The sight of a golden retriever bounding toward him at Madison Square Garden was enough to bring Army veteran Luciano Yulfo to his knees.
The retired sergeant first class had served 36 years and was seriously wounded in Afghanistan. He had been waiting 18 months for a service dog.
And on Wednesday, standing at half-court at the game between the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets, he finally got one. His name is Murphy.
It was hard to tell who was more excited – the veteran who hugged the pooch with all his might or the dog that just couldn’t keep still.
“I was crying,” Sonia Yulfo, who was standing next to her father on the court, told InsideEdition.com Thursday. Her dad, she said, was astounded. “What? What? Sonia? Really?” he stammered.
“He just thought we were going to the game and that he was going to be recognized for his service,” she said.
But during a break in the action, while the Knicks and the Nets were off the court, Yulfo stood front and center with his daughter, who had to nudge him because one of his war injuries had resulted in hearing loss.
“I pointed for him to look,” Yulfo said, and there came Murphy, barreling toward him.
The daughter had been secretly working with the Knicks and the veteran service dog groups Cow Harbor Warriors and the Paws of War to get a four-legged friend for her dad.
A mortar round in Afghanistan broke every bone in one leg, leaving him dependent on a cane. He may have to have the leg amputated, Yulfo said. He also suffers from PTSD. His daughter is his full-time caregiver.
“Keeping it a secret was really hard,” she said. “Because I tell him everything."
But now her dad has Murphy. “He can lean his weight on Murphy if he stumbles,” she said. “If he drops his cane, Murphy can pick it up.”
Her father is very pleased. “He thanked me for giving him back his independence,” his daughter said.