know John Esposito and have been following Murdock’s story for some time. I read this article with tears in my eyes, happy in the knowledge that Murdock found a forever home with people who will love him and take care of him the way that John has. Murdock’s story has a new chapter and so does Ed and Cheryl’s. And I know John and Last Hope will continue to be champions for dogs that need a happily ever after story of their own.

  • Thank you to all of you that have said kind words about me.

    I want to make sure that everybody knows that I was just a small part of the group of people that loved and cared for Murdock. First off, the volunteers and staff at the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter, who were the first ones to encounter Murdock when he was brought in as “evidence” (but really a victim) in a criminal case involving animal cruelty (I should also thank the Nassau County District Attorney’s office for arresting Murdock’s owner and bringing Murdock into our lives). At TOHAS, “Big John” Warkala was the guardian angel who took Murdock under his wing, made him a social media star, and made sure Murdock knew that he had his back, always. He was and is Murdock’s best friend. Bonnie Zarrillo also deserves a super-huge shout-out at TOHAS for making Murdock one of “her dogs” – she loves the seniors and she would hang out with Murdock on a blanket, make him special treats, and reassure him that he was loved (she also made Murdock a cooler-full of treats for our westward journey and a very generous financial contribution to make sure he/we had everything we needed on the trip). And then Cynthia Xelas, who not only helped care for Murdock at TOHAS and Last Hope, but even more importantly, photographically documented his journey through the shelter system. Her pictures of Murdock played a huge role in getting his story out there, and giving people a picture into his soul. They played a big part in getting Murdock adopted.

    At Last Hope, where Murdock was transferred after he left TOHAS (Last Hope is right next door to TOHAS, but is smaller and dogs can get a lot more hands-on attention there), first thanks must go to the executive team of Linda Stuurman, Terri Rizzi, and Letty Canals, who arranged for Murdock’s transfer. They heard Murdock’s story and, once the did, they went right next door to TOHAS to request his transfer to Last Hope. They spent thousands on Murdock’s care – getting him his entropian surgery for the eyelid on his blind eye to ease his discomfort, getting him on a special herbal supplement for his joints, and organizing the Last Hope medical volunteers to administer all of that on a daily basis. Donna Ricciardelli is another person I wanted to thank, because she was the point person that dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s as she got all of our supplies ready for the cross country trip. She documented Murdock’s medications and food regimens for the new adopters, she created a checklist for supplies for the trip, and then she put it all together so all I needed to do was “show up”, get Murdock loaded into the car, and go. Back to Terri, she became my companion as we drove Murdock cross-country to meet his new family. Despite the anxiety as we contemplated this drive, Terri bonded so closely to Murdock during the 2 days that we were on the road that he felt safe and loved. Nothing was more important than that. I picked Terri specifically because I knew she was organized, capable, and strong and, most of all, I knew she’d take amazing care of Murdock. And she did. And then also, recognition to the volunteers on the “Murdock list” at Last Hope, who made him and his well-being a priority, helped him get strong, and comforted him while he waited for his forever family. The Last Hope vols deserve so much credit. In regard to Last Hope, I also want to say that the story said that I had to convince Last Hope’s board that Murdock’s adopters were viable. That’s not actually true. I did act as one of the main contacts working with Ed and Cheryl during the adoption process, but Last Hope was nothing but supportive. Yes, many questions were asked because we were only going to let Murdock go into a “perfect” home. Letty and I worked through those very appropriate questions and, once everybody was comfortable, the adoption went forward.

    I will always remember the email I got from Letty one day. Letty is the dog coordinator and a board member at Last Hope. The email simply said “call me”. When you get a “call me” email in animal rescue, it’s usually bad news. But this was different. I called her, and she said “I have an amazing application for Murdock.” I said “really, that’s great!” She said “there’s only one catch”. I asked “what’s that?”. She said, “they are in Arizona”. We both agreed right then and there that, if the adopters were perfect, we’d load Murdock up on our shoulders and drive him to Phoenix on a bicycle if that’s what it was going to take. And then we put the wheels in motion. One of the coolest moments in my years in animal rescue.

    I also wanted to give a shout-out to my friend Dave Cunningham, a buddy of mine from an old company we both used to work for. Dave lives in Arizona, and I contacted him out of the blue to ask him to perform the “home-check” for Murdock prior to finalizing the adoption. Dave did this without hesitation and his confirmation that the house was going to be an amazing place for Murdock sealed the deal. Thank you Dave!

    I know that there are many people who deserve to be called out by name that I haven’t in this message. That does not mean their contributions were any less important than anyone else’s during this amazing journey. So again, I just wanted to thank everybody and make sure that everybody knows that this was an accomplishment made possible by many dedicated and beautiful people who I am proud to call friends.

  • I’m so happy to see Murdock with a good family, people he deserves to be with. I followed his story and remember he had to be an only dog, etc. I think he had to wait a long time but I’m so happy it paid off with a caring compassionate couple, just what this guy needed. Happy for all and best wishes for a loving life.

  • What a beautiful precious baby.. Murdock deserves this real life happily ever after more than i can imagine. Thank goodness for all of you.

  • Thank you for adopting Murdock, this breed really is special, like many other breeds. So sad so many dogs are used in this deplorable way. I can only hope one day this obsession with dog fighting will end. Keep spreading the word, Pitbulls are not mean by nature, they are taught behaviors with cruelty and aggression. Many ????????er’s for Murdock to continue to grow to trust., be happy and mostly just be a happy dog in his new living forever ????. Enjoy life big guy and live big!❤️????????

  • John, it sounds like you and Terri made the road trip of your lives to ensure that Murdock got the best home possible with Ed and Cheryl. That’s what dog rescue is all about. Thanks to everyone at Last Hope who helped to make Murdock’s dream of a forever home possible.

  • John, it sounds like you and Terri made the road trip of your lives to guarantee that Murdock got the best home possible with Ed and Cheryl. That’s what animal rescue is all about. Thanks to everyone at Last Hope who helped Murdock’s dream of a forever home come true.

  • My heart is full, as well as my eyes. All involved with Murdock are absolute angels. I just thank you all a million times over. Murdock is a lucky boy. Now is more people would stop buying their designer dogs and adopt a sad baby that needs a forever home. Ed and Cheryl, I hope you have many years of love with Murdock. Bless you all. ❤️

  • I realize most comments on this story are from 2015 … what a wonderful ending ~ or ‘beginning’ for Murdock! I was wondering if there is any way to contact Ed & Cheryl to see how Murdock is doing now two years later? I was so taken by the time I could see that they were giving Murdock to adjust and find his own comfort in his own time. Definitely a sign of responsible owners ! I am most interested to see how Ed & Cheryl did when continuing with a trainer to put Murdock more at ease and lessen his anxiety in regards to closer contact with other dogs ?? We currently have four rescues, but always want to be able to integrate and socialize the dogs with other family members dogs and other dogs in general. I am always searching to see what methods others find most success with. I would love to know how Murdock is doing! Many thanks !!

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