Pooch jumps his way into spotlight

Freddie Murphy is what you would call an underdog in every sense of the word. For starters, the 3-year old yellow Labrador, like most Tahoe dogs, likes to chase balls and jump into the lake.

Freddie is also the Rocky Balboa of national dog competitions.

In what came as a surprise to his owners, Freddie's skills were enough to cause one of the biggest upsets in the world of canine contests and secure them an appearance on a late-night talk show.

Homewood residents Tom and Stephanie Murphy got Freddie when he was a clumsy, fast-growing puppy. At 5 months, he was already bigger than their other Lab, year-old Alley.

But Freddie couldn't keep up with Alley. When the Murphys took the dogs to Chambers Landing to play, Freddy would stop at the end of the pier while Alley jumped off after the ball.

"She totally dominated him," said Tom Murphy, a general foreman for plumbing at Intrawest in Squaw Valley. "For a whole year, he suffered through her taking the ball."

A year later, however, the story has changed. Freddie finally got up the courage to jump off the Chambers' pier. From that moment on, he was hooked.

"It was like a show. Kids would come out of the restaurant to throw the ball to Freddie," said Murphy. He would sit at the bar with Stephanie Murphy, an escrow assistant at Fidelity National Title, enjoying cocktails while the dogs entertained the children.

Word of Freddie's talent spread around Tahoe. A friend of the Murphys suggested Freddie try out for Purina's Incredible Dog Challenge, a national competition that features a diving event and nine other categories, such as agility, flying disc retrieval and high jump.

"We had seen it on TV before, we thought it would be a cool thing to do," said Tom Murphy. "Everyone at Chambers said we should do it."

He sent Purina a photo of Freddie as the dog leapt off the Chambers' pier, still airborne a good 15 feet from the dock. Purina not only told Murphy his dog didn't have to qualify, but also gave him $300 to take Freddie to the regional competition in San Francisco in August. The Murphys decided to take Alley along for the ride. She ended up beating 20 dogs to win the qualifying round the first day.

In the diving competition, dogs jump into a pool after a ball thrown by their owner. A giant ruler alongside the pool measures the distance from the dock to the point where the dog's nose hits the water. Each dog gets three turns.

In the first round, Alley jumped 21.6 feet, beating Freddie by 1.6 feet. Freddie came back with a jump of 23.2 feet, only to be trumped by Natasha, a yellow lab from Fremont, with a jump of 23.6 feet. But with his final jump of 24 feet, Freddie became the new West Regional Diving Dog Champion. Freddie was headed for the national championships in St. Louis in September.

"We were shocked. We were pretty fired up," said Tom Murphy about Freddie's win.

In St. Louis, the reigning world champion was Kiki, a black lab from Connecticut. Kiki held the world record for the longest jump -- 26.9 feet.

"I saw Kiki, and I thought to myself, 'There's no way Freddie can out-jump him. He can fly,'" he said.

After the first jump, Freddie was in third place with 23.11 feet. Natasha and Kiki were ahead with a jump of 24.1 feet and 24.3 feet, respectively. On their second attempt, none of the dogs bested the score.

Freddie's final jump was 25.2 feet, and he was crowned the new Incredible Diving Dog World Champion.

Purina asked Murphy to fly to New York to be on "The David Letterman Show."

The Letterman show closed down half of 53rd Street to set up the competition, complete with a pool. After schmoozing with actress Jennifer Love Hewitt and the manager for Tom Petty, and despite not having any warm-up opportunities, Freddie out-jumped Kiki again.

While the other dogs train year round, Freddie simply did what comes natural.

"He just does what he does. We never trained him to do it," said Murphy. "To have him be the one is like the orphan who ends up being the millionaire."


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