EAGAN, Minn. – When Harrison Phillips first saw a photo of Martin the Yorkshire Terrier, he wasn't sure what to think.
The little dog looked malnourished and nervous beneath raggedy, black-and-gold fur, and he wore a tiny white diaper.
Harrison's girlfriend (now fiancée) Shae texted him with the photo of Marty, who'd just arrived at Little White Dog Rescue in their hometown of Nebraska.
"I thought she was joking. And then she said, 'We got Marty,' " Harrison recalled. "He was half the size he is now. We kind of fell in love with him. We've had him for three years now, and he's pretty much our whole world."
"Marty Moose" – Harrison and Shae opted to keep his shelter-given first name, plus add a nickname of their own – is now a healthy, happy, energetic pup who can't get enough of his humans.
While filming this segment of Purple Pups, Marty raced around TCO Stadium's turf field, chasing miniature, colorful tennis balls.
Harrison and Shae looked on and laughed, reflecting on what could have been had they not chosen to adopt him. According to his rescuers, Marty spent the first several months of his life – which included bitterly cold weeks in Nebraska – living in a cardboard box in a small, uninsulated shed.
"There's a lot of animals who need homes and who had a hard start to life, and I'd rather take those," explained Shae, who knew from the get-go she'd find her new dog at a shelter.
"I'd been wanting a dog for a long time, and I knew with how much traveling football takes, moving from city to city, we were going to have to have a smaller dog for flights and whatnot," she added. "I'd been searching for a while. Marty popped up and just caught my eye, and it was like, 'That's him.' We got lucky."
Marty has come a long way from when he first met his new family; he's now a fun-loving dog who loves to play fetch, is always down for a long walk and loves his "cold tub" breaks.
Harrison and Shae laughed as they provided context for the small plastic storage bin filled with cool water.
They explained that on a particularly hot afternoon in Omaha, Shae had been concerned about Marty overheating and used a garden hose to fill a kiddie pool. Though typically opposed to water, Marty was quick to step in and cool off. Harrison and Shae have provided the makeshift "pool" for on-the-go adventures ever since, which their pup appreciates.
Harrison admits that Shae is Marty's Number One, though he's quick to find "Dad" for protection from larger canines on family dog park visits.
"He knows who Alpha Dog is," Harrison said with a wink. "He'll run up and jump up on my lap – I've gotta protect this little guy and fend off all my teammates' pit bulls and Great Danes and stuff. That's when I know, 'OK, even though when I want to cuddle and stuff and he wants to go to Shae, at the end of the day, I know he wants his daddy when he's in trouble."
View photos of Vikings DL Harrison Phillips and his Yorkshire Terrier, Marty, in this edition of Purple Pups.
Marty hasn't yet had many opportunities for Vikings pup playdates, but he left behind a few pals in Buffalo.
The Yorkie was especially fond of Buck, a standard Goldendoodle belonging to Bills long snapper Reid Ferguson and his wife Erica.
"Marty's best friend in Buffalo was Buck," Harrison said.
He also recalled Bills quarterback Josh Allen getting his chocolate Labrador, Sky, last year. Though Harrison hoped the two would be fast friends, it didn't quite work out that way.
"Even when Sky was just a puppy, the same size as Marty, he was pretty intimidated by the size of her. And now her tail can about whip Marty over," Harrison laughed. "Now that Sky's like 70-80 pounds, unfortunately that relationship isn't as close as I wanted it to be."
Harrison is a dog lover through-and-through, and he's quickly grown to share Shae's heart for shelter pets.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), approximately 3.1 million dogs enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide annually. And every year, approximately 920,000 shelter animals (390,000 dogs and 530,000 cats) are euthanized.
Shae and Harrison have been significantly impacted by those statistics and have partnered over the years with various pet rescues and kill shelters, specifically to transport animals from heavier-populated areas in the southern United States.
Harrison has incorporated the mission into his Harrison's Playmakers foundation, often hosting free events but asking participants to make a donation to a designated shelter.
"Because of what Shae has introduced me to and what we've seen with Marty … we always try to find ways to give back to local rescues," Harrison said.
If you would have told Harrison years ago that an abandoned Yorkie would change his life, he might not have believed you. But today, that's exactly what he tells people.
"Marty was there through double knee surgery and a meniscus surgery, ACL surgery, through the [COVID-19 pandemic], and he's just been a rock," he said. "So often in football your identity is just tied to being a football player, being a football player, being a football player. … It's nice to find passion and joy outside of sport.
"I love what I do on the field so much, and it's hard to ever replicate that off the field," he added. "But Marty sometimes brings some of that excitement and passion."