Maine’s first dog dies ‘She was a big hit’ with schoolchildren, politicians, anyone

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AUGUSTA – Murphy, the springer spaniel who softened lawmakers and charmed schoolchildren as Maine’s “first dog,” died Wednesday at the Blaine House.

She was 11 and had cancer.

The brown-and-white dog – named after TV character Murphy Brown – made the capital her home when Gov. John Baldacci and his family moved there in 2003. Baldacci often brought Murphy to his office, and sometimes to meetings and news conferences.

On the governor’s Web page, she got her own biography – “Outside politics, Murphy enjoys brisk walks, playing fetch and chewing on tennis balls” – and was listed as Maine’s “first dog.”

With expressive brown eyes, her tail in constant wag, Murphy was a favorite with lawmakers. At least one member of the Republican leadership snuck bacon to her during breakfast meetings. Others brought her dog biscuits.

“She was a big hit,” Baldacci said. “People knew if they wanted to get to the governor, you went through his dog.”

Murphy was comfortable in that spotlight. In 2003, when the governor’s Dirigo health bill was signed in the Blaine House garden, Murphy was there. She was doing a “life-is-good” back roll during speeches. One summer day, when Baldacci announced that the Bangor Symphony Orchestra would perform in Kingfield – an event sponsored by Gifford’s ice cream – the news conference ended with Murphy eating ice cream while the cameras rolled.

Friendly and laid back, Murphy was also a favorite with children. About 1,500 students tour the Capitol every year. They all want to see Murphy.

“She was the most-petted dog in the state of Maine,” Baldacci said.

Children also wrote to Murphy and asked about life in the Blaine House. Some shared pictures of their own dogs.

“It was her informal fan club,” Baldacci said.

Murphy originally belonged to Baldacci’s mother, Rosemary Baldacci. After raising a large family, she considered Murphy her baby.

“She used to spoil Murphy more than she spoiled any of the children,” Baldacci said. “She said Murphy was the only one who would mind.”

When Baldacci began campaigning for governor, Rosemary told him that Murphy should accompany him to the Capitol if he were elected.

“She said, ‘That dog deserves to be in Augusta,'” Baldacci said

Rosemary also thought the good-natured, eager dog would be a comfort during stressful days.

Baldacci’s mother died several months before he won the governor’s race.

Murphy’s cancer was discovered earlier this year. Chemotherapy shrunk the tumors and she was doing well, Baldacci said. But the usually spunky dog grew sick over the weekend.

She died at home, shortly before dawn Wednesday.

Baldacci, his wife Karen, and son Jack, plan to bury Murphy at the family camp on Holbrook Pond, near Dedham.

The family’s oldest cat, Figaro, died of old age last year. The first family’s pets now include a 3-year-old springer spaniel, Sam, and Theo the cat.

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