Remembering Cross: a German Shepherd with a unique ability to help others

“A friend once told me that the reason the word DOG is the word God spelled backwards is because dogs are reflections of God’s unconditional love for us,” said Steve Murphy. “No dog exemplified this more than Cross.”

Sadly, Cross passed away on December 2, 2020.

A German Shepherd with a unique ability to help others, Cross found a special niche working with people of all ages, from children to adults struggling with life’s challenges. With a little transportation help from his handlers, Steve and Rhonda Murphy, he spent the last five years of this life doing what he loved most – working alongside our treatment teams to help reduce patients’ anxiety across multiple programs and levels of care at Rogers Behavioral Health’s West Allis and Oconomowoc locations. It is estimated that he touched touched thousands of people’s lives throughout the years, being present at individual and group sessions up to six days a week.

Steve explains that Cross’ job was to sense an individual’s emotional state and offer care in the best way he knew how. A few years ago, Cross was featured in a video to showcase his talents and demonstrate how dog assisted inverventions are used at Rogers.

This very special dog knew that every resident and every encounter was completely different, based on what that person needed. One little girl he worked with for several months wrote this note that best describes his work.

Dear Cross,

Thank you for making me laugh when I am sad.  Thank you for always looking out for me and wanting to protect me.  Thank you for caring about me when I don’t have the energy to care about myself.  Thank you for coming to visit me when I am feeling down and forcing me to do the things that will help me.

Cross’s work has been recognized by the American Kennel Club with the highest honor bestowed on a therapy dog, “Therapy Dog Distinguished.” In addition, he was awarded “Therapy Dog International Exceptional Volunteer Achievement” by Therapy Dog International. He was also voted “Employee of the Month” by Rogers Behavioral Health employees in December of 2017.

Outside of his work, Cross trained and competed in obedience, agility, search and rescue, and protection, but loved his role as a therapy dog first and foremost. Indeed, this came through loud and clear to everyone at Rogers who knew him. Consider this tribute from Cresta Nutter, coordinator of the pet assisted intervention program at Rogers Behavioral Health:

“Cross had been working with our residents/patients for many years. Every time that Cross would come to visit our programs, he was always so gentle and had a sense of who needed his love and affection the most. Cross had a lot of tricks up his sleeve and always seemed to have a smile on his face and joy in his heart to share with all our residents. He will be and is greatly missed during these times of uncertainty.

Cross, we will love and miss you with all our hearts. Thanks for everything you have done for us.”

Gifts are gratefully accepted in Cross’s memory to recognize the impact service animals have on the lives of individuals with mental health and addiction challenges. Donations will benefit Experiential Therapy at Rogers Behavioral Health, the program which oversees pet assisted interventions.

Honor Cross by making a donation today.


Many dogs over their lifetime have ribbons, trophies, plaques and titles showcasing their accomplishments. Though Cross has some of those accomplishments, nothing is more impressive than the countless thank you notes he received from people of all ages, race and creeds thanking him for the help he gave them during very difficult and trying times in their lives. Here are just a few examples:

“The team at the EDC respects and is grateful for all Cross does. His care for our patients has been an important part of their recovery.” – Rogers Behavioral Health

“Cross, you have been a gift of love every time I saw you and you helped me tremendously while I was here.”

“Cross, thank you for being the sunshine on my heart during the most difficult times. Your soul is precious, and I am so grateful for having been blessed by your beautiful furry self. May the sun always shine on your heart.”

“Cross I am so sad I don’t get to say bye to you! You made me feel so close to home and always brightened up my Tuesdays. I wish you knew how amazing and life changing you are! You are so intelligent Cross! I love you so much. Love your biggest fan.”

“Dear Cross, seeing you at inpatient really brightened my day and made me feel happier in this tough place and then visiting me at residential always made me feel great. It was incredibly sad when I went back to impatient but was nice and helpful to see your familiar face. Thank you for helping me.”

“Cross. I am leaving forever this time. I am pleased to say I am mentally a lot better and you coming every week helped me a lot during my treatment. I fondly remember when I had my individual time with you and I will never forget you. Keep doing great things!”

“Dear Cross, thank you for brightening my days here at residential, I am going to miss seeing all your tricks and petting you. Thank you again for brightening my days.”

“Cross is a hero, thank you for seeing me and making me happy. I am so thankful I met you.”

“Cross I hate goodbyes, but I know it has to happen in treatment. It has been a long journey for me, but I’m happy to say you really helped me. You helped me realize that my core values lie inside of all the amazing animals in the world. I love you.”

“Cross I’m going to miss you buddy! I am sorry I could not come say goodbye to you in person, but I will always remember you as my man! I always had so much fun seeing you and petting you, and you always helped me feel better when I was down and sad. Just getting to feel your soft fur and getting to play with you and do cool tricks made all my problems seem to fade. I hope you stay a happy man; you are Awesome!”

“Thank you for spending time with us Cross, we love you!”

“Cross thank you for coming to see me every week. It really helped me, and I always look forward to seeing you. Thank you SO much!”

“Cross you have been such an important part of my recovery. Knowing that even when I have a really hard week and feeling homesick, you will always be there to make me feel better.”

“Dear Cross, thank you for coming every week and making them bright. You are an integral part of my recovery so much so that I am trying to have my own service dog. You are great and I will never forget your kindness and compassion.”

“Cross I just wanted to say thank you for being such a good boy and lifting my spirits up whenever you come to see me. A lot of the kids here are going through some crap and just getting the chance to see you every week and pet you, play with you has been a blast. Not just for me but for all the kids here too. I really appreciate that. Anyways I just wanted to say thank you for everything you always helped with.”

“Dear Cross, thank you for making me laugh when I am sad. Thank you for always looking out for me and wanting to protect me. Thank you for caring about me when I don’t have the energy to care about myself. Thank you for coming to visit me when I am feeling down and forcing me to do the things that will help me.”